Why journalists get the story wrong on Cuba.

There’s a lot of conservative blogs out there that knock the mainstream media. And with good reason, surveys conducted on the matter show that most working journalists in America today are Democrats and identify themselves as liberal. Yet they continue to insist that they are unbiased and fair. Several authors have blown holes in the idea of media balance like Bernard Goldberg who once worked at CBS. While he doesn’t consider himself a conservative, Goldberg found the bias he encountered in the mainstream media so blatant that he wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about it and ultimately lost his job over it. So one of the big issues conservatives lament is the fact that their ideas don’t get a fair shake in the media. And that’s where conservatives and most Cuban-Americans intersect. Babalu is that intersection.
We often talk about how the MSM is either lazy, stupid or complicit with the castro regime when it comes to its coverage of Cuba. And this week we obtained another piece of evidence that shows that it’s no accident that we get a kind of dumbed-down homogeneous coverage about Cuba here in The States.
Parallels have been drawn to how CNN soft peddled Saddam’s Iraq prior to the war in an effort to keep its Baghdad bureau from being shut down by the Hussein regime. A CNN executive made a refreshingly candid mea culpa on the matter.
So let’s take a look at the issue of covering dictatorships and see what we can learn. Let’s start with the premise that most Americans would probably say that dictatorships are bad. I mean the ideal of democracy is that every citizen has a voice in how the country is governed because how the country is governed affects them. But all dictatorships are not alike. Over the course of history, we’ve observed many types of dictatorships. Right wing, left wing, fascist, communist, religious, secular, etc. etc.
So if dictatorships are bad because they don’t reflect the will of the people governed by them then by extension the dictatorships that seek to control the people the most should be the worst kind. Follow me folks. It’s important to understand what I’m trying to say. If dictatorships are bad because they limit freedom (freedom being good) then those dictatorships which limit freedom the most must be the worst kind of dictatorships.
Can we agree that a totalitarian dictatorship that intrudes on one’s political, economic, social and religious freedoms is worse than a traditional military dictatorship that only intrudes on political freedoms? We should. I mean let’s be clear here, neither is as good as democracy but clearly one limits all types of freedoms much more than the other which is concerned with limiting one type of freedom.
Given the fact that many many countries are ruled by some form a dictatorship, the media SHOULD be in the business of accurately describing what distinguishes them from each other. And the descriptions should be based on how many and what types of freedoms are affected by the dictator and to what degree. But the journalist’s mantra today is balance. That means that everything has a fan and a detractor and that neither is more correct than the other. It’s an abdication of judgment on the journalist’s part that leaves the impression that there are no degrees of dictatorship or oppression. That they are essentially all alike.
Here’s an example provided by commenter about how the Miami Herald characterized the Pinochet dictatorship of Chile in 1998.

SANTIAGO, Chile — Like a modern Mussolini, Chile’s former military ruler Gen. Augusto Pinochet has defenders, here and abroad, who excuse his brutal governing style since it brought increased efficiency to a bloated and underproductive economy.

The above passage is very telling. It starts by informing the reader that Chile’s former dictator had defenders who “excused his brutal governing style”. Excusing something bad is not generally seen as a good thing, so those people who do the excusing must be wrong. Also notice how the parallel is drawn to an infamous dictator that most readers not acquainted with Latin America and Pinochet would instantly recognize: Mussolini. Mussolini was a dictator so bad that America had to fight against him in world war.
Now let’s look at a passage about fidel castro from the CNN memo.

Please note Fidel did bring social reforms to Cuba – namely free education and universal health care, and racial integration. in addition to being criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech.

This quote looks very similar to the previous one from the Herald article about Pinochet but is really almost the exact inverse. It begins with the premise of the “good” that castro has done and seems to only begrudgingly acknowledge that “some people” criticize the regime for oppression.
Why can’t a journalist look at these two dictatorships and come to an objective conclusion that they were very different and that one was certainly worse than the other?
Let’s take a look. Pinochet came to power in 1974 and left power in 1990. fidel took power in 1959 and is “stepping down” in 2008. If dictators are bad, then isn’t one who rules for three times as long worse?
Also Pinochet acquiesced to the will of the Chilean people when he stepped down after a plebiscite. fidel has never held a plebiscite.
There is no doubt that Pinochet arrested members of his political opposition, torturing and killing many of them. But there is equally no doubt that castro has done exactly the same things. Pinochet’s regime produced a number of exiles estimated in the thousands. Chileans could leave their country at any time. The castro regime has produced more than 1.5 million exiles and Cubans don’t even have the right to leave their country when they please so it’s unknown how many more would leave if they could.
Nobody will ever be able to successfully argue that greater economic freedoms exist under castro than existed under Pinochet. Looking at the two countries today, the difference is stark. Chile has the 2nd highest per capita GDP in all of Latin America. Cuba, on the other hand, isn’t even listed on many of the rankings. It’s been well reported that only Haiti is poorer than Cuba in the western hemisphere.
I know I’m going to be criticized for this statement BUT while both dictatorships were bad by almost all objective measures castro’s dictatorship has been worse. It’s lasted longer, restricted more freedoms, created more exiles and has refused to end itself voluntarily.
Even though I only gave one example of coverage each dictatorship I believe they are fairly representative of the coverage both regimes have historically gotten. So the question is if the castro regime is worse why does the media often do what it condemns with regards to Pinochet and excuse castro for his abuses?
I don’t think is has to do as much with the way the the dictators treated their people as it does with the relationship the dictators had with the United States. That’s where the bias lies. When the U.S. has close ties to a dictator then that dictator is the worst kind of dictator. But when a dictator like Saddam or castro is an enemy of the United States then it’s probably for good reason.
This also explains why Cuban-Americans are treated so poorly by the media. It’s because most of us are patriotic Americans who are very thankful for the opportunities this country has provided us and reject the idea that we have to live under a communist anti-American to have good healthcare and education.
The castro propaganda machine feeds into these natural biases of the media with expert precision. And the journalists are either too dumb, lazy or complicit to notice or care. That’s why it’s so upsetting to see things like the CNN memo. We read the headlines in Granma or Prensa Latina and within hours the same stories are regurgitated by CNN, Reuters or the ASSociated Press.

2 thoughts on “Why journalists get the story wrong on Cuba.”

  1. Henry excellent point as to where Cubans and Conservatives intersect.
    Another point you always make is about the lazyness of reporters covering Cuba.
    Anti-Americanism is always an easy safe bet too. It’s easy to be anti-American because of the 1st Amendment. Criticizing America is a piece of cake. There’s no real down-side on the contrary, there are kudos, awards and accolades. Same with some of the right-leaning “dictaflojas” like Pinochet and Franco. When there’s a downside, danger, secret police, etc..well it’s easier to join in on the anti-America pile on.

  2. One irony about the “Fidel social reforms..health..education” and “Pinochet..brutal..efficient” meme is that Pinochet had a better record on reducing Infant Mortality than Fidel.(UCLA’s Statistical Abstract on Latin America, various ECLA yearbooks)

    Another is that the Chilean House of Deputies passed a resolution 81-47, a commanding 63 %-37 % majority, called the Declaration of the Breakdown of Chile Democracy, which was in effect a legislative invitation to a coup. They would not have passed such a strongly worded resolution if the majority of the Chilean people were not already disgusted with Allende’s repeated violations of democratic procedure. The MSM NEVER mentions the Declaration.

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