Fidel's Flatterers

The U.S. Media's Decades of Cheering Castro's Communism

Elian Gonzalez, Back to the "Peaceable Paradise"

In late 1999 and 2000, the media became fixated on the story of Elian Gonzalez, a six-year old boy rescued from the ocean after his mother and nine others died trying to flee Castro’s dictatorship. The episode highlighted the media’s longstanding approach to Cuba, as reporters took the stark contrast between American liberty and Cuban tyranny and muddled it to the point where life in Cuba was presented as no different, or even better, than life in the United States.

An MRC Special Report, "Back to the ‘Peaceable’ Paradise: Media Soldiers for the Seizure of Elian," documented the media’s tilted approach, including reports that praised the actions and achievements of Fidel Castro’s Cuba and claimed it was better for children than America. (Special Report, May 23, 2000).

2000-04-04-NBCAvilaOn the April NBC Nightly News, for example, reporter Jim Avila touted the "Cuban good life" Elian could have under Castro: "If and when Elian returns, he will become a four-foot tall deity in a country that officially does not believe in God....Elian’s future here likely to be the Cuban good life, lived by Communist Party elite with perks like five free gallons of gasoline a month for the family, a Cuban tradition called ‘La Jaba,’ the bag, which includes extra rice, beans, cooking oil and sundries like deodorant, shampoo, razors and shaving cream, about $15 a month worth of basics. Plus, invitations reserved for the party elite to cultural events, sports, discos and restaurants, access to the best medicine, expensive drugs like heart cures not available to everyone in Cuba." (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

Some more highlights of the media’s pronouncements about Castro’s dedication to the children of Cuba and the quality of life under his regime, with links to additional information as reported in the MRC’s daily CyberAlert e-mail newsletter:

"Without doubt he [Castro] is taking personal control of the case of the six-year-old, even to the point of calling child psychiatrists to ask about the effect of all this on the child’s mind. His chief concern: Could the boy readjust to life here?...He seemed old-fashioned, courtly — even paternal."
— NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on the December 15, 1999 Nightly News. For more, see the December 16, 1999 CyberAlert.

1999-12-31-ABCMcFadden"Part of what the [Cuban school] children talked about was their fear of the United States and how they felt they didn’t want to come to the United States because it was a place where they kidnap children, a direct reference, of course, to Elian Gonzalez. The children also said that the United States was just a place where there was money and money wasn’t what was most important....This is a place where the children’s role models and their idols are not the baseball players or Madonna or pop stars. Their role models are engineers and teachers and librarians — which is who all the children we spoke to yesterday said they wanted to be."

— ABC’s Cynthia McFadden on December 31, 1999, reporting from Havana during ABC’s live 24-hour coverage of the New Year 2000. For more, see the January 3, 2000 CyberAlert. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

2000-04-08-NBCAvila"Why did she [Elian’s mother, a maid] do it? What was she escaping? By all accounts this quiet, serious young woman, who loved to dance the salsa, was living the good life, as good as it gets for a citizen in Cuba....An extended family destroyed by a mother’s decision to start a new life."
— Jim Avila from Havana on NBC Nightly News, April 8, 2000. For more, see the April 10 CyberAlert. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

 2000-04-08-NBCClift "To be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami and I’m not going to condemn their lifestyle so gratuitously."
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, April 8, 2000. For more, including how Clift stood by her remark when challenged by FNC’s Bill O’Reilly, see the May 3, 2000 CyberAlert. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"Elian might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami....The education and health-care systems, both built since the revolution, are among the best in the Americas, despite chronic shortages of supplies....The boy will nestle again in a more peaceable society that treasures its children."
— Brook Larmer and John Leland in Newsweek, April 17, 2000. For more, see the April 12, 2000 CyberAlert.

2000-04-22-CBSRather"While Fidel Castro, and certainly justified on his record, is widely criticized for a lot of things, there is no question that Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba. And, I recognize this might be controversial, but there’s little doubt in my mind that Fidel Castro was sincere when he said, ‘listen, we really want this child back here.’"
— Dan Rather, live on CBS the morning of the Elian raid, April 22, 2000. For more, see the April 23,200 CyberAlert. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"The one thing that most, that I’ve learned about Cubans in the many times that I have visited here in the last few years, is that it is mostly a nationalistic country, not primarily a communist country."
— NBC News reporter Jim Avila [now with ABC News] on MSNBC’s simulcast of Imus in the Morning, April 26, 2000. For more, see the April 27 CyberAlert.

"The school system in Cuba teaches that communism is the way to succeed in life and it is the best system. Is that de-programming, or is that national heritage?"
— NBC News reporter Jim Avila [now with ABC News] from Cuba on CNBC’s Upfront Tonight, June 27, 2000. For more, see the June 29, 2000 CyberAlert.

"Elian will almost certainly rejoin the Pioneers as almost all Cuban children do. It’s very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and all, but with a socialist flavor and a revolutionary spin. But besides politics, what will he learn? Cubans boast about their universal free education...."
— Keith Morrison from Cuba, previewing Elian’s new life, June 28, 2000 Dateline NBC. For more, see the June 30, 2000 CyberAlert.