CyberAlert -- 04/05/2000 -- "Cuban Good Life" Awaits Elian

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"Cuban Good Life" Awaits Elian; Miami Intolerant; ABC to Dump DiCaprio?

1) Did the government suit against Microsoft prompt or contribute to Tuesday's stock market plunge? CBS didn't mention the Microsoft case, ABC downplayed it. Only NBC allowed that "investors are worried now about government intervention in business."

2) The "Cuban good life" awaits Elian, promised NBC's Jim Avila who predicted his family would get "perks like five free gallons" of gas and a monthly bag full of beans, shampoo and deodorant.

3) Forget communist Cuba. ABC's John Quinones complained that Miami is "a community with very little tolerance." NBC's Katie Couric snidely relayed how some say "it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami."

4) Actor Andy Garcia took on Today's Matt Lauer and Castro. To Lauer's astonishment, Garcia maintained 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 grow up in Cuba.

5) ABC News President David Westin says they were tricked by Bill Clinton. "We did not send" Leonardo DiCaprio "to interview the President...No one is that stupid." They just wanted a celebrity look at White House weatherstripping.


The broadcast networks ignored or downplayed the role of the federal government's intervention in the market, via the suit against Microsoft, in driving down the stock market for the second day in a row on Tuesday. All three evening shows led with volatile day on Wall Street in which both the Dow and NASDAQ plunged more than 500 points during the day before rebounding to a lesser loss.

"By any objective analysis the bears have not taken over Wall Street -- at least not yet -- but you could certainly hear them growling in the distance today," assessed CBS News anchor Dan Rather. In his subsequent story reporter Anthony Mason made no mention of the impact of the Microsoft ruling announced the afternoon before.

ABC's Betsy Stark claimed Tuesday was "the worst many could remember since the market crash of 1987." She later allowed for a small role for the Microsoft decision: "Yesterday's plunge in technology stocks could be blamed at least partly on Microsoft. But the broad-based decline the first half of today, which scorched both old and new economy stocks, was driven largely by momentum."

Tom Brokaw opened the April 4 NBC Nightly News by describing Wall Street's day as "a bungee jump, a roller coast ride and a near death experience all rolled into one heart-stopping day." Reporter Mike Jensen did not mention Microsoft, instead blaming "momentum players." But CNBC's Ron Insana, who came aboard to run through reasons experts cite for the volatile day, did raise the government's interference as a factor:
"Did the decision against Microsoft have any impact on the market? It may have. Investors are worried now about government intervention in business. They say this could have a chilling effect on the market, asking whether technological innovation will be stifled in the future."


From Havana NBC's Jim Avila promised that if Elian Gonzalez returns to Cuba he and his family will become part of the "Cuban good life," with five gallons of gas a month, a bag full of beans and deodorant, plus tickets to discos. But though CBS's Randall Pinkston featured a Cuban neighbor who thinks Elian should be with his father in Cuba, he at least acknowledged "Elian would be returning to a very different place," a place with horse-drawn carts and sewage in the streets.

For the April 4 NBC Nightly News Avila delivered an attractive preview of what awaits Elian upon his return. Avila began by claiming that the Cuban regime has moved Elian's father to an "exclusive neighborhood" in Havana. The father, Avila added, is "from a family of loyal communists with good jobs in the local government." His "good job" -- cashier at a park.

Avila soon did Fidel Castro proud, happily relaying communist propaganda: "If and when Elian returns he will become a four-foot tall deity in a country that officially does not believe in God. His classroom desk, a virtual shrine, the chair considered sacred reads 'untouchable' [video of words on back of chair]. His home, a two-bedroom converted garage that has been re-painted and improved by the government is comfortable. Here he has his own room, a luxury in housing-short Cuba."

Avila then really poured it on:
"Elian's future here likely to be the Cuban good life, lived by Communist Party elite with perks like five free gallons of gasoline a month for the family, a Cuban tradition called 'La Jaba,' the bag, which includes extra rice, beans, cooking oil and sundries like deodorant, shampoo, razors and shaving cream, about $15 a month worth of basics. Plus, invitations reserved for the party elite to cultural events, sports, discos and restaurants, access to the best medicine, expensive drugs like heart cures not available to everyone in Cuba."

Wow. How could anyone resist the promise of $15 worth of shampoo, deodorant and rice in a bag? Why not just stay in Miami where you can get a job and buy it yourself and not be surrounded by those who don't get any deodorant or shampoo.

After a friend of the father got time to say not everyone wants to leave Cuba, Avila concluded: "Tonight, Juan Miguel Gonzalez has his visa to go to the United States. The question: Will he use it and when."

Of course, it's not up to him when or whether to use it. Castro will decide.

CBS's Randall Pinkston traveled to Juan Miguel Gonzalez's hometown of Cardenes. He showed CBS Evening News viewers how "Elian would be returning to a very different place. In Cardenes this is their version of a moving van [video of horse-pulled cart], public sanitation is from a long time ago [video of liquid puddles of some sort at side of road], and children amuse themselves playing in the streets."
Isabel Alarcon, "Elian's neighbor," through translator: "He'll be better off because he'll be with his people, his father, his grandparents, his little brother and the people he has always known."
Pinkston: "For neighbors like Isabel Alarcon there's nothing more priceless than family."


Instead of focusing on the oppression which will greet Elian in Cuba, even if he'll get some deodorant and a few beans in a bag, ABC and NBC over the last two days have portrayed Cubans in Miami as the intolerant oppressors worthy of condemnation.

Tuesday night ABC's John Quinones complained that everything in Miami is "colored by a hatred of communism and Fidel Castro. It's a community with very little tolerance for those who might disagree." Monday morning Katie Couric opened NBC's Today by snidely remarking: "Some suggested...that it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami." She added that an unnamed writer called Miami "an out of control banana republic within America."

ABC's John Quinones began an April 4 World News Tonight piece on Miami's Cuban community: "Cuban-Americans, full of fervor and outright anger, passionately determined to keep young Elian from being returned to Cuba." He first looked at a family which fled Cuba in the 1960s. The father was a doctor in Havana, but had to accept a job in Florida as an orderly. "Yet his wife says even today she would do anything to spare her children life under communism," Quinones acknowledged. He played soundbites from the wife and her daughter before transitioning to the dark side:
"It seems like such a contradiction that Cubans, who profess a love of family and respect for the bond between father and son, would be so willing to separate Elian from his father. But in Miami it's impossible to over-estimate how everything here is colored by a hatred of communism and Fidel Castro. It's a community with very little tolerance for those who might disagree."
Elena Freyre: "The same people who claim to have left Cuba seeking freedom are seeking to silence voices that might not be in agreement with what they believe."

Quinones explained how Freyre is also an exile, one of the few proclaiming support for Elians's father. Maybe one of the few, but given more time than the first family in the piece. Quinones asserted: "The exile community, she says, should be ashamed for using a six-year-old boy as a puppet in its stand against Fidel Castro."

After three soundbites from Freyre, Quinones concluded by allowing the daughter in the first family say that if Elian's father loves him he'll let Elian stay in the U.S.

Monday morning Katie Couric opened the April 3 Today, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens:
"Matt some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Elian Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami. All eyes on South Florida and its image this morning. Another writer this weekend called it 'an out of control banana republic within America.' What effect is the Elian Gonzalez story having on perception of Miami? We will talk with a well known columnist for the Miami Herald about that."

In the subsequent segment Couric badgered Liz Balmaseda, a columnist for the Miami Herald. Couric first asked: "You think that Miami and the Cuban Exile community is getting a bum rap in all this. How come?" She followed-up: "There is an impression out there that Miami is pursing its very own foreign policy on this."

Balmaseda replied: "Because outside of Miami this is being seen as a custodial matter. Inside of Miami people are realizing that the only paternal figure who has emerged in this case is Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro is obsessed with this child. And I think it changes things. It has changed things in the last few months as he has emerged and Juan Gonzalez has disappeared."
To which Couric countered: "But Liz when all is said and done isn't this really a custodial matter? Isn't this a question of who should be raising this little boy? Why should politics be so paramount in the decision making process?"
Balmaseda answered: "I don't think politics should be paramount whatsoever. But what began as a custodial matter. What began between relatives has emerged into being essentially a move by Fidel Castro to take this child. Juan Gonzalez has totally disappeared from the picture. And the fact that everyday passes and he's not here is a statement in itself."

Couric made sure Cuban-Americans didn't escape blame: "But Fidel Castro isn't alone though, is he Liz in making this a political hot potato? Obviously the Cuban Exile community is contributing to this enormously."
Balmaseda: "Yes but it's always easier to cover Miami. You don't need a visa to come here. You don't need government approval for access. The hard story to do is to go to Cuba and cover that in a free and objective way and that is not happening."

Couric prompted her: "So what do you think? Tell me specifically. What would the headline be if people were in Cuba covering this story? And what kind of information would the American public be getting that they're not."
Balmaseda suggested: "I'd like to be in Cuba, I don't get a visa to go to Cuba. I think that what the people would probably see is a father that is being pressured. And I don't know enough information because frankly we, the cameras are all parked outside Elian's house in Miami."

Sadly, as shown in item #2 above, NBC has a reporter in Havana but he's more interested in highlighting Cuba's "good life."

Couric ended by taking on Balmaseda's contention: "Father's being pressured? A father who doesn't want to take care or doesn't want custody of his son?"


Actor Andy Garcia bucked Today co-host Matt Lauer Tuesday morning, challenging his assumptions about how fatherhood should trump communism. Garcia fled Cuba as a young boy and, to Lauer's astonishment, he maintained 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."

Garcia argued that a communist indoctrination program awaits Elian who "deserves the civil liberties that we so enjoy here in the United States." As for Castro's concern for kids, Garcia reminded viewers how Castro has had fleeing boats capsized, drowning many Cuban children.

Lauer introduced the April 4 interview segment, as caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "Polls show a majority of Americans think the little boy should go back to Cuba with his father. But many of the 800,000 Cuban Americans living in Florida strongly disagree. Cuban American actor Andy Garcia is in Miami this morning."

Lauer's first question: "I'm fine. There is so much emotion on both sides of this issue Andy. And I know you feel that even if the father comes to the U.S. Elian should stay here could you explain that for me?"
Garcia delivered a perspective on life in Cuba not heard elsewhere on the networks, especially not in NBC reporter Jim Avila's focus on the Cuban "good life" (See item #2). Garcia explained:
"Well you know Matt I'm the product of the same fate that is awaiting Elian in the sense that I left Cuba when I was about to turn 6 years old at the time. My parents, were, I was very fortunate they were able to get me out of the country. At that time there was laws passed that are still very much in order in Cuba today which, the state, takes over the rights of the children from their parents. So this is not really. You know you basically go into an indoctrination program where you become a member of what they call Los Pioneeros, which is Communist Pioneer Youth Group, which their motto is, you know, 'Pioneers for Communism, We Will Be Like Che.' And you know this is a very important fact that we must ascertain in this case because it's not a normal custody case. In this case the father does not have real legal rights over his own child. The father in this case is the state and that's something that has to be taken into account."

Lauer pressed again: "But we're trying to read the mind of this father. I know you feel that he has little control if any over his actions and his statements. But can we be sure of that Andy, can we say that this father truly doesn't want to stay in Cuba, and doesn't want his child back there under any circumstances?"
Garcia pointed out the obvious, that maybe contrary to Katie Couric's belief (see item #3 above) there is a place more repressive than Miami: "Well no, you can never be sure of that. But what you can be sure of that there is only one opinion in Cuba and that's the state opinion. And if the father had contrary thoughts to that, those would never be voiced or be permitted to be voiced. And that is a fact."

Lauer next asked: "I know you feel that the father, that Castro originally wanted the father to come here with thirty or so other people. And that's a clear sign that they are very much afraid that this father would express his true feelings once he arrived on American soil."
Garcia noted how Casto wants to decontaminate Elian after his months in the U.S.: "It will be difficult for him to do so I think if he does come here because they will never permit his other members of his extended family, his own wife, his other children to come with him. So they will be sort of held in, you know, house arrest there and it will be difficult for him to actually express his true feelings. But the real issue here is really what's best for the child. And in a normal custody case the child has his day in court and the judge's, you know, determine whether the people that are gonna take over the child's life, in this case the father who is the remaining parent, is fit. In this case the parent, like I say in my opinion, is really the state. And you'll be, as soon as he gets back to Cuba he will be as Castro put it himself, 'begin the process of decontamination.' Which apparently we've done to this poor child here in the United States."

Lauer made the case that fatherhood should trump communism: "You shared a little of your personal story about coming here when you were about to turn 6. Let me ask you to take this and make it a personal issue. You've got three children, is that right?"
Garcia: "Yes, yes."
Lauer: "So if you were in Cuba and Elian was your child here in the United States could you honestly say that you'd rather have him stay here than be reunited with you in Cuba?"
Indeed, Garcia affirmed the answer Lauer found baffling: "With complete conviction Matt. I would never, it's a fate worse than hell to have my children, to think that my children would be growing up in that system over there. I mean I was a product of that. I was singing the International when I was about to turn six years old before we left Cuba and I can tell you first hand by many experiences the situation in Cuba for a young man is not a good one. We had a terrible issue in 1994 with 72 Cubans who left on a tugboat from Cuba and the Cuban fireboats or coast guard approached this vessel and with fire hoses proceeded to drown and to capsize these boats where 41 of the 72 died and amongst them were ten children. So this personal obsession that Fidel has over this child is obviously for political reasons. And this child if he goes back will become sort of a pendant around, you know, Fidel's, you know, neck as his trophy and his anti-American sort of mantle."

Finally, Lauer tried to apply the same criticism to Cubans in Florida: "Isn't it also possible though Andy that he becomes somewhat of a trophy to Cuban-Americans living in Florida if he remains here?"
Garcia suggested maybe Cubans in Miami have a better understanding of things than do the media: "You know the people who feel passionate about this are people who know the reality of life in Cuba. Those who do not know the reality of life in Cuba would obviously side with the child reuniting with his own parents. But I speak to you, not only as a friend, but, with, from the deepest sentiments in my heart, I know for a fact that this child is in my own heart, in my own opinion. This is my opinion. This child deserves the civil liberties that we so enjoy here in the United States."

++ Watch Garcia take on Castro and Lauer. Late Wednesday morning MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip of a portion of this interview. Go to:


Under heavy criticism from his staff, ABC News President David Westin, in the words of the Washington Post's Lisa de Moraes on April 4, "seems to be distancing himself from Leonardo DiCaprio's Friday sit-down with President Clinton." In fact, Westin is denying Saturday's Washington Post story about how ABC News asked the White House to have Clinton sit down with DiCaprio, chairman of Earth Day activities on Washington's Mall, for an Earth Day-related ABC News special. (See the April 3 CyberAlert for an excerpt of Howard Kurtz's Post story.)

Westin claimed ABC only planned to have Clinton walk around the White House building with DiCaprio to show environmental improvements, such as low-energy lightbulbs and weatherstripping, but Clinton insisted on a sit down interview instead. Even this new line, however, has ABC News using an active participant in Earth Day in a reporting role.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister noted how "in his memo, Westin says 'it's quite possible' ABC News will use none of the footage."

Tuesday night, only FNC picked up on the controversy, with Jim Angle playing soundbites from White House Deputy Press Secretary Jack Siewert denying Westin's version and maintaining that ABC News specifically asked for an interview.

Here are some excerpts from Tuesday's newspaper stories. First, from Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post:

ABC News President David Westin seems to be distancing himself from Leonardo DiCaprio's Friday sit-down with President Clinton. In fact, he says it wasn't meant to be an interview at all -- a position disputed by White House officials.

"We did not send him to interview the President," Westin told his staff in an e-mail over the weekend. "No one is that stupid."

He said ABC sent the 25-year-old actor simply to do a "walk-through" of the White House -- to look at its weatherstripping and other environmental efforts for a prime-time special -- when "the President announced he wanted to sit down and do an interview with DiCaprio."

In that circumstance, Westin told The Post's Howard Kurtz yesterday, "it's awfully hard to say, 'No, no, Mr. President.'"

But White House officials tell a slightly different story. They say the request from ABC News, first made in February through the administration's Council on Environmental Quality, was definitely for a presidential interview. They say DiCaprio was always understood to be the questioner, that Deputy Chief of Staff Steve Ricchetti briefed Clinton on the request Thursday and that the President approved it the next day. (An ABC spokeswoman says they expected the president might answer some questions during the walk-through but that it was White House staffers who insisted that Clinton had time only to give an interview, not a full-fledged tour.)

Some ABC folks are appalled at the Post's report on Friday that the network is using DiCaprio, Chairman of the upcoming Earth Day festivities, in a news division special slated for late April. Westin said in the e-mail that the program would cast DiCaprio in the role of "a sincere, informed celebrity," but that "all roles of journalists must be played by journalists (duh!)." He said ABC might not even use the footage of Clinton chatting up the "Titanic" star.

"David Westin is making an effort to climb out of a hole that he didn't originally dig," one ABC News staffer says. Westin prefers to stress the big picture, telling The Post: "We have to make some effort to do serious journalism for the DiCaprio generation."

END Excerpt

Second, from Gail Shister's story in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

....The troops needed calming, particularly in the Washington bureau. Several high-profile correspondents made their displeasure known to Westin, according to ABC insiders.

DiCaprio had been dispatched to the White House as part of an hourlong ABC News environment special to air on or around Earth Day, April 22. He was brought into the project by pal Chris Cuomo, 20/20 correspondent and anchor of the special....

DiCaprio, a chick magnet, was chosen because of his concern for the environment and because the broadcast is aimed at younger viewers, says Phyllis McGrady, ABC News senior vice president.

The original plan called for DiCaprio and ABC News producer Rudy Bednar to tour the White House with Clinton as he explained environmental improvements that had been made, McGrady says.

When DiCaprio and crew arrived, however, they were told the President didn't have time for the tour, McGrady says. Clinton then offered to talk with DiCaprio, which they did for about 15 minutes on the porch area by the Rose Garden, McGrady says....

For her part, McGrady is a tad surprised by the brouhaha. "Obviously, we're not going to send Leo to the White House to interview the President. We have plenty of qualified people here to do that..."

The DiCaprio segment was to run from 40 seconds to a minute, McGrady says. But don't count on its showing up on the air. Ever.

In his memo, Westin says "it's quite possible" ABC News will use none of the footage. Remember, that's a lawyer talking.

END Excerpt

If they have "plenty of qualified people," why didn't they send one over?

On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume Tuesday night, April 4, Jim Angle played this comment from Deputy Press Secretary Jack Siewert, who maintained ABC News had requested an interview session: "ABC News indicated that would be Leonardo DiCaprio that would ask the questions. We negotiated as we always do and we put together an interview, we told them we'd do an interview and we did an interview."

This is one time when I believe the White House. I bet the ABC News New York hierarchy is only backtracking now because of the anger from an embarrassed Washington bureau staff. -- Brent Baker

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