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US Media's Faustian Bargain with Castro

The media is also guilty of contempt for its readers and viewers. Reuters, the venerable British news agency, has as one of its lead Cuba correspondents, Marc Frank, a “journalist” whose resume includes a stint with the official newspaper of Communist Party USA where he penned more than 1,000 articles. Needless to say Mr. Frank’s stories are nothing more than plagiarized press releases from the regime’s official “news” bureau, Prensa Latina. But Prensa Latina, Granma, Juventud Rebelde, and the rest of the Castro propaganda machine have their own global distribution thanks to Google, which places their communist press releases in its news alerts and searches with the same authority as those from, for example, the Washington Post.

In June of 2007, the Today Show (a production of NBC News) broadcast a 2-hour live special from Havana. During the show, Matt Lauer uttered twelve sentences that might be considered mildly critical of the regime and those twelve sentences were of course “balanced” by mentions of Cuba’s highly-touted “free” health and education systems. The average Cuban worker earns less than $20 a month working for the state to get that “free” healthcare and education.

Curiously but not surprisingly absent from the special Today Show program was the mention of a single political prisoner by name. One can imagine the outrage that would have ensued if Today had visited apartheid South Africa during the 1980s and failed to utter the name of Nelson Mandela. But Lauer and company had more important things to show America, like a live performance from the world famous Cuban musical act Los Van Van accompanied by a dance troupe.

Later, Today Show researcher Gina Garcia mentioned on Today's blog that during tapings for the production "multi-layered permissions were required and a government official came along." I suppose NBC’s executives felt that Today’s viewer’s had no need to know that what they were watching a well-staged exercise in communist propaganda.

Also in 2007, Cuban dissident doctor Darsi Ferrer Ramirez risked his freedom and his life to obtain hidden camera footage of Cuban hospitals for ABC News, which was producing a retort to Michael Moore’s movie SiCKO in which the filmmaker predictably praises the quality and generosity of Cuba’s healthcare system. The ABC producer had to rely on outsiders to provide equipment and support despite the fact that the company has a Havana bureau, because the topic was too hot for the bureau to touch. Ultimately, none of the footage taken by Dr. Ferrer aired on ABC and the show about Cuba’s healthcare was whittled down to a segment that lasted less than five minutes. Even so, enforcers of the Castro regime called in members of ABC’s Havana bureau to account. Fortunately, a copy of the unedited footage made its way to Fox News Channel where it ran on Hannity & Colmes. It’s no coincidence that Fox News doesn’t have a Cuba bureau to protect.

In February of 2008, it was officially announced that Fidel Castro would be stepping down from his positions in the Cuban government and the Cuban Communist party. A CNN producer named Alison Flexner sent a memo out to all correspondents who might be talking on the air about Castro, reminding them that Fidel is seen as a hero by many. In short, CNN was telling its people to be kind to Castro. It should be noted that CNN also has a bureau in Havana. Its longtime bureau chief, Lucia Newman, left to join Al Jazeera.

It seems that CNN has not learned from its experience in Iraq, where it had to admit that it withheld details about the bloody rule of Saddam Hussein in order to maintain access to its bureau. Perhaps Americans would have a better understanding of what life in such a dictatorship is like and thus the importance of American efforts to nurture a democracy there if the folks at CNN and their colleagues had only done their jobs.

It’s often said that journalists write the first draft of history and that’s what troubles me. Historians of the future are going to have to wade through countless reports of what should have been reliable sources and will draw some pretty distorted conclusions. The media’s ongoing dereliction of duty on the subject of Cuba should be taught as a dark chapter in journalistic ethics classes across America -- but I’m not holding my breath.