CyberAlert -- 04/23/2000 -- Reno's Righteous Raid

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Reno's Righteous Raid; Reno & Castro Care About Kids; Journalists "Laughed" At Fears

1) Looking at the bright side, the raid on Elian's Miami home wiped out Earth Day coverage. Jane Fonda's CNN special bumped.

2) Saturday's New York Times headline warned about "U.S. Gathers Officers" to "Take Cuban Boy," but the Washington Post announced: "Hope Grows in Elian Talks."

3) On Saturday's Capital Gang and Inside Washington Al Hunt, Evan Thomas and Nina Totenberg all backed the raid. Newsweek's Thomas called Reno "principled" and denigrated the Miami family's "bogus, paranoid fear" that Elian would be taken to Cuba.

4) Dan Rather didn't see how Reno could be criticized for the operation, insisted "Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection" to the Cuban people and cut into Marisleysis's house tour to express concern for "fairness and for balance."

5) CBS's Jim Stewart claimed Janet Reno has "true compassion" for children and "she truly cares for them."

6) ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin insisted Reno was perfectly within her rights, but FNC legal analyst Andrew Napolitano charged a court's ruling "was flagrantly disobeyed by the federal government" which conducted "a high class kidnapping."

7) FNC challenged Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder over the legal basis of the "unprecedented" seizure of a child without a court order and asked if the overnight negotiations were "a ruse"?

8) Journalists "laughed" at fears about the feds grabbing people's guns, but "after this picture today no one can laugh at that picture because it's real," suggested Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

9) NBC's Jim Avila reported from Havana about how Elian's classmates are "ready to go" to the U.S., claiming "there's no way of knowing how much choice" they have. Avila benignly relayed that Castro just "wants to re-create Elian's classroom and surround him with hometown friends" in a "beachfront mansion."

10) FNC stayed with Elian until 1am, CNN until 11pm. Before sunset in California, MSNBC went to repeats of shows about Barbara Eden and Star Trek.

Editor's Note: I tried to simultaneously watch six networks Saturday morning and three all day so know I missed a lot, especially from CNN which I barely saw, but I think I caught a lot of very biased material which in the interest of timeliness I'm putting out in this unusual Sunday edition.


On the up side: Janet Reno's snatching of Elian wiped out Earth Day coverage. None of the cable news networks aired any live coverage Saturday afternoon of the rally on Washington's Mall hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio.

To stay with Elian coverage CNN dumped its scheduled Saturday night at 10pm ET special, People Count: Hot on the Trail, hosted by Jane Fonda.

NBC Nightly News covered nothing but Elian while the CBS Evening News was all Elian except for the 15 seconds it took anchor Russ Mitchell to run down three other headlines, including a ten word mention of Earth Day: "Thousands across America marked the 30th anniversary of Earth Day." On ABC's World News Tonight, anchor Elizabeth Vargas squeezed in 23 seconds on people marking Earth Day and plugging ABC's then-upcoming prime time special, Planet Earth 2000.


A prescient New York Times versus a misguided Washington Post. The headlines over front page stories in the two papers on Saturday, April 22:

-- New York Times: "U.S. Gathers Officers, Preparing to Take Cuban Boy From Miami Kin"

-- Washington Post: "Hope Grows in Elian Talks." The subhead: "Reno Passes Miami Kin's Plan, Cuban Dad's Counteroffer"


One hundred percent agreement: Every mainstream media reporter on CNN's Capital Gang and PBS's Inside Washington on Saturday night supported Janet Reno's decision to take Elian Gonzalez by force, as did columnists Mark Shields and Jack Germond. Only conservative writers Charles Krauthammer, Bob Novak and Kate O'Beirne denounced it.

Newsweek's Evan Thomas was unable to distinguish between the need for a normal sidearm and a large, high-powered weapon, blamed the breakdown in negotiations on the Miami family's "bogus, paranoid fear" that if sent to DC Elian would be spirited out of the country by Cuban diplomats, and described Reno as "principled" and "apolitical."

-- Backing the raid. On CNN's Capital Gang Mark Shields insisted: "This was the right decision to make by every definition."

Al Hunt, Executive Washington Editor of the Wall Street Journal, agreed: "It's whether you believe in the rule of law, which is what they did today, Kate. Precisely what they did. And what happened today took three minutes, that's all it took. No one was hurt, no one was killed, the child got out safely...that was a very successful mission."

Over on a freshly taped edition of Inside Washington shown on many PBS station, but produced at the Gannett-owned CBS affiliated WUSA-TV in Washington, DC, which ran the updated show at 7pm Saturday night, Evan Thomas and Nina Totenberg backed Reno's move.

Host Tina Gulland asked: "Did she have to do this?" Thomas, Newsweek's Assistant Managing Editor, maintained: "I think so. If you listen to the Miami relatives, there's more time, the negotiations were going on, they were betrayed, but I think, I'm sympathetic to Reno this was just going to drag on forever. And that Lazaro, who's not the most dependable person, was going to keep pulling the plug on it, so I think she did have to act."

NPR reporter Nina Totenberg chimed in: "You woke up and you saw these pictures and any human being would have said, this poor child. And within moments, Lazaro was outside saying 'If I'd had a gun it would have been different.' Well that's why they went in with guns."

Columnist Charles Krauthammer said "it was a disgrace," before Jack Germond argued: "The fact is, she should have done this a month ago. But she had to do it. It was done about at clinically as you could do given the family and the situation."

-- Guns are guns. Talking about the AP photo showing a U.S. Border Patrol officer holding what CBS's Jim Stewart identified as an "MP-5 automatic weapon," Thomas asserted: "I think it was actually a fairly well-executed raid. And of course they're going to have guns. They don't know what, no federal law enforcement official would go into a situation like this unarmed, although it's an unfortunate photo."

Evans missed the point that maybe more competent officers wouldn't have had to use the same high-powered weapons they employ when capturing violent felons, especially not the officers who went into the bedrooms to get Elian.

-- Miami family irrationally "paranoid." Thomas chastised the family's insistence on the proposed joint living arrangement being located in Florida:
"The Miami family is just obsessed with the idea that it had to be in Miami. They were afraid that if they went to Washington -- this is literally what they were afraid of -- that Elian would be put in the trunk of the car and shipped out to Cuba by diplomatic immunity. And that therefore it had to be on their own turf. Elian's father wanted it to be in Washington. He didn't want to have to go back down to Miami."
Host Tina Gulland: "How could they think it could be in the interest of the Justice Department to have Elian snuck out of the country when clearly the point is that he has to stay for the hearing?"
Thomas: "Their argument was the Justice Department couldn't stop it because the Cuban Interest Section would claim diplomatic immunity. This was a bogus, paranoid fear. But it is one of the reasons why these negotiations derailed."

Just as "bogus" and "paranoid" a fear as that over 100 civilian federal agents, outfitted military style with helmets, visors and high-powered guns, would surround their house before dawn as eight or so burst inside to grab a six-year-old?

As for Gulland's question, it's hard to know if she's stupid or just naive. The whole purpose of all the Justice Department has done over the past few months has been to reunite Elian with his father in Cuba. They were on the other side of the court ruling that Elian must stay in the U.S. pending a hearing.

-- "Principled" Reno. Charles Krauthammer assessed Reno: "She'll be remembered as the Attorney General who did Waco and the Attorney General who gave us that awful picture of the boy and the gun. That's how she'll be remembered."
Thomas countered: "I think that's totally unfair. I think that Reno really comes through this as somebody who may have made mistakes, but was principled about it and unlike most people in Washington, who are trying to figure out the political aspect of it, seemed quite apolitical about it. She may have been stumbling around in the dark, but she really gave off the vibes of somebody who was trying to work out a solution."


The best part of any breaking news event: Rather Raw. Saturday morning Dan Rather maintained that "It's hard to see how she [Reno] gets criticized for the way the operation was carried out"; insisted "Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection" to Cubans and "was sincere when he said, 'listen, we really want this child back here'"; worried about how the AP photographer in the bedroom had violated Elian's privacy; said "slightly veiled hands" are "behind the maneuvering on both sides of this case"; cut into Marisleysis's house tour to express concern for "fairness and for balance." And, he cried. Or at least pretended to.

Sometime before 6:45am ET CBS went live with The Saturday Early Show team plus Rather and stayed on the air until 12 noon, though Washington's CBS affiliate went to cartoons for five minutes at 11am ET. (ABC News came on for a couple of hours around 7am ET and returned for another half hour wrapped around Clinton's 10:25am statement. NBC was live with the Today team from before 6:45. Washington's NBC-owned station went to local news just past 9am and to regular shows at 10, not even returning for Clinton.)

From April 22 CBS News coverage:

-- 7:02am ET. Dan Rather: "Janet Reno, the Attorney General whose been criticized in a lot of quarters, and depending on one's point of view perhaps justifiably so, did demonstrate patience all the way through. One wants to remember she went to Miami herself to try to negotiate something. It's hard to see how she gets criticized for the way the operation was carried out. Yes you can say well the Marshals should not have been dressed that they were dressed, they shouldn't have been armed that heavily. Put all that in quotation marks. But in the end it worked. The child was gotten out safely."

-- 7:04am ET. Rather: "While Fidel Castro, and certainly justified on his record, is widely criticized for a lot of things, there is no question that Castro feels a very deep and abiding connection to those Cubans who are still in Cuba. And, I recognize this might be controversial, but there's little doubt in my mind that Fidel Castro was sincere when he said, 'listen, we really want this child back here.'"

-- 8:02am ET. Rather, briefly breaking into Reno's press conference after a question about the photo with the officer holding the huge gun: "Even if the photographer was in the house legally, which knowing the Associated Press would be very surprising if he wasn't, there is the question of the privacy, beginning with the privacy of the child. No one can look at these photographs and not think what this child is going through."

-- 8:45am ET. Rather to CBS News legal consultant Andrew Cohen: "What about the child's rights, does the child have a right to privacy, is it possible, is there any legal basis, for the family of the child, perhaps the father, to sue the Miami relatives for allowing the child's privacy to be, as they might say, trampled is this case, or is there no legal case to be made for that?"
Cohen: "I think there is a case. I think that's an excellent scenario..."

-- 8:48am ET. After consultant Pam Falk said church groups are paying for Greg Craig and the Miami family is getting lawyers pro-bono or paid by the Cuban American National Foundation, Rather spun moral equivalence: "The only point here is, as with so many stories, you have to follow the dollar to understand what's really happening because they have been, if not hidden hands, at least slightly veiled hands behind the maneuvering on both sides of this case."

-- 9:24am ET. Talking over the live tour of the damage to the house and what happened conducted by Marisleysis with pool reporter Kerry Sanders, Rather felt compelled to caution viewers: "We want to pick up some more of this I think as it goes along, but it's important for accuracy, for fairness, and for balance to point out that so far the relatives in Miami have dominated the imagery and the sounds of this morning."

Dan Rather caring about fairness and balance? Now that's a novel concept.

-- 9:36am ET. Rather started crying. He recalled: "Among the many images and sounds of this morning, this has to be one that really gets through to the heart. That the immigration service says that the female agent who carried little Elian from his home, from the home of these distant relatives in Miami, talked to him in Spanish and she says the message, worked out in advance, to the child, was, and I quote: 'This may seem very scary, but it will soon be better.' She says Elian was told he was being taken to Poppa, the word that he uses for his father. And then the father and son also talked by telephone later during Elian's flight to Washington."
Choking up, Rather continued: "If you just pause for a second, you can kind of imagine this child [voice breaks up as he looks down shaking head] wow."


Janet Reno "truly cares" for children, CBS News reporter Jim Stewart claimed. At about 9:03am ET, just after showing the photo of the SWAT team guy with a MP-5 as he reached to take Elian out of the fishing man's arms, Stewart related:
"We all know now that you can be rest assured that will be the bookend on Janet Reno's tenure as Attorney General, that and Waco on the other end. It is appalling from her perspective because of the true compassion she has for children. If you've ever seen her around children you know how much she truly cares for them and this has got to be tearing at her."

If she "truly cares" for children I'd hate to see what kind of overkill firepower she would put in such close proximity to those she doesn't care about.


Did Reno's action violate the ruling of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals? No, according to ABC legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, but FNC legal analyst Andrew Napolitano charge the court ruling "was flagrantly disobeyed by the federal government" which conducted "a high class kidnapping...sanctioned by no law."

-- ABC News. At about 8:55am ET, anchor Elizabeth Vargas asked: "And Jeffrey Toobin, our ABC News legal analyst, you maintain Janet Reno was well within her legal right to stage that raid, aggressive though it was."

As transcribed by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson pitching in on Saturday, Toobin contended: "I think one of the things we have to keep in mind is that attitudes toward this raid, towards this whole issue are very different in South Miami than they are in the rest of the country. I think in the rest of the country, the attitude has not been how dare she do this, is what took her so long? And the fact is, Lazaro Gonzalez has not had legal custody to this child for either seven or nine days, depending how you count, but certainly he didn't have it anymore. He had been in clear defiance of the Attorney General....
"Look, the law says that the father gets custody, period, and Juan Miguel and his advisors, Gregory Craig, had said look, we'll talk about anything as long as it begins with custody returning to the father, and that was something that the Miami relatives were never going to agree to, so I think it is true that Janet Reno, you know, may have had a lot of hope, but in fact these negotiations were destined for failure. And as amazing as it may have seemed months ago, this violent raid was -- violent without any injuries -- was the only way this was ever going to be resolved."

-- Fox News Channel. Just a few minutes earlier, FNC viewers had heard quite a different take. At about 9:40am ET FNC legal analyst Andrew Napolitano told anchor David Asman: "One of the reasons that we have such a basically peaceful and free society is because we have an independent judiciary and we have moral suasion behind the rulings of courts. Here the ruling of the court was flagrantly disobeyed by the federal government."

Asman asked which order. Napolitano explained: "The order issued by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals four days ago, which said once the INS chooses the guardian, and the INS chose Lazaro Gonzalez to be the guardian, and an application for asylum has been made by the guardian, the INS can not change the guardian and that's exactly what they did here."
Asman: "So is this executive overreach?"
Napolitano: "This is more than executive overreach. This is contempt of the circuit court of appeals order. This is a high class kidnapping is what it is, sanctioned by no law, sanctioned by no judge..."


FNC challenged Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder over the legal basis of the raid and asked if the overnight negotiations were "a ruse," but neither CBS News or MSNBC raised either issue in live Saturday morning interviews with Holder.

Appearing on FNC after CBS and before he went on MSNBC, Holder was asked by FNC anchor David Asman at 9:45am ET about the negotiations which went until 4:30am: "Was this all a ruse for the raid, the negotiations which took place this morning?"

FNC legal analyst Andrew Napolitano then got into an argument with Holder: "Isn't it true that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, this is Judge Napolitano, that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals just last week said that the INS, once having chosen Lazaro Gonzalez as the guardian, could not now make a change? And the INS has no discretion under the statutes but to hear the asylum application because it was made by the guardian it chose?"

Holder dismissed it as a "preliminary" finding, prompting Napolitano to demand: "Isn't it clear in that court of appeals ruling, preliminary though it may be, that the court ruled that the INS may not do exactly what it did this morning, which is, without a court order, change the guardian of this child. When is the last time a boy, a child, was taken at the point of a gun without an order of a judge. Unprecedented in American history."
Holder: "He was not taken at the point of a gun."
Napolitano: "We have a photograph showing he was taken at the point of a gun."
Holder: "They were armed agents who went in there who acted very sensitively..."

Napolitano pressed again: "Why didn't you go to a judge and get a court order to transfer custody like every other custody transfer in the history of this country has occurred, instead of using authoritarian jackboot tactics like putting the muzzle of a gun in the face of a six-year-old boy?"

(A few hours later, at 12:42pm ET, FNC's other legal analyst, Stan Goldman, checked in from Los Angeles and disagreed with Napolitano: "I think they had the right to do where in this opinion does it say anything that would prevent the government from going in and getting Elian. In fact, it says just the opposite. It says look, we are only going to rule on the fact he can't leave the country. We're not going to rule on who's got custody of him. It was very clear on that point and that was a very clear signal I think to the Justice Department, to Janet Reno that even the 11th circuit was not going to stop her from going in and getting this boy." But Goldman did agree that there "is no precedent" for not having a court order before seizing a child.)


Journalists "laughed" at fears about the feds grabbing people's guns, but "after this picture today," of the officer holding a gun in front of Elian, "no one can laugh at that picture because it's real," suggested Chris Matthews on MSNBC on Saturday afternoon.

At 1:52pm ET MSNBC anchor Brian Williams asked Matthews if the use of such force to go into a private home could be added to the list of incidents which have fueled the "patriot" movement, such as Ruby Ridge and Waco. Matthews answered in part:
"We have laughed in the big cities, I should say among journalists, about the black helicopter image of a federal police force, or even UN force coming to grab their guns or take them away. We've always laughed at that. Well after this picture today no one can laugh at that picture because it's real. When the federal government moves under this administration under this Attorney General, perhaps in these times, it move swiftly, dramatically and it uses military force to the highest degree visible. I mean I've never seen a kid facing an automatic weapon in my life like that."

Matthews made a similar observation later on MSNBC's special 7pm ET Saturday edition of The News with Brian Williams.


Castro wants to send a bunch of Cuban kids to the U.S. to keep Elian company, NBC's Jim Avila cheerfully reported from Havana on Saturday's NBC Nightly News. "Among those ready to go," is a classmate who is "all packed, new clothes, a fresh school uniform and school supplies." But, Avila asserted, "There's no way of knowing how much choice in the matter Cecilia really has." What "choice"?

Avila also again showcased how Castro will house Elian in a "beachfront mansion," but instead of portraying it as a place for "re-education" and indoctrination, Avila benignly relayed that Castro just "wants to re-create Elian's classroom and surround him with hometown friends."

NBA basketball, which went until 8pm ET/7pm CT, bumped NBC Nightly News in at least those time zones, but prompted by the big news day MSNBC aired it at 6:30pm ET.

Avila passed along how "Cuban writer Miguel Barnett described his people as wounded by the long ordeal, but grateful."
Barnett: "We want to see him very soon arriving at the airport."
Avila laid out Cuba's propaganda line: "The only official rally, originally scheduled as a protest in Juan Miguel's home province, turned into a national party featuring an appearance by Castro himself. The Cubans insist since that if Elian can't come home to Cuba, part of Cuba should be given visas to join Elian in the United States."

Over video of a girl, a suitcase and then other school kids playing, Avila trumpeted: "Among those ready to go, Elian's classmate, six-year-old Dianela Catejas (sp?), all packed, new clothes, a fresh school uniform and school supplies, one of twelve children Castro has outfitted for the trip, demanding U.S. State Department visas for them. Her mother Cecilia Macias, says Dianela was picked because of her good grades and her friendship with Elian. There's no way of knowing how much choice in the matter Cecilia really has, but she told NBC News, and our Communist Party escort, she supports the mission despite natural concerns about sending her daughter to a foreign country."
Cecilia Macias: "As a mother, I feel worried, tense, but I know there are a lot of people that will look after the kids."

Over video of Elian's Cardenes classroom and then the "mansion," Avila concluded:
"The Cuban government says it wants to re-create Elian's classroom and surround him with hometown friends both in the U.S. and when he returns to Cuba. Desks and other Cardenes school house supplies, have already been sent to Havana and installed in a beachfront mansion chosen to house Elian, his parents and friends when he comes back."

I guess it's no concern that all the other kids will be separated from their fathers. At least Avila is probably clueless as to "knowing how much choice in the matter" the other parents have.


The MS in MSNBC should stand for "Minimal Substance." Saturday night FNC stayed live with Elian interviews, call-ins and coverage until 1am ET while CNN remained with the story until going to sports at 11pm ET. But MSNBC had different news priorities. They sent everyone home at 9 and talked about Barbara Eden.

-- 9pm ET/6pm PT:
CNN: A fresh Larry King Live about Elian
FNC: Hannity & Colmes interviews/debate about Elian
MSNBC: Repeat of a Weekend Magazine, which itself is a compilation of repeats of Dateline shows. Lead story: a month-old piece on flammable mattresses.

-- 10pm ET/7pm PT:
CNN: Live special newscast about Elian
FNC: More live discussions/coverage about Elian
MSNBC: Repeat of a Headliners & Legends profile of Barbara Eden

-- 11pm ET/8pm PT
CNN: Dropped Elian, but still delivered live hour-long Sports Tonight in its usual time slot
FNC: Continuing live Elian discussion, interviews and call-ins
MSNBC: Repeat of Time & Again about Star Trek

When news breaks out, MSNBC breaks into repeats of repeats of repeats. -- Brent Baker

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