Heads up, lies down

A guest post by Asombra:

Heads Up, Lies Down

teel reporting cuban revolution

There’s a new book out which looks very promising. It’s called Reporting the Cuban Revolution: How Castro Manipulated American Journalists. It was written by Leonard Ray Teel, professor emeritus of communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta and the 2014 recipient of the Sidney Kobre Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Journalism Historians Association.

Here’s the blurb from the Amazon listing:

Reporting the Cuban Revolution reveals the untold story of thirteen American journalists in Cuba whose stories about Fidel Castro s revolution changed the way Americans viewed the conflict and altered U.S. foreign policy in Castro s favor.

Between 1956 and 1959, the thirteen correspondents worked underground in Cuba, evading the repressive censorship of Fulgencio Batista s dictatorship in order to report on the rebellion led by Fidel Castro. The journalists stories appeared in major newspapers, magazines, and national television and radio, influencing Congress to abruptly cut off shipments of arms to Batista in 1958. Castro was so appreciative of the journalists efforts to publicize his rebellion that on his first visit to the United States as premier of Cuba, he invited the reporters to a private reception at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, where he presented them with engraved gold medals.

While the medals revealed Castro s perception of the correspondents as like-minded partisans, the journalists themselves had no such intentions. Some had journeyed to Cuba in pursuit of scoops that could rejuvenate or jump-start their careers; others sought to promote press freedom in Latin America; still others were simply carrying out assignments from their editors. Bringing to light the disparate motives and experiences of the thirteen journalists who reported on this crucial period in Cuba s history, Reporting the Cuban Revolution is both a masterwork of narrative nonfiction and a deft analysis of the tension between propaganda and objectivity in the work of American foreign correspondents.

The 13 American reporters the book focuses on include, naturally, the eternally detestable Fidel groupie and propagandist Herbert Matthews, but check out the free text included in the Amazon listing (click on the image of the book cover), especially Chapter 1, which is titled “The Thirteen” for more details.

Needless to say, the book’s first strength is that it was not written by a Cuban, especially one of “those people,” which would handicap it significantly no matter how accurate, well written or illuminating it might be–you all know the drill. If it can help set the record straight, or straighter, about what truly went down, I don’t care if it was written by an Eskimo–it is sorely needed.

Remember, American news coverage of the Castro insurgency before 1959 was absolutely critical to Castro’s eventual triumph, as he himself explicitly recognized (including giving gold medals as a sign of appreciation to the 13 American journos in question in 1959). In other words, this is not some academic exercise for historians; this is about exposing one of the crucial enablers of Cuba’s fall into totalitarian tyranny. No, the responsible parties won’t be begging for our forgiveness no matter how damning the evidence, but anything that gets more truth out there is extremely welcome.

3 thoughts on “Heads up, lies down”

  1. I will not past judgement until I read the book, but red flags are already starting to pop up. While some of the journalists may not have had sinister reasons for lionizing castro, some may have genuinely been fooled, or had benign ulterior motives, I doubt that Herbert Matthews was that innocent. He was the senior editor of the NYT’s a paper that a few decades earlier had maliciously and willfully depicted Stalin as a grandfatherly figure. The paper had gone as far as to gloss over and deny the concentration camps in Siberia where 6 million died. The NYT’s has always had a “left-winged” agenda and a soft spot for communism, thus putting Matthews in that group of naive or innocent journalists is a bit of a stretch. I think that the NYTs knew what it was doing.

  2. I have not read the book and I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I expect this is the best we’re likely to get on this particular score from a non-Cuban source. If a Cuban did better, it would probably get no more traction than Manuel Márquez-Sterling’s excellent book on the years leading up to the Castro takeover (Cuba 1952-1959: The True Strory of Castro’s Rise to Power).

    As for Matthews, regardless of his motives, he wound up doing the same thing for Fidel that Duranty did for Stalin, if not more. His Cuba coverage was so outrageously skewed and so spectacularly misleading that the kindest possible excuse is that he was cognitively impaired, in which case he had zero business working as a reporter, let alone for a major newspaper. However, the “honor” of the NYT as the flagship of American journalism has to be protected, even now–Cuba’s fate be damned. Also, there are too many “important” figures who’ve bought into the fantasy version of the Castro “revolution” over the past 50-plus years, and they must be protected also. We will never get our due from such people, ever. It is what it is.

  3. Basically, American journalism cannot be held fully accountable for its very significant role in Castro’s triumph and its catastrophic consequences for Cuba, just as JFK cannot be held duly accountable for his execrable role in the disaster. In other words, the high and mighty and/or sacred cows of the first country in the world are NOT going to be humiliated and disgraced for the sake of some little Caribbean island. Again, it is what it is.

Comments are closed.