Thomas Jefferson eloquently stated that “our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press.” Yet along with the rights granted to the press in our Constitution’s first amendment, comes an awesome responsibility to cover events in a thorough and balanced manner so that the public can be better informed when it makes decisions on who should lead our nation and therefore which policies should be enacted on our behalf. Many times in the history of our nation the press has met this challenge and done an admirable job as our watchdog. Sadly, the case of Cuba is not one of those instances where the press has acquitted itself well at all.
Starting with the Fidel Castro’s insurrection during the late 1950s, the media in America has allowed itself to be manipulated. Thus, the American people were kept in the dark about the Cuban reality.
The dean of Castro apologists was Herbert Matthews of the New York Times. In his columns, Fidel was portrayed as a Robin Hood figure coming to liberate Cuba’s poor masses from the oligarchy that then ruled the island. Matthews helped change public opinion in an evolving America to the point where the United States withdrew its support of the dictator Fulgencio Batista, ushering in an even more despicable dictatorship. Even after the blood began to flow during Castro’s initial reign of terror, Matthews continued to be Fidel’s press agent in the United States.
It would be one thing if Matthews were an isolated case, but almost fifty years later the media continues to be enamored with Castro and his totalitarian rule.
The New York Times editorial stance on Cuba has not changed since the days of Matthews. In July/August of 2006, when Fidel suddenly took ill and Cuban-Americans took to the streets of Miami in celebration, the Times, not politely, told Yale Professor and National National Book Award winner Carlos Eire that the op-ed piece they had asked him to write wasn’t what they wanted because he refused to condemn those who were ebullient in their desire for a little long-delayed karmic justice as well as change in Cuba.
In 1997, Cuba began to allow certain American media outlets to establish bureaus in Cuba. Rather than use this unprecedented access to the Cuban people to better report the reality of life under Castro’s revolution, CNN and then various other media outlets have become party to a Faustian bargain. The Castro regime silently censors their reports by making it clear that the ongoing presence of those bureaus is predicated on coverage that it deems acceptable and convenient to the Revolution.
As a result, reports that come out of Cuba are laughably simplistic and shallow. They’ll often conduct man on the street interviews in Havana as if it were Cleveland. But Cubans are often afraid to complain openly about their government, using something called a doble moral (two faced discourse) where they guard their real thoughts lest the state seek retribution against them; instead, they regurgitate the party line that they have been inculcated to repeat in a Pavlovian manner.
Even these watered-down reports from Cuba often tend to offend the sensibilities of the Cuban tyranny, and in February 2007, the Castro regime expelled three journalists: Stephen Gibbs of the BBC, Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune, and Cesar Gonzalez-Calero of the Mexican newspaper El Universal. The expulsions garnered nary a word from the media at large, much less from the actual outlets affected by them because they value the access of actually having bureaus more than the journalistic independence of those bureaus. All three outlets continue to operate offices in Havana. Message sent, message received. It’s hard to believe that these media institutions would accept the kind of restrictions and ground rules in any other country that they accept in Cuba.