CyberAlert -- 06/30/2000 -- Elian's "Freedom" in Cuba

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Elian's "Freedom" in Cuba; Ros-Lehtinen Fired Back at Avila; Cuban Pioneers Just Like Cub Scouts

1) "They are exercising for the first time in seven months the opportunity to live really in freedom as a family," a Castro deputy claimed in comments highlighted by NBC's Jim Avila who then blamed the U.S. for making life "difficult" for Cubans.

2) Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took advantage of her guest spot on CNBC's Rivera Live to scold NBC's Jim Avila for his "incredibly nauseating" pro-Castro propaganda in the guise of news reporting.

3) Dateline NBC painted a glowing picture of what awaits Elian. Keith Morrison insisted: "Elian is more likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than in any other Third World country." Elian will enjoy Cuba's "universal free education" and the Pioneers are "very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and all."

4) The New York Times created a 28th Amendment, referring to the GOP preference to talk about partial-birth abortion instead of "suggesting overturning the Constitutional amendment allowing abortion."

5) Too much bias for one CyberAlert. Squeezed out today: Bryant Gumbel; ABC's hit from the left on the Medicare prescription plans of both parties for not spending enough; and Bill Maher on Bill Clinton: "Someday they will name high schools after him."

>>> The June 27 MagazineWatch, about the July 3 issues, is now online. The items compiled by the MRC's Ken Shepherd and Tim Graham:
1. All three news magazines devoted a story to Justice Department fundraising investigator Robert Conrad's recommendation of a special counsel for Al Gore. Time's online staff loved Gore's Conrad interview ("Could this be the alpha male veep we've been hearing so much about?") but the print edition found he was "a defense lawyer's nightmare."
2. Newsweek continued its weekly crusade against the death penalty, but balanced their distaste over Gary Graham in Bush's Texas with their dislike of the federal death penalty under Clinton-Gore. U.S. News called Gary Graham "the new martyr of the rejuvenated anti-death-penalty movement."
3. Time took on Dr. Laura Schlessinger with a ten-foot pole in an interview: "Do you really believe everything you say, or do you just think it makes great talk radio?" Gay left activists protested the chat, but should have liked David Van Biema's sympathetic portrait of gay activism in mainline churches.
4. Time online reporters whimsically dismissed the geopolitics of Elian Gonzalez ( "Elian Gonzalez, Your Jet to Havana Is Waiting") and "Sex-Mad Scientists" at Los Alamos.
To read these items, go to:


Elian and his family enjoyed their first opportunity to "live really in freedom as a family," NBC's Jim Avila obligingly passed along Thursday night in relaying "exclusive" comments from a Castro deputy. Avila then moved on to wondering if the U.S. will now lift the embargo, which he blamed for making life "difficult" for Cubans. Such a lifting is possible, Avila trumpeted, "because Castro outmaneuvered his sworn enemies in Cuban Miami."

Avila opened his June 29 NBC Nightly News report from Havana by reporting that Elian looked "bewildered and afraid" at the airport the night before because he was scared of the cameras. Elian now is living in a special "communist party owned villa," the same one Avila and CNN showed off back in April as a luxury mansion.

Avila then served as an eager conduit for communist propaganda: "In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Castro's second in command, Ricardo Alarcon, says Elian spent his first day back in Cuba celebrating privacy."
Alarcon: "They are exercising for the first time in seven months the opportunity to live really in freedom as a family. No marshals, no cameras, no people following them around country [two words after "them" unclear so "around country" a guess]. Free as a family."
Avila blamed the U.S. for Cuba's problems, as if no other nation in the world manufactures medicines: "The real question in Cuba, will America's new focus on this communist island soon lead to a less difficult life for people like 50-year-old Celia Garcia."
Garcia: "We don't have medicine here."
Avila: "She's stricken with osteoporosis. The U.S. embargo forces Garcia to beg foreign friends to send her medicine. Her pharmacy does not have it. New talk of lifting the embargo on food and medicine for the first time in 40 years, made possible, say analysts, because Castro outmaneuvered his sworn enemies in Cuban Miami."
Dr. William Leogrande, American University: "Castro handled it very cleverly. The whole affair and the way that the conservatives in the Cuban American community reacted to it really undermined their political influence."
Avila concluded: "Tonight, the Cuban government says it agrees. There is a small window of opportunity right now for some improved relations between the two countries. But they say they fear that window is closing rapidly."

At least CBS's Byron Pitts offered a less glowing look at Elian's arrival in Cuba, free of talk of "freedom" for him. He began his June 29 CBS Evening News piece from Havana: "Security around Elian's temporary house today was as thick as the heat in Havana. The curious and the press kept six blocks away. It's here the six-year-old will be quote 're-educated' in the ways of communist life, a life he returned to last night. The child who'd been chaffered in Suburbans and sports cars for months in America, left Cuba's airport in an old Russian sedan."

To see the house where Elian is now living, go to the April 19 CyberAlert to read about how both Avila and CNN's Martin Savidge trumpeted as "luxurious" -- better than his Miami home -- the house in Havana where Elian will "readjust," complete with pool and swing set. You can also see a RealPlayer clip of CNN's story:


Finally, a refreshing moment on live TV: A conservative guest blasted the biased reporting delivered moments earlier by a network reporter.

"That was incredibly nauseating," declared Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of NBC reporter Jim Avila's observations broadcast live from the Havana airport Thursday night on CNBC's Rivera Live. Avila had passed along the Cuban propaganda line about how Fidel Castro wanted to treat the Elian case better than had the Miami Cubans, so "he's not used as a political tool. You don't see Fidel Castro out there holding his hand up in the air....Castro realizes how those images work. He's very adept at that."

"After everything the Miami relatives told him about Fidel Castro he might have reacted as if he was watching the boogeyman in action," Geraldo Rivera worried. "So maybe it was a good idea Castro didn't show up."

From the airport in Cuba, Avila told Rivera on the June 28 show, in the beginning of an exchange caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens: "But no Fidel Castro was not here and that was by design, just the kids from the Cardenas school where, where Elian Gonzalez attended. And also the close relatives of Elian Gonzalez, Juan Miguel, the grandfather and grandmother were here as well. By design there were no politicians here. Cuba has been very careful trying to contrast the style of what's been going on here with what has been going on in Miami as part of the continued propaganda battle between the two sides."

After talking a bit about lifting the embargo, Rivera asked about the mood in Cuba: "But no anti-Clinton or anti-U.S. rhetoric?"
Avila relayed Castro's view of his triumph: "No and it's been that way for a while. During the Elian case the Castro regime has been very careful not to show any anti-Clinton or anti-American sentiment, are very few of them. And the reason is this. They believe that they've won this public relations battle. They believe they've won the propaganda battle with the Miami Cubans. They believe that they've been able to spin and the Miami Cubans have walked into several traps including with, some demonstrations that were loud and boisterous and perhaps showed some disrespect for American law. And that is exactly what Fidel Castro wants the American people to see. On the other hand he wants to see a Cuba, where, where American people will see a Cuba where things are different. Where Elian Gonzalez comes back. He's greeted by his friends, he's not used as a political tool. You don't see Fidel Castro out there holding his hand up in the air. That was all by design. Castro realizes how those images work. He's very adept at that." Rivera lamented: "Just thinking that six year old kid coming off the plane after everything the Miami relatives told him about Fidel Castro he might have reacted as if he was watching the boogeyman in action. So maybe it was a good idea Castro didn't show up."
Avila continued to show no skepticism about the Castro propaganda line: "Well, and there was some concern about that. In fact we've been told privately they were concerned about how Elian Gonzalez would react if they saw Fidel Castro, if he saw Fidel Castro suddenly. Because of what he may have been told while he was in Miami. So if there is a meeting with Fidel Castro and the Gonzalez family it's expected to happen about now. Because what's happening now is Gonzalez is in fact, Gonzalez is in fact right now at a party which is a private party with some other relatives, some other friends from Cardenas and as well as Fidel Castro who is expected, could be there as well."
Rivera: "Okay. Jim thanks very much. Congresswoman your reaction."
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, from Washington, DC: "That was incredibly nauseating. That report. I mean the way that he speaks about Fidel Castro."
Rivera: "Nauseating in what sense? That's a strong word, another strong word."
Ros-Lehtinen: "This is a communist dictatorship. Everything, the public reaction and what happens is orchestrated by Fidel Castro. And the society that Elian is going to go back to is one that violates human rights, will any reporter reporting from Cuba ever talk about what drives people out of that country? What drove Elian's mother out of there? Why did she lose her life? Why do so many people risk what little they have, their own lives, to leave this worker's paradise? Will any of your reporters ever report on the dissidents, on the opposition leaders, on the many people who are on hunger strikes? On the desperation that every individual feels in Cuba? How they reject the government, how they reject the regime. And nothing gets said about that. All that you talk about is President Fidel Castro. I mean it's just nauseating."

If only more conservative guests would follow Ros-Lehtinen's lead and use their guest slot opportunities to directly criticize biased reporting.

+++ To watch how Ros-Lehtinen took on Avila, go to the MRC home page late Friday morning where the MRC's Andy Szul and Kristina Sewell will post a RealPlayer clip:

Unfortunately, as item #1 above from the next night showed, Ros-Lehtinen's criticism didn't change Avila's approach to Castro and Cuba. And the very next morning, on the June 29 Today, Avila championed: "In this communist country Elian Gonzalez became a symbol of national unity. For the people of Cuba, Elian's return, vindication that children can be cared for in Cuba."

This recent round of stories from Avila reminded me of his classic April 4 piece from Cuba in which he celebrated all the "perks" of the "Cuban good life" awaiting Elian's family in Cuba, including a monthly bag of beans and deodorant as well as five gallons of gas. To read more about it and/or to see a video clip:


It's hard to imagine anyone being able to outdo Avila for gullible acceptance of communist propaganda, but NBC News reporter Keith Morrison managed to in a Wednesday night Dateline piece watched MRC analyst Paul Smith.

Will Elian face life in a "brutal, corrupt, impoverished dictatorship" or in a "decent place...that values children above all?" Morrison was stumped: "In Cuba that's a complicated question."

Morrison conceded that Cuba has a few problems, like "inadequate" housing, though "no one is homeless," but many more successes: "Cardenas boasts twice as many doctors as you'd expect to find in an American city the same size. Elian is more likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than in any other Third World country." As for any indoctrination, the Pioneers are "very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and all, but with a socialist flavor and a revolutionary spin." Plus, "Cubans boast about their universal free education."

From inside a room in Cuba with a banner on the wall proclaiming "Revolucion!", Morrison opened his examination: "What sort of world will the boy inhabit back here in Cardenas? What kind of life awaits him. Indoctrination here at the Youth Communist League in preparation for a life in what an opinion piece in the New York Times called 'a brutal, corrupt, impoverished dictatorship'? Or, as they might say in one of these books or here [holding up Cuban book], a safe, decent place with a future that values children above all. Is either answer right? In Cuba that's a complicated question."

As his experts, he first turned to Fidel and Marta, parents of one of Elian's friends, who insisted there are problems everywhere in the world, not just in Cuba.

Morrison picked up, putting much of the blame on the United States before lionizing Cuba's supposed achievements: "And Cuba definitely has its share of problems. A long list of them. With no money from the Eastern bloc anymore and an American embargo throttling the island, times have been rough. Elian Gonzalez is returning to a very poor country which, nevertheless, can point to several successes. If Elian is sick, he will be treated in a hospital that looks decidedly rudimentary by U.S. standards but Cardenas boasts twice as many doctors as you'd expect to find in an American city the same size. Elian is more likely to become a healthy adult in Cuba than in any other Third World country. "Housing? Even the government admits it's inadequate. Most apartments and houses are old and small and often crowded with whole extended families, but no one is homeless. Certainly not Elian, who will return to a house and bedroom considered swank by Cardenas standards. Food? A few years ago there were serious shortages. Some say there still are. But a look in the markets in Cardenas, Elian's hometown, reveals a wealth of basic foods though not the variety we're used to in the U.S. Some Cubans even told us they're preoccupied with dieting. Marta and Fidel say it's unfair to compare Cuba's Third World living standards with those in the richest and most powerful nation on Earth but they told us, Elian's future can be much brighter than some Miami Cubans have predicted."
Marta: "He can study what he wants and he can be what he wants. "Morrison ironically cautioned: "Are Marta and Fidel just echoing the party line? Dateline visited the school where, so say Cuban officials, Elian will return after a short adjustment period. Back to occupy that famous chair which has been saved for his return. Here he will join his friends, reciting Cuba's version of an oath of allegiance. 'Pioneers for Communism,' they chant. 'We will be like Che.'"
Dr. Christobel Martinez (sp?), Cuban psychiatrist, through translator: "At the beginning his classmates may show admiration and curiosity but that will only last a short time."
Morrison: "Dr. Christobel Martinez is a preeminent child psychiatrist who is part of a handpicked team that will help Elian readjust to Cuban life."
Martinez: "We might have to do some group therapy with the children to explain to them why it is not good to display their emotions and their admiration towards Elian."
Morrison: "But what kind of group therapy? The treatment of children in Cuba is high on the list of suspicions in the charged atmosphere across the straits of Florida."
Morrison to Martinez: "There are millions of people in America who believe in their hearts that you are going to take this boy back and like all the other children in Cuba, force them into a society in which they can't think what they want to think or say what they want to say."
Martinez: "Excuse me for smiling at that. In Cuba, we treat children when they have problems in their homes, in school, emotional problems, but we never talk politics with children. This brainwashing campaign that they say we have? Nobody believes in that really."

Having dispensed with that fear, Morrison moved on to allay other concerns: "So what is it? Brainwashing or patriotism? In Cuba, as you might expect, Elian will learn about a different system. Certainly a different hero than he would learn in America. Next year in second grade Elian's curriculum will be heavy on science and math. It will also include a morning assembly full of political education, the Cuban view of economics and world affairs. Elian will almost certainly rejoin the Pioneers as almost all Cuban children do. It's very much like the Cub Scouts, camping trips and all, but with a socialist flavor and a revolutionary spin. But besides politics, what will he learn? Cubans boast about their universal free education. How good is it?"
Louis Perez, University of North Carolina professor: "Given its economic conditions, Cuba provides its children with a first rate education."
Morrison endorsed his expertise: "Dr. Louis Peez is a professor of Latin American history who specializes in Cuba. He teaches at the University of North Carolina. He is a nationally recognized academic with no ties to either pro or anti-Cuban factions. He says that although Elian might not have access to the high technology tools available at American schools, he would have the opportunity to excel and go to college if he wants to."
Morrison to Perez: "Would he be free to choose the career he wanted?"
Perez: "In most cases, yes. Per aptitude, per testing skills, per abilities, yes."
Morrison: "Any profession that he was able to?
Perez: "Yes."

At this point Morrison was getting beyond preposterous. What kind of jobs exactly does Cuba have for which you could utilize a college education, assuming you could actually get a real one? How many software writers or engineers exist in Cuba? Or how many people utilizing a liberal arts degree?

Morrison moved along to how everyone in Cuba has a chance at the good life:
Morrison: "You might be surprised to know that very few Cubans are invited to join the Communist Party. The best jobs used to go to Party members. Sometimes they still do we were told. But increasingly, skill is considered more important than political connections. As does one other thing. One of the ironies in today's Cuba, membership in the Communist Party does not necessarily guarantee a better life. But access to American dollars does. This is where Elian's family shops. It's a main Cardenas market street. Over there are privately owned produce kiosks, meat, vegetables, rice and beans. Those you buy for pesos, very cheap. But over here, where you get almost everything else, are the government run dollar stores.
"Much has been made of Juan Miguel Gonzalez's access to dollars from his job in the tourist industry but in fact virtually everyone has dollars now. They must. Dateline was given rare unlimited access to these dollar stores and here ordinary Cubans, not just the Party elite, were buying everything from corn flakes to cooking oil to blue jeans, to stereos. Most of these products only available in U.S. dollars. It's estimated that half or more of Cubans now have direct access to dollars. Namely from tourism and money sent from the two million Cuban family members living overseas. In Elian's hometown, where we visited the dollar stores, people are beneficiaries of both. But many Cubans, including highly educated professionals, still rely on their Cuban state salaries as their main income. In fact, more than a few complain that dollars have created new inequities and the need for them and the products they can buy have led to an extensive black market and widespread petty corruption. But, says Professor Perez, Elian will also have to deal with a political system that organizations such as Amnesty International still consider far too authoritarian."
Morrison to Perez: "Could he speak his mind?"
Perez: "Up to a point."
Morrison: "Could he go to a demonstration?"
Perez: "If the demonstration was sponsored by the Cuban
government, yes."
Morrison: "If it was a demonstration against the Cuban
Perez: "Probably not."

No s**t Sherlock.

Morrison elaborated on the obvious: "Human Rights Watch, an organization monitoring human rights abuses across the globe, says that Cubans who speak out publicly against Fidel Castro or his government frequently face harassment by the police or imprisonment. If Elian decided to oppose the Cuban government, might he face repression? Amnesty International says Cuba has at least 350 such political prisoners in its jails."
Miriam Layva (sp?) dissident: "There is a double standard here in Cuba. Some, well most of the people think in a way and act in another."
Morrison: "Miriam Layva should know, having been visited by the political police. She used to be a member of Cuba's Foreign Affairs department until her husband began criticizing the government and she says she was asked to choose, job or husband. She is still married and now teaches English at home. Because of the fact you speak out, do you put yourself in jeopardy?"
Layva: "Yes."
Morrison: "What could happen to you?"
Layva: "Well, it depends. If you say something that is not politically correct then you might get in trouble."

Morrison finally got to some negatives about Cuba, but quickly jumped to trumpet improvements: "And there are other restrictions. Elian would not be able to travel abroad without first applying for an exit visa from the government. If he vacationed in Cuba, he'd have to stay at a hotel set aside for Cubans. The big tourist hotels are reserved exclusively for foreigners. But lately some of those government restrictions have been lifted. Cuba was once officially atheist. Now Elian will be free to worship in any religion. Since the Pope's visit in 1998, more Cubans attend church services than ever before and Christmas is now an official holiday. And if you ask this writer, Elian would have more personal freedom as well. Miguel Sanchez says he never belonged to the Communist Party and yet he graduated from the best schools in the country. He says he never volunteered a single hour in the fields and yet receives permission to travel abroad regularly. And even though some of his science fiction novels reflect the difficult everyday reality of his country, four of his books have been published, in Cuba."
Miguel Sanchez, writer, through translator: "What I say reaches more people. There is less fear. Looking back ten years ago, I think there's been progress."
Morrison: "Even Miriam Layva, the dissident, says Elian should be part of that progress."

Layva: "He has to live in his environment and his environment is this country. These kids are the future of Cuba, of the Cuba we are going to have tomorrow."

Morrison concluded: "For Elian, tomorrow will most likely mean a lifetime of celebrity in a country that will want to insure he succeeds. And in the long strange adventure of Elian Gonzalez, this may be the ultimate irony. By claiming so publicly that Elian would go home to a harsh life of deprivation and maltreatment, Castro's Miami enemies have helped make sure that no matter how Cuba evolves, Elian will be very well treated indeed."

Treated better than the truth was by Morrison.

Morrison ignored some informative video in NBC's archive. Back on April 4 actor Andy Garcia maintained on the Today show 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." To read more of what Garcia said and/or to see a clip of it via RealPlayer, go to:


A news story in the Thursday, June 29 New York Times added a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, an "amendment allowing abortion," MRC Communications Director Liz Swasey observed. Friday's paper carried four corrections, but none dealt with this erroneous additional constitutional amendment.

The error came in the 18th paragraph of a "news analysis" piece by Washington Bureau reporter Richard Berke about reaction from the presidential candidates to the Supreme Court decision overturning Nebraska's ban of partial-birth abortions. Berke asserted: "The court's ruling is discouraging for Mr. Bush and many Republicans not only because it gives Mr. Gore another rationale to talk about the court. In addition, the Republicans' embrace in the last few years of eliminating late-term abortion allowed the party to maintain its anti-abortion position in a way that is more palatable to many voters than suggesting overturning the Constitutional amendment allowing abortion. Even many Democrats who favor abortion rights tell pollsters they object to late-term abortions."

Of course, abortion is legal now because of the Roe v Wade decision, a creative interpretation by a majority of the Supreme Court in 1973 of a "right to privacy" in the Bill of Rights, but not a constitutional "amendment" which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states.


Wow. So much bias and so little space. Having given so much deserved space to Morrison's tribute to the joys of Castro's Cuba, I'm out of room before I got to several other items I'd planned to run, including:
-- Bryant Gumbel's contrasting approaches Thursday morning to a guest pleased by the Supreme Court's decision on partial-birth abortion versus a guest pleased about the ruling on the Boy Scouts.

-- The Today show's interview with Greg Craig in which Craig claimed to have no idea who paid for the plane which flew Elian back to Cuba.

-- World News Tonight's Thursday night hit from the left on the Medicare prescription plans of both parties. ABC anchor Kevin Newman plugged the upcoming story: "Also ahead, 'A Closer Look' at the two big plans in Washington to pay for prescription drugs: Will either one be enough?" He later added: "Neither plan will provide all the help many senior citizens need."

-- Bill Maher, host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, on Bill Clinton. On Wednesday's Tonight Show he hoped: "I think someday they will name high schools after him and kids will proudly play for the Bill Clinton Fighting Cocks."

Just too much bias, but that means plenty more material for the next CyberAlert, probably on Wednesday, when I plan to get to all of these bits of bias. -- Brent Baker

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