Elian's "Freedom" in Cuba; Ros-Lehtinen Fired Back at Avila; Cuban Pioneers Just Like Cub Scouts
1) "They are exercising for
the first time in seven months the opportunity to live really in freedom as a
family," a Castro deputy claimed in comments highlighted by NBC's Jim
Avila who then blamed the U.S. for making life "difficult" for
2) Congresswoman Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen took advantage of her guest spot on CNBC's
Rivera Live to scold NBC's Jim Avila for his "incredibly nauseating"
pro-Castro propaganda in the guise of news reporting.
3) Dateline NBC painted a glowing
picture of what awaits Elian. Keith Morrison insisted: "Elian is more
likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than in any other Third World
country." Elian will enjoy Cuba's "universal free education"
and the Pioneers are "very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and
4) The New York Times created a
28th Amendment, referring to the GOP preference to talk about partial-birth
abortion instead of "suggesting overturning the Constitutional amendment
5) Too much bias for one
CyberAlert. Squeezed out today: Bryant Gumbel; ABC's hit from the left on the
Medicare prescription plans of both parties for not spending enough; and Bill
Maher on Bill Clinton: "Someday they will name high schools after
June 27 MagazineWatch, about the July 3 issues, is now online. The items
compiled by the MRC's Ken Shepherd and Tim Graham:
1. All three news magazines devoted a story to Justice Department
fundraising investigator Robert Conrad's recommendation of a special
counsel for Al Gore. Time's online staff loved Gore's Conrad interview
("Could this be the alpha male veep we've been hearing so much
about?") but the print edition found he was "a defense lawyer's
2. Newsweek continued its weekly crusade against the death penalty, but
balanced their distaste over Gary Graham in Bush's Texas with their
dislike of the federal death penalty under Clinton-Gore. U.S. News called
Gary Graham "the new martyr of the rejuvenated anti-death-penalty
3. Time took on Dr. Laura Schlessinger with a ten-foot pole in an
interview: "Do you really believe everything you say, or do you just
think it makes great talk radio?" Gay left activists protested the
chat, but should have liked David Van Biema's sympathetic portrait of gay
activism in mainline churches.
4. Time online reporters whimsically dismissed the geopolitics of Elian
Gonzalez ( "Elian Gonzalez, Your Jet to Havana Is Waiting") and
"Sex-Mad Scientists" at Los Alamos.
To read these items, go to:
and his family enjoyed their first opportunity to "live really in
freedom as a family," NBC's Jim Avila obligingly passed along
Thursday night in relaying "exclusive" comments from a Castro
deputy. Avila then moved on to wondering if the U.S. will now lift the
embargo, which he blamed for making life "difficult" for Cubans.
Such a lifting is possible, Avila trumpeted, "because Castro
outmaneuvered his sworn enemies in Cuban Miami."
Avila opened his June 29
NBC Nightly News report from Havana by reporting that Elian looked
"bewildered and afraid" at the airport the night before because
he was scared of the cameras. Elian now is living in a special
"communist party owned villa," the same one Avila and CNN showed
off back in April as a luxury mansion.
Avila then served as an
eager conduit for communist propaganda: "In an exclusive interview
with NBC News, Castro's second in command, Ricardo Alarcon, says Elian
spent his first day back in Cuba celebrating privacy."
Alarcon: "They are exercising for the first
time in seven months the opportunity to live really in freedom as a
family. No marshals, no cameras, no people following them around country
[two words after "them" unclear so "around country" a
guess]. Free as a family."
Avila blamed the U.S. for Cuba's problems, as if no
other nation in the world manufactures medicines: "The real question
in Cuba, will America's new focus on this communist island soon lead to a
less difficult life for people like 50-year-old Celia Garcia."
Garcia: "We don't have medicine here."
Avila: "She's stricken with osteoporosis. The U.S.
embargo forces Garcia to beg foreign friends to send her medicine. Her
pharmacy does not have it. New talk of lifting the embargo on food and
medicine for the first time in 40 years, made possible, say analysts,
because Castro outmaneuvered his sworn enemies in Cuban Miami."
Dr. William Leogrande, American University:
"Castro handled it very cleverly. The whole affair and the way that
the conservatives in the Cuban American community reacted to it really
undermined their political influence."
Avila concluded: "Tonight, the Cuban government
says it agrees. There is a small window of opportunity right now for some
improved relations between the two countries. But they say they fear that
window is closing rapidly."
At least CBS's Byron
Pitts offered a less glowing look at Elian's arrival in Cuba, free of talk
of "freedom" for him. He began his June 29 CBS Evening News
piece from Havana: "Security around Elian's temporary house today was
as thick as the heat in Havana. The curious and the press kept six blocks
away. It's here the six-year-old will be quote 're-educated' in the ways
of communist life, a life he returned to last night. The child who'd been
chaffered in Suburbans and sports cars for months in America, left Cuba's
airport in an old Russian sedan."
To see the house where
Elian is now living, go to the April 19 CyberAlert to read about how both
Avila and CNN's Martin Savidge trumpeted as "luxurious" --
better than his Miami home -- the house in Havana where Elian will
"readjust," complete with pool and swing set. You can also see a
RealPlayer clip of CNN's story: http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000419.asp#1
Finally, a refreshing moment on live TV: A conservative guest blasted the
biased reporting delivered moments earlier by a network reporter.
incredibly nauseating," declared Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of
NBC reporter Jim Avila's observations broadcast live from the Havana
airport Thursday night on CNBC's Rivera Live. Avila had passed along the
Cuban propaganda line about how Fidel Castro wanted to treat the Elian
case better than had the Miami Cubans, so "he's not used as a
political tool. You don't see Fidel Castro out there holding his hand up
in the air....Castro realizes how those images work. He's very adept at
the Miami relatives told him about Fidel Castro he might have reacted as
if he was watching the boogeyman in action," Geraldo Rivera worried.
"So maybe it was a good idea Castro didn't show up."
From the airport in
Cuba, Avila told Rivera on the June 28 show, in the beginning of an
exchange caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "But no Fidel Castro
was not here and that was by design, just the kids from the Cardenas
school where, where Elian Gonzalez attended. And also the close relatives
of Elian Gonzalez, Juan Miguel, the grandfather and grandmother were here
as well. By design there were no politicians here. Cuba has been very
careful trying to contrast the style of what's been going on here with
what has been going on in Miami as part of the continued propaganda battle
between the two sides."
After talking a bit
about lifting the embargo, Rivera asked about the mood in Cuba: "But
no anti-Clinton or anti-U.S. rhetoric?"
Avila relayed Castro's view of his triumph: "No
and it's been that way for a while. During the Elian case the Castro
regime has been very careful not to show any anti-Clinton or anti-American
sentiment, are very few of them. And the reason is this. They believe that
they've won this public relations battle. They believe they've won the
propaganda battle with the Miami Cubans. They believe that they've been
able to spin and the Miami Cubans have walked into several traps including
with, some demonstrations that were loud and boisterous and perhaps showed
some disrespect for American law. And that is exactly what Fidel
Castro wants the American people to see. On the other hand he wants to see
a Cuba, where, where American people will see a Cuba where things are
different. Where Elian Gonzalez comes back. He's greeted by his friends,
he's not used as a political tool. You don't see Fidel Castro out there
holding his hand up in the air. That was all by design. Castro realizes
how those images work. He's very adept at that."
Rivera lamented: "Just thinking that six year old kid coming off the
plane after everything the Miami relatives told him about Fidel Castro he
might have reacted as if he was watching the boogeyman in action. So maybe
it was a good idea Castro didn't show up."
Avila continued to show no skepticism about the Castro
propaganda line: "Well, and there was some concern about that. In
fact we've been told privately they were concerned about how Elian
Gonzalez would react if they saw Fidel Castro, if he saw Fidel Castro
suddenly. Because of what he may have been told while he was in Miami. So
if there is a meeting with Fidel Castro and the Gonzalez family it's
expected to happen about now. Because what's happening now is Gonzalez is
in fact, Gonzalez is in fact right now at a party which is a private party
with some other relatives, some other friends from Cardenas and as well as
Fidel Castro who is expected, could be there as well."
Rivera: "Okay. Jim thanks very much. Congresswoman
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, from Washington, DC: "That
was incredibly nauseating. That report. I mean the way that he speaks
about Fidel Castro."
Rivera: "Nauseating in what sense? That's a strong
word, another strong word."
Ros-Lehtinen: "This is a communist dictatorship.
Everything, the public reaction and what happens is orchestrated by Fidel
Castro. And the society that Elian is going to go back to is one that
violates human rights, will any reporter reporting from Cuba ever talk
about what drives people out of that country? What drove Elian's mother
out of there? Why did she lose her life? Why do so many people risk what
little they have, their own lives, to leave this worker's paradise? Will
any of your reporters ever report on the dissidents, on the opposition
leaders, on the many people who are on hunger strikes? On the desperation
that every individual feels in Cuba? How they reject the government, how
they reject the regime. And nothing gets said about that. All that you
talk about is President Fidel Castro. I mean it's just nauseating."
If only more
conservative guests would follow Ros-Lehtinen's lead and use their guest
slot opportunities to directly criticize biased reporting.
+++ To watch how
Ros-Lehtinen took on Avila, go to the MRC home page late Friday morning
where the MRC's Andy Szul and Kristina Sewell will post a RealPlayer clip:
Unfortunately, as item
#1 above from the next night showed, Ros-Lehtinen's criticism didn't
change Avila's approach to Castro and Cuba. And the very next morning, on
the June 29 Today, Avila championed: "In this communist country Elian
Gonzalez became a symbol of national unity. For the people of Cuba,
Elian's return, vindication that children can be cared for in Cuba."
This recent round of
stories from Avila reminded me of his classic April 4 piece from Cuba in
which he celebrated all the "perks" of the "Cuban good
life" awaiting Elian's family in Cuba, including a monthly bag of
beans and deodorant as well as five gallons of gas. To read more about it
and/or to see a video clip:
hard to imagine anyone being able to outdo Avila for gullible acceptance
of communist propaganda, but NBC News reporter Keith Morrison managed to
in a Wednesday night Dateline piece watched MRC analyst Paul Smith.
Will Elian face life in
a "brutal, corrupt, impoverished dictatorship" or in a
"decent place...that values children above all?" Morrison was
stumped: "In Cuba that's a complicated question."
Morrison conceded that
Cuba has a few problems, like "inadequate" housing, though
"no one is homeless," but many more successes: "Cardenas
boasts twice as many doctors as you'd expect to find in an American city
the same size. Elian is more likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than
in any other Third World country." As for any indoctrination, the
Pioneers are "very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and all,
but with a socialist flavor and a revolutionary spin." Plus,
"Cubans boast about their universal free education."
From inside a room in
Cuba with a banner on the wall proclaiming "Revolucion!",
Morrison opened his examination: "What sort
of world will the boy inhabit back here in Cardenas? What kind of life
awaits him. Indoctrination here at the Youth Communist League in
preparation for a life in what an opinion piece in the New York Times
called 'a brutal, corrupt, impoverished dictatorship'? Or, as they might
say in one of these books or here [holding up Cuban book], a safe, decent
place with a future that values children above all. Is either answer
right? In Cuba that's a complicated question."
As his experts, he first
turned to Fidel and Marta, parents of one of Elian's friends, who insisted
there are problems everywhere in the world, not just in Cuba.
Morrison picked up,
putting much of the blame on the United States before lionizing Cuba's
supposed achievements: "And Cuba definitely has its share of
problems. A long list of them. With no money from the Eastern bloc anymore
and an American embargo throttling the island, times have been rough.
Elian Gonzalez is returning to a very poor country which, nevertheless,
can point to several successes. If Elian is sick, he will be treated in a
hospital that looks decidedly rudimentary by U.S. standards but Cardenas
boasts twice as many doctors as you'd expect to find in an American city
the same size. Elian is more likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than
in any other Third World country. "Housing? Even
the government admits it's inadequate. Most apartments and houses are old
and small and often crowded with whole extended families, but no one is
homeless. Certainly not Elian, who will return to a house and bedroom
considered swank by Cardenas standards. Food? A few years ago there were
serious shortages. Some say there still are. But a look in the markets in
Cardenas, Elian's hometown, reveals a wealth of basic foods though not the
variety we're used to in the U.S. Some Cubans even told us they're
preoccupied with dieting. Marta and Fidel say it's unfair to compare
Cuba's Third World living standards with those in the richest and most
powerful nation on Earth but they told us, Elian's future can be much
brighter than some Miami Cubans have predicted."
Marta: "He can study what he wants and he can be
what he wants. "Morrison ironically cautioned: "Are Marta and
Fidel just echoing the party line? Dateline visited the school where, so
say Cuban officials, Elian will return after a short adjustment period.
Back to occupy that famous chair which has been saved for his return. Here
he will join his friends, reciting Cuba's version of an oath of
allegiance. 'Pioneers for Communism,' they chant. 'We will be like Che.'"
Dr. Christobel Martinez (sp?), Cuban psychiatrist,
through translator: "At the beginning his classmates may show
admiration and curiosity but that will only last a short time."
Morrison: "Dr. Christobel Martinez is a preeminent
child psychiatrist who is part of a handpicked team that will help Elian
readjust to Cuban life."
Martinez: "We might have to do some group therapy
with the children to explain to them why it is not good to display their
emotions and their admiration towards Elian."
Morrison: "But what kind of group therapy? The
treatment of children in Cuba is high on the list of suspicions in the
charged atmosphere across the straits of Florida."
Morrison to Martinez: "There are millions of
people in America who believe in their hearts that you are going to take
this boy back and like all the other children in Cuba, force them into a
society in which they can't think what they want to think or say what they
want to say."
Martinez: "Excuse me for smiling at that. In Cuba,
we treat children when they have problems in their homes, in school,
emotional problems, but we never talk politics with children. This
brainwashing campaign that they say we have? Nobody believes in that
Having dispensed with
that fear, Morrison moved on to allay other concerns: "So what is it?
Brainwashing or patriotism? In Cuba, as you might expect, Elian will learn
about a different system. Certainly a different hero than he would learn
in America. Next year in second grade Elian's curriculum will be heavy on
science and math. It will also include a morning assembly full of
political education, the Cuban view of economics and world affairs. 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. How good is
Louis Perez, University of North Carolina professor:
"Given its economic conditions, Cuba provides its children with a
first rate education."
Morrison endorsed his expertise: "Dr. Louis Peez
is a professor of Latin American history who specializes in Cuba. He
teaches at the University of North Carolina. He is a nationally recognized
academic with no ties to either pro or anti-Cuban factions. He says that
although Elian might not have access to the high technology tools
available at American schools, he would have the opportunity to excel and
go to college if he wants to."
Morrison to Perez: "Would he be free to choose the
career he wanted?"
Perez: "In most cases, yes. Per aptitude, per
testing skills, per abilities, yes."
Morrison: "Any profession that he was able to?
At this point Morrison
was getting beyond preposterous. What kind of jobs exactly does Cuba have
for which you could utilize a college education, assuming you could
actually get a real one? How many software writers or engineers exist in
Cuba? Or how many people utilizing a liberal arts degree?
Morrison moved along to
how everyone in Cuba has a chance at the good life:
Morrison: "You might be surprised to know that
very few Cubans are invited to join the Communist Party. The best jobs
used to go to Party members. Sometimes they still do we were told. But
increasingly, skill is considered more important than political
connections. As does one other thing. One of the ironies in today's Cuba,
membership in the Communist Party does not necessarily guarantee a better
life. But access to American dollars does. This is where Elian's family
shops. It's a main Cardenas market street. Over there are privately owned
produce kiosks, meat, vegetables, rice and beans. Those you buy for pesos,
very cheap. But over here, where you get almost everything else, are the
government run dollar stores.
"Much has been made of Juan Miguel Gonzalez's
access to dollars from his job in the tourist industry but in fact
virtually everyone has dollars now. They must. Dateline was given rare
unlimited access to these dollar stores and here ordinary Cubans, not just
the Party elite, were buying everything from corn flakes to cooking oil to
blue jeans, to stereos. Most of these products only available in U.S.
dollars. It's estimated that half or more of Cubans now have direct access
to dollars. Namely from tourism and money sent from the two million Cuban
family members living overseas. In Elian's hometown, where we visited the
dollar stores, people are beneficiaries of both. But many Cubans,
including highly educated professionals, still rely on their Cuban state
salaries as their main income. In fact, more than a few complain that
dollars have created new inequities and the need for them and the products
they can buy have led to an extensive black market and widespread petty
corruption. But, says Professor Perez, Elian will also have to deal with a
political system that organizations such as Amnesty International still
consider far too authoritarian."
Morrison to Perez: "Could he speak his mind?"
Perez: "Up to a point."
Morrison: "Could he go to a demonstration?"
Perez: "If the demonstration was sponsored by the
Morrison: "If it was a demonstration against the
Perez: "Probably not."
No s**t Sherlock.
Morrison elaborated on
the obvious: "Human Rights Watch, an organization monitoring human
rights abuses across the globe, says that Cubans who speak out publicly
against Fidel Castro or his government frequently face harassment by the
police or imprisonment. If Elian decided to oppose the Cuban government,
might he face repression? Amnesty International says Cuba has at least 350
such political prisoners in its jails."
Miriam Layva (sp?) dissident: "There is a double
standard here in Cuba. Some, well most of the people think in a way and
act in another."
Morrison: "Miriam Layva should know, having been
visited by the political police. She used to be a member of Cuba's Foreign
Affairs department until her husband began criticizing the government and
she says she was asked to choose, job or husband. She is still married and
now teaches English at home. Because of the fact you speak out, do you put
yourself in jeopardy?"
Morrison: "What could happen to you?"
Layva: "Well, it depends. If you say something
that is not politically correct then you might get in trouble."
Morrison finally got to
some negatives about Cuba, but quickly jumped to trumpet improvements:
"And there are other restrictions. Elian would not be able to travel
abroad without first applying for an exit visa from the government. If he
vacationed in Cuba, he'd have to stay at a hotel set aside for Cubans. The
big tourist hotels are reserved exclusively for foreigners. But lately
some of those government restrictions have been lifted. Cuba was once
officially atheist. Now Elian will be free to worship in any religion.
Since the Pope's visit in 1998, more Cubans attend church services than
ever before and Christmas is now an official holiday. And if you ask this
writer, Elian would have more personal freedom as well. Miguel Sanchez
says he never belonged to the Communist Party and yet he graduated from
the best schools in the country. He says he never volunteered a single
hour in the fields and yet receives permission to travel abroad regularly.
And even though some of his science fiction novels reflect the difficult
everyday reality of his country, four of his books have been published, in
Miguel Sanchez, writer, through translator: "What
I say reaches more people. There is less fear. Looking back ten years ago,
I think there's been progress."
Morrison: "Even Miriam Layva, the dissident, says
Elian should be part of that progress."
Layva: "He has to
live in his environment and his environment is this country. These kids
are the future of Cuba, of the Cuba we are going to have tomorrow."
"For Elian, tomorrow will most likely mean a lifetime of celebrity in
a country that will want to insure he succeeds. And in the long strange
adventure of Elian Gonzalez, this may be the ultimate irony. By claiming
so publicly that Elian would go home to a harsh life of deprivation and
maltreatment, Castro's Miami enemies have helped make sure that no matter
how Cuba evolves, Elian will be very well treated indeed."
Treated better than the
truth was by Morrison.
Morrison ignored some
informative video in NBC's archive. Back on April 4 actor Andy Garcia
maintained on the Today show that if he were in Cuba he'd want his son to
be raised in the United States since "it's a fate worse than Hell
to...think that my children would be growing up in that system over
there." To read more of what Garcia said and/or to see a clip of it
via RealPlayer, go to: http://archive.mrc.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000405.asp#4
news story in the Thursday, June 29 New York Times added a 28th Amendment
to the Constitution, an "amendment allowing abortion," MRC
Communications Director Liz Swasey observed. Friday's paper carried four
corrections, but none dealt with this erroneous additional constitutional
The error came in the
18th paragraph of a "news analysis" piece by Washington Bureau
reporter Richard Berke about reaction from the presidential candidates to
the Supreme Court decision overturning Nebraska's ban of partial-birth
abortions. Berke asserted: "The court's ruling is discouraging
for Mr. Bush and many Republicans not only because it gives Mr. Gore
another rationale to talk about the court. In addition, the Republicans'
embrace in the last few years of eliminating late-term abortion allowed
the party to maintain its anti-abortion position in a way that is more
palatable to many voters than suggesting overturning the Constitutional
amendment allowing abortion. Even many Democrats who favor abortion rights
tell pollsters they object to late-term abortions."
Of course, abortion is
legal now because of the Roe v Wade decision, a creative interpretation by
a majority of the Supreme Court in 1973 of a "right to privacy"
in the Bill of Rights, but not a constitutional "amendment"
which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress followed
by ratification by three-fourths of the states.
So much bias and so little space. Having given so much deserved space to
Morrison's tribute to the joys of Castro's Cuba, I'm out of room before I
got to several other items I'd planned to run, including:
-- Bryant Gumbel's contrasting approaches Thursday
morning to a guest pleased by the Supreme Court's decision on
partial-birth abortion versus a guest pleased about the ruling on the Boy
-- The Today show's
interview with Greg Craig in which Craig claimed to have no idea who paid
for the plane which flew Elian back to Cuba.
-- World News Tonight's
Thursday night hit from the left on the Medicare prescription plans of
both parties. ABC anchor Kevin Newman plugged the upcoming story:
"Also ahead, 'A Closer Look' at the two big plans in Washington to
pay for prescription drugs: Will either one be enough?" He later
added: "Neither plan will provide all the help many senior citizens
-- Bill Maher, host of
ABC's Politically Incorrect, on Bill Clinton. On Wednesday's Tonight Show
he hoped: "I think someday they will name high schools after him and
kids will proudly play for the Bill Clinton Fighting Cocks."
Just too much bias, but
that means plenty more material for the next CyberAlert, probably on
Wednesday, when I plan to get to all of these bits of bias.
-- Brent Baker