Fidel's Flatterers

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

Touting Fidel and Cuba's Communist Revolution

Despite decades of poverty and repression, reporters frequently found ways to praise Castro’s communist regime, often parroting the Havana government’s own claims about high literacy rates and improved health care, as if such achievements would balance out the fact that Cuba is a police state. Reporters also often exhibited a giddy excitement about the dictator himself, thrilled by Castro’s personal charisma while often blind to the suffering Castro and his revolution inflicted on those who disagreed with his tyranny.

Here are a few of the more gushing quotes, some of which point to longer write-ups in our MediaWatch and CyberAlert newsletters, while others have appeared in the MRC’s bi-weekly Notable Quotables newsletter.

1989-04-03-ABCZahn"He [Fidel Castro] said he wanted to make a better life for Cuba’s poor. Many who lived through the revolution say he succeeded....Today even the poorest Cubans have food to eat, their children are educated and even critics of the regime say Cubans have better health care than most Latin Americans."
— Reporter Paula Zahn on Good Morning America, April 3, 1989. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"While Castro is an odd man out in a hemisphere increasingly headed by young free-market democrats, he still commands respect and awe."
— CNN reporter Frank Sesno on the March 20, 1990 PrimeNews.

1990-04-01-NBCRabel"They are the healthiest and most educated young people in Cuba’s history. For that, many of them say they have Castro and his socialist revolution to thank....If they long for the sweeping changes occurring in Eastern Europe, they are not saying so publicly....To the extent he can, Castro has been rewarding young people. For example, on their return home [from Angola], the 300,000 Cubans sent to Africa were first in line for housing, jobs, and education. Such benevolence breeds dedication, some young people say."
— NBC reporter Ed Rabel, April 1, 1990 Nightly News. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

For two years, PBS refused to air Nobody Listened, a documentary account of the harsh treatment of Cuba’s political prisoners. In August 1990, PBS finally capitulated but "balanced" the damning expose of Castro’s prisons with the explicitly pro-communist film, The Uncompromising Revolution by Saul Landau, Senior Fellow at the radical Institute for Policy Studies. Landau followed Castro around the countryside, describing how the "force of nature" gave Cuba "action-packed decades of experiments in collective survival and socialist living." Landau tingled his way through the hour like an overaged groupie: "Fidel touched this young machine adjuster and the man enjoyed a mild ecstasy. I know the feeling." To PBS, "balance" meant giving a pro-Castro propagandist equal time with the dictator’s victims. (MediaWatch, September 1990)

"If nothing else, the Cuban revolution has eliminated abject need. The cost may be generalized poverty and zero political pluralism, but, even with shortages, there is no starvation here. Education and medical care are assured for all. And, unlike in most of Latin America, you don't see naked or even shoeless children in the streets. When Castro speaks of the need to defend the gains of revolution, he means a level of social welfare rare in the underdeveloped world."
Washington Post Assistant Foreign Editor Don Podesta, April 28, 1991 "Outlook" article.

In April 1991, Ted Turner’s TBS station ran a two-hour homage, Portrait of Castro’s Cuba. Narrator James Earl Jones read a gushing, pro-Castro script: "Incessantly involved in affairs around the globe, this island nation has won the respect, sometimes grudgingly, of countries twenty times its size. Castro’s Cuba stands tall in the ranks of nations....Today is a passionate display of national pride. These men [Cuban soldiers returning from Angola] are symbols of all that Castro’s Cuba has aspired to be: A nation to be reckoned with. A major player on the world stage. Defiant, spirited, free." To show how the Cuban people feel about Fidel, the program quoted an armed militia member: "We want Fidel, he is our father, he is the father of our people. The Revolution is our mother and we feel proud." (MediaWatch, May 1991)

1991-07-27-ABCFidelCovering the 1991 Pan Am Games in Cuba, ABC’s sports commentators showed why they belonged in the locker room and out of politics. In a July 27, 1991 special, Fidel Castro, One on One, ABC’s Brent Musburger gave Cuban communism a positive review: "There are many Cubans who find their lives much better here than before the Revolution. Medical care is free. Education is also state-funded. Cuba’s 97 percent literacy rate is among the highest in the world." And in his interview with Castro himself, ABC’s Jim McKay flattered Fidel: "You have brought a new system of government, obviously, to Cuba but the Cuban people do think of you, I think, as their father. One day you’re going to retire. Or one day, all of us die. Won’t there be a great vacuum there, won’t there be something that will be difficult to fill? Can they do it on their own?" (MediaWatch, August 1991) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"The Roads Are Potholed and the Luxuries Few, Yet Many People Say They’re Better Off"
New York Times headline, August 18, 1991.

"The government points out rightly that Cuba’s standard of living is better than in many other countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. There are no filthy children scrambling over garbage heaps to compete with vultures for scraps of food, as in El Salvador. There are no death squads preying upon the weakest and poorest, as in Guatemala. There is none of the festering disease and crushing poverty that is on display in any village in Haiti or Honduras or Nicaragua. The violent crime, random killing, and manic drug trade that are Colombia’s scourge, and Jamaica’s, are practically unknown in Cuba."
Washington Post reporter Lee Hockstader, September 12, 1991.

1992-02-13-NBCTodayCouric"Considered one of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th century....[Fidel] Castro traveled the country cultivating his image, and his revolution delivered. Campaigns stamped out illiteracy and even today, Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world."
— Katie Couric reporting on NBC’s Today, February 13, 1992. (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"The island may have been a thorn in Washington’s side, but it was a beacon of success for much of Latin America and the Third World. For decades, Cuba’s health care and education systems were touted as great achievements of the revolution....Some say the trade ban has never given Cuba a chance to see whether or not Castro’s socialism might work."
— Correspondent Giselle Fernandez, September 4, 1994 CBS Evening News.

"Like these young dancers, Carlos [Acosta] benefited from Cuba’s communist system because it not only recognizes physical talent, it nurtures it, whether it’s baseball, boxing, or ballet."
— CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Christiane Amanpour [also with CNN] on a star of London’s Royal Ballet, May 21, 2000.

"There’s a good chance that Fidel Castro, who marks his 78th birthday today, could keep going for another 40 years, the Cuban leader’s personal physician says....Cuban officials say the same revolutionary zeal that has driven nearly five decades of socialism can overcome the ravages of time....At least 40 different Cuban research groups are said to be at work unlocking the secrets of aging. The research ranges from studying special diets to basic research on genetics."
— Reporter Eric Sabo in an August 13, 2004 USA Today story headlined, "Cuba pursues a 120-year-old future."

"With 66,567 doctors, Cuba boasts a ratio of 1 doctor per 170 citizens, compared with 1 doctor per 188 residents in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. The emphasis on preventive, personalized care has yielded life expectancy rates almost identical to those in the United States, and infant mortality rates even lower than its northern neighbor’s, WHO data show. Advocates of the Cuban system point out that all Cubans are entitled to free healthcare and medicine, while more than 44 million American residents — nearly one of six people — have no health insurance."
Boston Globe reporter Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in an August 25, 2005 front-page article.

2006-08-01-FOXRiveraIn 2006, after Fidel Castro’s declining health forced him to turn power over to his brother Raul, many members of the U.S. media fell over themselves in describing the dictator in poetic terms. On Fox News’s Geraldo At Large, host Geraldo Rivera went overboard in a commentary about Castro’s legacy, using flowery descriptions such as "the iron man of revolutionary rhetoric," "romantic revolutionary," and even "charismatic commie." An awe-struck Rivera recalled: "He is a towering historic figure, and meeting and interviewing him was one of the most memorable experiences of a young reporter's life." (CyberAlert, August 3, 2006) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)

"When outsiders think of Cuba, it’s often the lack of political freedoms and economic power that comes to mind. Cubans who have chosen to stay on the island, however, are quick to point out the positives: safe streets, a rich and accessible cultural life, a leisurely lifestyle to enjoy with family and friends....For all its flaws, life in Castro’s Cuba has its comforts, and unknown alternatives are not automatically more attractive....Many foreigners consider it propaganda when Castro’s government enumerates its accomplishments, but many Cubans take pride in their free education system, high literacy rates and top-notch doctors. Ardent Castro supporters say life in the United States, in contrast, seems selfish, superficial, and — despite its riches — ultimately unsatisfying."
— Associated Press writer Vanessa Arrington in an August 4, 2006 dispatch, "Some Cubans enjoy comforts of communism."