CyberAlert -- 04/25/2000 -- Force Justified

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Force Justified; Grandma: Elian "Finally" Happy; Clinton's Broken Promise Not Pursued

1) ABC decided that on "four key questions" the Miami relatives were wrong. CBS's Byron Pitts relayed how the reunion "was moving." On NBC a psychiatrist said the relatives "abused" Elian and Andrea Mitchell insisted "psychiatrists say the use of force was justified because Elian's greatest need was for his father."

2) From Cuba, NBC's Jim Avila fled two reports relaying the communist line from the grandparents. One "says Elian finally sounds happy." Avila reassured: "Juan, Sr. sees no permanent damage to Elian." Avila even allowed Fidel Castro to complain.

3) Monday morning ABC's GMA promoted how Greg Craig's photos show "a very happy little boy" and twice highlighted how Reno wept.CBS's Bryant Gumbel asked what hearings would "accomplish besides just so much Reno bashing?" NBC's Katie Couric shared the disdain.

4) On Sunday's This Week Democratic Senator Bob Graham revealed Bill Clinton "abrogated" an agreement since he promised just three weeks ago that "there would be no taking of this child at night." CNN mentioned it, but ABC's WNT and GMA skipped the charge.

5) George Will: "A climate conducive to such disgraceful government behavior was created by strange journalism, the implication of which was that Elian's mother must have been demented to risk...her life in order to get Elian out of Cuba."

6) Letterman's "Top Ten Janet Reno Pet Peeves."

Corrections: The April 23 CyberAlert quoted FNC anchor David Asman as asking Eric Holder: "Was this all a ruse for the raid, the negotiations which took place this morning?" He actually said "...early this morning." Another item reported that at 9pm ET Saturday MSNBC showed a "repeat of a Weekend Edition." The show is really titled Weekend Magazine.

Update: People Count: Hot on the Trail, a polemic hyping fears of global warming hosted by Jane Fonda, bumped by the Elian raid from its scheduled 10pm ET Saturday night showing, was run at 2pm ET Sunday on CNN.


The aftermath of the Elian raid led the broadcast network evening shows Monday night, April 24. ABC highlighted warnings against hearings and on "four key questions" about what happened decided the Miami relatives were wrong on all of them. Instead of expressing any concern for how journalists could not independently check Elian's welfare or for who from Castro's regime may be with him, CBS's Byron Pitts happily relayed how those at the reunion on Saturday "say it was moving" with "plenty of affection."

Rationalizing the raid, NBC's Andrea Mitchell highlighted a psychiatrist who asserted: "I think that the family has really abused this child, not in a sense of physical abuse, but this child has been kept from his family." Mitchell added: "Many psychiatrists say the use of force was justified because Elian's greatest need was for his father."

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Linda Douglass ran through the day's events with the Miami relatives in DC, Trent Lott comparing Reno to Castro and some Republicans calling for hearings. She cautioned: "With polls showing broad public support for reuniting Elian with his father, some GOP strategists warn a Republican tirade against the raid could backfire."
Scott Reed, Republican consultant: "At the end of the day, Republicans have to be wary because public opinion likes those picture of the child smiling with his father."

Next, Terry Moran addressed "four key questions" raised about what happened and flunked conservative critics and the Miami relatives on all four. First, "Did the agents have a search warrant?" Moran played this from Tom DeLay on Meet the Press: "There was no court order that gave them permission to raid a private home of American citizens." Moran judged, over a picture of a warrant: "Wrong. This is the warrant authorizing the search of the home and the seizure of Elian signed Friday night by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Duvay (sp?)."

A bit of disingenuousness from ABC and Moran. The point made by many critics wasn't about a warrant, but about doing what is normally done in such custody dispute cases: Go before a judge to have a hearing and then have the judge issue an order to the family to give up guardianship of the child. That way the decision is not an administrative one from the executive branch, but a decision by the independent judiciary.

Moran moved ahead. "The second question: Did the agents go and announce themselves or just rush in?" Moran decided: "What occurred in front of the house cannot be heard on the videotape, but it is clear there was a pause in the raid, the screen door opens and then twenty seconds later agents bash in the door."

For the third question Moran dismissed the idea the picture of father and son were faked and for the fourth question he looked at the dispute over whether a deal was imminent. He ran a soundbite from Reno friend and negotiator Aaron Podhurst, but concluded with Reno's assessment that no agreement could be made because of the family's refusal to come to DC.

-- CBS Evening News. From Andrews Air Force Base Byron Pitts related how Reno will be questioned by Senators "outraged by Saturday's pre-dawn raid in Miami." Congressman Lindsey Graham got to express the view that "Janet Reno's been a national disgrace for a long time," before Pitts ran a lengthy retort from Joe Lockhart.

Over a series of happy photos of Juan Miguel and Elian, Pitts relayed the official line put out by Juan Miguel's lawyer: "With tension building around them, Elian and his father are said to be bonding nicely behind the secured gates at Andrews Air Force Base, few visitors and plenty of affection. Those who were there for the weekend reunion say it was moving."
Dr. Gustavo Cadavid, identified only as a "psychiatrist," asserted: "He looked at his father, father looks at him. Both jump one towards the other, crying, hugging. I mean nobody moved."

Anchor John Roberts then passed along results of a CBS News poll. On the "forcible removal," 51 percent approved and 44 percent disapproved. "Would relatives have given Elian to father voluntarily?" No said 63 percent, yes replied 26 percent. "Acting in the boy's best interest?" The father, thought 54 percent while only 33 percent said the Miami relatives.

Jim Stewart provided a rundown of Friday night events, highlighting two last minute events. First, a supposed comment from Marisleysis that "there are more than just cameras in the house." And: "The second was a last ditch appeal from by several prominent Miamians, including attorney Aaron Podhurst, an old friend of Attorney General Janet Reno, to broker a compromise. Podhurst said today he thought he'd been close to a deal."
Podhurst: "I believe the Miami Gonzalez family was acting in good faith and I believe we'd made substantial progress."
Stewart: "But after three months of such talks Reno and her advisers thought the family was stalling again."

-- NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw led with a new NBC News polls showing 73 percent agree Elian belongs with his father and that on the method of removal, 49 percent disapproved and 48 percent approved.

Pete Williams emphasized the interrupted talks: "The Miami intermediaries, who volunteered to make a last minute deal, say today that with just a little more time none of his would have been necessary. That they were so close to a peaceful solution."
Edward Foote, University of Miami President: "We were completely surprised and astonished that the government would resort to armed marshals when we were so close to an agreement."
Williams: "But Attorney General Reno today defends her decision, saying the talks had actually broken down and disputing criticism she should have taken the boy weeks earlier."

After a clip of Reno on Today, Williams related that after Reno gave the go order: "Eric Holder, Reno's deputy, says he holds Reno in his arms and she weeps. A Miami lawyer, who spent all night on the phone with Reno hoping to work out a deal, says she was still on the line after the raid."
Aaron Podhurst, Miami negotiator: "Nobody ever thought that they would come on the Easter weekend and take this child by force when we were that close to a resolution. To this moment, I don't understand what occurred."
Williams concluded: "Tonight members of Congress say they'll hold hearings on how the raid was planned and conducted, but Justice Department officials say they did it reluctantly, when they believed nothing else would work to reunite father and son."

Kerry Sanders ran through the options facing the Miami family and the role of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in determining asylum, before Brokaw ran reaction clips from Bob Smith, Sheila Jackson-Lee and George W. Bush, noting that Al Gore avoided comment.

For the In Depth segment Andrea Mitchell looked at the raid:
"Law enforcement experts say a textbook assault, but why in this case?" After an expert suggested such force wasn't necessary and a psychiatrist assured Mitchell any emotional damage to Elian was temporary as he was scared but is resilient, Mitchell turned her fire on the abusive relatives:
"In fact, many child development experts say the raid itself caused only short term trauma compared to everything else Elian has experienced during the last five months. The noise, the crowds, the late night rallies, the home video. Being on constant display. Doctors say never getting the solitude he needs to mourn the loss of his mother."
Professor David Elkind, Tufts University: "I think that the family has really abused this child, not in a sense of physical abuse, but this child has been kept from his family and he has not been given the psychological support he needed for having lost his mother and he's been exposed to all such media hype."
Mitchell then concluded: "Many psychiatrists say the use of force was justified because Elian's greatest need was for his father, but that he still might suffer nightmares, flashbacks, post traumatic stress and may need professional help to sort out the conflicts of the past five months."

Monday morning on Today, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, Katie Couric also gave credibility to Elkind: "Because we forget the impact all these protestors treating him like some kind of saint outside the home in Little Havana is having as well. That must be so confusing for a little boy."
Elkind agreed: "Right. Terrible. It is."

Terrible, it is that the networks are so eager to blame the victims of the armed government invasion of their home while cooperatively passing along the PR photos from Juan Miguel's lawyer.


Grandmas in the morning, Grandpa in the evening. From Cuba, NBC's Jim Avila fled two reports relaying without dissent the communist line about happy grandparents. Avila even tossed in some comments from Fidel Castro, such as: "Instead of having the kid kidnapped, now the family is kidnapped."

On Today Avila found "relief that Elian is with his dad, but for Castro and the grandmas the struggle goes on until both are on Cuban soil." How inspiring. Avila passed along how one grandparent "says Elian finally sounds happy." In a NBC Nightly piece he trumpeted how "In Elian's Cuban family, communism and loyalty to Castro began with Juan Gonzalez, Sr., Elian's grandfather."

Avila reassured viewers concerned about the corrupting influence of freedom: "Juan, Sr. sees no permanent damage to Elian" from his time in Miami.

-- April 24 Today. Avila opened his propaganda broadcast from Cuba, as transcribed by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "The grandmas of Cardenas. They started the fight for Elian. Energized an island. Went to the United States in a failed mission to bring him back. And now that father and son have been reunited they walk triumphantly through the Gonzalez family home town."
After a clip of a grandmother, Avila elaborated: "Mariela Quintana, mother of Juan Miguel. Grandmother to Elian. She's spoken to her grandson twice by phone since his removal from the Miami house. Telling NBC News he now sounds like he did before he left Cardenas. Natural, like any six year old when he woke her up Sunday morning."

Avila continued: "Elian has called his other grandmother too. Two weeks she could not talk to her. But Raquel Rodriguez whose daughter fled to Cuba and died in the water says Elian finally sounds happy. She laughed at allegations by the Miami family that her daughter was abused by Juan Miguel or that Elian is afraid of him. She lived with them and says she would know."

Following a comment from her, Avila reported: "A family now deeply divided. Mariela, Juan Miguel's mother says she would oppose any visitation for the Miami family."
Mariela Quintana, through translator: "What they did to my son, what they did to us, I'm never going to forget it. Even after I'm dead and buried I won't forget."
Avila, over footage of Castro voting and then gently stroking the head of a little boy: "Strong words, matched by Fidel Castro only one day after declaring the first truce with America in 41 years. A truce even he admits lasted only 24 hours. Castro, voting in Havana, Sunday. Still the only leader his Cuba has ever known. For the first time in four decades a revolutionary on the same side of an important issue as most Americans and their President. But telling NBC News that cooperation on the return of Elian foreshadows nothing."
Avila, asking Castro a question through interpreter: "No progress has been made between the two nations?"
Fidel Castro, through translator: "No, absolutely not. We go back to the normal life of the last 41 years of them attacking us."
Avila concluded: "Havana and Cardenas. Relief that Elian is with his dad but for Castro and the grandmas the struggle goes on until both are on Cuban soil."

-- April 24 NBC Nightly News. From Havana, Avila told Tom Brokaw, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Tom, here in Cuba the prospect of Elian and his father staying in America for months has both the government here and the family demanding their immediate return. In Elian's Cuban family, communism and loyalty to Castro began with Juan Gonzalez, Sr., Elian's grandfather, father to Juan Miguel, known as 'Poppy' to both. Policeman for 25 years, unfazed by Saturday's pre-dawn raid."
Juan Gonzalez, Sr., through interpreter: "They should have done it two months ago because the way we see it, there were no abuses. They acted correctly. They didn't strike anyone in the house."
Avila: "Juan, Sr., sees no permanent damage to Elian. He says his grandson actually joked about it on the phone Sunday morning, telling grandpa, 'Police in the United States wear funny hats.'"
Gonzalez: "He's a kid, and he must have gotten frightened. It's logical a six-year-old would get scared, but we as a family prefer that he is scared for three minutes rather than remain frightened for the rest of his life."
Avila: "Gonzalez says the wounds are deep and opposes any Miami family visits with Elian. Fidel Castro told NBC News he agrees, pressing to return boy and father to Cuba immediately."
Fidel Castro, through interpreter: "How long is this going to carry on? It may well be that they make appeal after appeal. Instead of having the kid kidnapped, now the family is kidnapped."
Avila concluded: "Both Castro and Elian's family say that this weekend's reunion was only step one. Tom."


Monday morning ABC's Good Morning America, which questioned the authenticity of the family's video last week, promoted how Greg Craig's photos show "a very happy little boy" and twice highlighted how Reno supposedly wept in Holder's arms after giving the raid order. On CBS's The Early Show Bryant Gumbel put the burden on the Miami family for preventing a deal and asked what hearings would "accomplish besides just so much Reno bashing?" NBC's Katie Couric shared the disdain, asking Janet Reno if she thinks Republicans are "exploiting this issue politically?"

-- April 24 Good Morning America. Interviewing Elian's cousin Georgina Cid, Jack Ford demanded:
"Well, you say you're concerned about his health. Indeed there were concerns raised by family members and accusations made by family members that his father had abused him. Yet if you look at the photographs that we've seen, and we're seeing them right now, it is very apparent to anybody looking at these photographs that this appears to be a very happy little boy?"

MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed that in opening the 7:30am segment, Diane Sawyer revealed: "Well, during the break we kept talking with Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, and he told us that after this raid he went in the office with Janet Reno and he held her in his arms. Well, let's listen to what he said happened."
Eric Holder: "At the conclusion of this, I closed the door, at the time of the raid, and I held the Attorney General in my arms, and she wept. She did not want this to happen. She cares a great deal about that community, and hoped and prayed that there was a way in which this thing could have been worked out short of the enforcement action that she very reluctantly had to order."

How touching.

A half hour later GMA viewers were treated again to the tale. After relaying Podhurst's insistence a deal was imminent, Terry Moran reported: "Finally, there was one human detail that emerged out of all this. Eric Holder a little while ago described the scene in the Justice Department, after the raid went down."
Eric Holder: "At the conclusion of this, I closed the door, at the time of the raid, and I held the Attorney General in my arms, and she wept. She did not want this to happen."
Moran: "The question, of course, is not her emotions, but her judgment."

Then why focus on the emotions?

-- CBS's The Early Show. MRC analyst Brian Boyd picked up on this exchange from a lengthy panel discussion:
Congressman Robert Menendez: "....The government keeps saying, well, every time they created a family reunion the Miami family moved away. They fail to say that the government always had a precondition to that first family reunion which was that the child must be handed, at the very beginning of such a reunion, over to the father. And that's not the environment that they wished to create."
Gumbel, interrupting: "But the Miami relatives, Congressman, never, never, ever recognized the right of the father to have custody of the boy. That was the precondition that prevented an agreement."

Later, Gumbel asked Menendez: "Congressman, some of your colleagues have called for congressional hearings on this matter. I know you support such hearings. What would they accomplish besides just so much Reno bashing?"

-- NBC's Today. Katie Couric shared Gumbel's disdain for hearings, setting up Janet Reno: "The House Republicans say they want to hold hearings into the raid. Do you think they're exploiting this issue politically?"

Talking with Tim Russert about NBC's poll on the raid, Lauer wrapped up: "And real quickly. One other point in the poll. 2 to 1, Americans are opposed to congressional hearings on this subject. Is that just because most people are tired of hearing about it?"
Russert: "Absolutely. The issue has run it's course. And they don't like to spend money. As we saw during the whole impeachment process. I do believe however there will be hearings. Senator Lott yesterday, Minority [sic] Whip Tom DeLay, called for them. The Republicans will have to talk to their base who are very, very energized by this issue and some form of hearing will go forward."


On Sunday's This Week on ABC Democratic Senator Bob Graham told Cokie Roberts how Bill Clinton lied to him, or his term, "abrogated" an agreement, since he promised just three weeks ago that "there would be no taking of this child at night."

But the media have largely ignored the allegation. ABC's own shows have refused to pick it up as MRC analyst Jessica Anderson found it was not mentioned on Sunday's World News Tonight or Monday's Good Morning America. Nor did CBS or NBC mention it Monday morning or evening, though Tuesday morning Matt Lauer pressed Joe Lockhart about it on Today. (More on Today's interview in the next CyberAlert.) CNN's Inside Politics raised Graham's charge on Monday's Inside Politics.

As the two sat in chairs across the street from the Miami house, Roberts opened the interview by asking the Florida Democrat: "You in your statement, which was harshly critical of this raid yesterday morning, said that the government had, by the action, had renounced the commitment of the United States not to take Elian away in the middle of the night. Did you feel that, why did you think there was such a commitment?"
Graham disclosed: "Because I stood in the Oval Office with the President of the United States and I said, Mr. President, this is a very sensitive issue that's happening in my community. One of the things that has made it so tense is that people feel insecure 24 hours a day. There needs to be some commitment by the federal government that they will not attempt to take this child in the nighttime so that there can be a relaxation of that tension. The President of the United States made that commitment to me that there would be no taking of this child at night. I felt that my, the promise had been made to me had been abrogated. I don't know if the President knew that the decision was being made by lower echelons within his administration, but it was a clear commitment which was violated."
Roberts: "So it was a personal commitment from him to you in the Oval Office."
Graham: "It was."
Roberts: "When would that have been?"
Graham: "Three weeks ago."
Roberts: "Three weeks ago. So, that's part of your anger here."
Graham: "There was an insensitivity and a crudeness to this, to do this in one of the most deeply religious periods of the year, to do it at a time when families are reflecting on spiritual values, to do it in the middle of the night. To do it when honorable members of this community such as Kendall Coffey, Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, Aaron Podhurst and others had been negotiating in good faith and felt that they were very close to an agreement, had signatures on the bottom of pages to do it under all of those circumstances was absolutely intolerable, unnecessary, outrageous and has left a scar on this community and particularly a scar deep in the minds of this little boy and I suggest a lot of other children as to what can happen in the middle of the night."

+++ See and hear Senator Graham relate how he was backstabbed by the President, a fellow member of his own party. On Tuesday, MRC Webmaster Andy Szul will post a RealPlayer clip of the portion of the April 23 interview quoted above. Go to:

Interviewing White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart on the April 24 Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff did raise Graham's claim: "Let me just quote something that Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, has said. As you're aware, he said the President promised him three weeks ago, gave him a verbal commitment, that agents would not go in to get the boy in the middle of the night, in the darkness. And yet that's exactly what happened."


Some familiar quotes in George Will's "The Last Word" column on the back page of the latest Newsweek. He picked up quotes from last week's Notable Quotables from the MRC to illustrate the media's complicity in creating the climate which allowed the government to use force to snatch Elian.

Here's an excerpt from the column in the May 1 Newsweek:

A climate conducive to such disgraceful government behavior was created by strange journalism, the implication of which was that Eli'n's mother must have been demented to risk, and lose, her life in order to get Eli'n out of Cuba. Peter Jennings mixed exasperation and hauteur about the relatives' reluctance to speed Elian back to totalitarianism: "Once again the government has failed to get the kind of cooperation from the relatives that might allow the case of this young boy to end in a civilized manner that is best for him." Katie Couric resorted to archness: "Some suggested over the weekend that it's wrong to expect Eli'n Gonzalez to live in a place that tolerates no dissent or freedom of political expression. They were talking about Miami." The New York Times disdained Miami as a "banana republic" and used a headline to express the obtuseness of Cuban-Americans: "Communism Still Looms as Evil to Miami Cubans." Still.

Eleanor Clift decided communism is merely a "lifestyle": "To be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami and I'm not going to condemn their lifestyle so gratuitously." NEWSWEEK reported that although Eli'n's prospects in Cuba would be "limited," Cuba's lifestyle has virtues: "In some ways young Elian might expect a nurturing life in Cuba, sheltered from the crime and social breakdown that would be part of his upbringing in Miami. The boy will nestle in a more peaceable society that treasures its children."

END Excerpt

To read his entire column, go to:

To read more of these types of quotes, go to:


From the April 24 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Janet Reno Pet Peeves." Copyright 2000 by Worldwide Pants, Inc.

10. Having to brush up on Spanish just to read hate mail.
9. Armed troops + civilian resistance = Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
8. In the Elian TV movie, she'll likely be played by John Lithgow.
7. When she gets angry, she turns green and muscles burst through clothes just dry-cleaned.
6. No one believes, "It was a chocolate gun pointed at Elian's head."
5. Whenever she calls "Playboy" and offers to pose, Hefner's "in a meeting."
4. Saying, "It's the tear gas" when crying at "Erin Brockovich."
3. When Lenscrafters runs out of gigantic, outdated, poorly-fitted frames.
2. Men who feel inadequate when she brings battering ram into bedroom.
1. Constant political pressure to reunite Hall and Oates.

Plenty of wacky stuff in Leonardo DiCaprio's ABC News special on Saturday. Will try to get to that tomorrow.-- Brent Baker

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