25 Years After the Berlin Wall, How the News Media Covered Communism

Twenty-five years ago, the largely peaceful revolutions of 1989 — epitomized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 of that year — ended the grip of communism in Eastern Europe; two years later, the once-menacing Soviet Union itself collapsed.

But before, during and after those momentous events, the liberal media in America too often whitewashed the true nature of communism, or suggested capitalism was somehow worse. Even as European communism was gasping its last breaths, reporters touted its supposed success stories. After the Iron Curtain lifted, the media disparaged the uncertainty of life without the “guarantees” and “safety net” provided by the former communist masters.

In the years that followed the end of communism in Europe, journalists kept singing the praises of the remaining communist police state of Cuba, and fretted that mainland China was becoming too capitalistic in its economic policies (even as China’s Communist Party maintained complete political control).

The evils of communism have been well documented. According to The Black Book of Communism, even Hitler’s Holocaust pales in comparison to the human toll of the world’s communist dictators, with 65 million killed by Mao, another 20 million killed by Stalin, and millions more who perished in Eastern Europe, North Korea, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The media fancy themselves as those who give voice to the voiceless, who stand as a check on those in power. But looking back at journalism’s track record on communism, one finds a press that was too willing to act as a mouthpiece for the world’s worst dictatorships, and too accepting of the perverse claim that communism meant safety and security for its people.

To mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, here are 30 quotes — eleven with video — from the MRC’s archives showing the liberal media’s blindness to the true nature of communism:

■ “If suddenly a true, two-party or multi-party system were to be formed in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party would still win in a real free election. Except for certain small pockets of resistance to the communist regime, the people have been truly converted in the last 68 years.”
— CNN Moscow bureau chief Stuart Loory in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, February 3, 1986.

■ “Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy.”
— Anchor Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, June 17, 1987.

■ “The Soviet Union, draped in history, born in a bloody revolution, bound together by a dream that is still being dreamt. The dream of a socialist nation marching toward the world’s first communist state....Once the Kremlin was the home of czars. Today it belongs to the people....Atheist though the state may be, freedom to worship as you believe is enshrined in the Soviet Constitution....Modernization on a grand scale. A great success.”
— From the first night of Ted Turner’s seven-hour TBS cable series Portrait of the Soviet Union, March 20, 1988.

■ “Castro has delivered the most to those who had the least....Education was once available to the rich and the well-connected. It is now free to all....Medical care was once for the privileged few. Today it is available to every Cuban and it is free....Health and education are the revolution’s great success stories.”
— Peter Jennings reporting from Havana on ABC’s World News Tonight, April 3, 1989.

■ “Communism got to be a terrible word here in the United States, but our attitude toward it may have been unfair. Communism got in with a bad crowd when it was young and never had a fair chance....The communist ideas of creating a society in which everyone does his best for the good of everyone is appealing and fundamentally a more uplifting idea than capitalism. Communism’s only real weakness seems to be that it doesn’t work.”
60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney in the New York Times, June 26, 1989.

■ “Instead of reveling in the collapse of communism, we could head off economic and social havoc by admitting that for most of us, capitalism doesn’t work, either...Homeless, jobless, illiterate people, besieged by guns and drugs, are as bereft of a democratic lifestyle as anybody behind the old Berlin Wall...If we look within ourselves, we will see that a capitalistic order that is dependent upon cheap labor and an underclass to exploit is too dangerous a concept to continue.”
USA Today “Inquiry” Editor Barbara Reynolds, December 8, 1989.

■ “Yes, somehow, Soviet citizens are freer these days — freer to kill one another, freer to hate Jews....Doing away with totalitarianism and adding a dash of democracy seems an unlikely cure for all that ails the Soviet system.”
— Co-host Harry Smith on CBS This Morning, February 9, 1990.

■ “Many Soviets viewing the current chaos and nationalist unrest under Gorbachev look back almost longingly to the era of brutal order under Stalin.”
— CBS’s Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, February 11, 1990.

■ “Few tears will be shed over the demise of the East German army, but what about East Germany’s eighty symphony orchestras, bound to lose some subsidies, or the whole East German system, which covered everyone in a security blanket from day care to health care, from housing to education? Some people are beginning to express, if ever so slightly, nostalgia for that Berlin Wall.”
— CBS reporter Bob Simon on the March 16, 1990 CBS Evening News.

■ “Communism is being swept away, but so too is the social safety net it provided....Factories, previously kept alive only by edicts from Warsaw, are closing their doors, while institutions new to the East — soup kitchens and unemployment centers — are opening theirs....Here are the ones who may profit from Poland’s economic freedom: a few slick locals, but mostly Americans, Japanese, and other foreigners out to cash in on a new source of cheap labor.”
— Reporter Bert Quint on CBS This Morning, May 9, 1990.

■ “East Germany is staggering toward unification, and may get there close to dead on arrival, the victim of an overdose of capitalism.”
— ABC reporter Jerry King on the October 1, 1990 World News Tonight.

■ “Poles had hoped that the long wait had ended, but it has not. After four decades of standing in communism’s food lines, capitalism has created a new place to wait: at the unemployment office.”
— NBC reporter Mike Boettcher, November 16, 1990 Nightly News.

■ “Falling through the cracks: With demise of communism, Budapest’s poor lose their safety net”
— Headline in the Boston Globe, December 31, 1990.

■ “Lines might be long, freedoms might be few, but one thing the state guaranteed was security from the cradle to the grave...But with the novel forces of democratization, decentralization, and freer expression came the hard truths of poverty, dislocation, crime, ethnic hatred and the erosion of the state’s omnipotence. Beggars and cripples emerged from the shadows, the injured and humiliated took to venting their grievances in the streets, and ever-worsening shortages pushed masses over the threshold of poverty.”
New York Times reporter Serge Schmemann on the Soviet Union, March 13, 1991.

■ “In the old Soviet Union, you never saw faces like these: the poor, the homeless, and the desperation of the Russian winter. Their numbers are growing. Tonight — is this what democracy does? A look at the Russia you haven’t seen before....The people of Russia are learning this winter that the price of freedom can be painfully high.”
— ABC’s Barbara Walters opening Nightline, January 14, 1992.

■ “A Gulag Breeds Rage, Yes, but Also Serenity”
— Headline over New York Times story on the last five Soviet political prisoners being released, February 12, 1992.

■ “The painful shift to a market system has pushed thousands of citizens, once able to maintain an acceptable living standard with the help of government subsidies and benefits, below the poverty line. Homelessness, derided by the communists as a plague of the West, is becoming common-place. The old Soviet guarantees of work, housing, and low fixed prices are gone, and the welfare net, designed to catch the rare social dropout, has sprung gaping holes.”
Time Moscow reporter Ann M. Simmons in July 13, 1992 article subheadlined: “The capitalist revolution is bringing the plagues of poverty, homelessness and unemployment to Russians, who miss the safety net of the old system.”

■ “For more than 70 years, Russia dreamed the Soviet dream: the dream of a classless society, the dream of a workers’ paradise. The classless state is now a state with a growing population of haves and an exploding population of have-nots. For many, the workers’ paradise has become a homeless hell.”
— ABC’s Morton Dean, January 14, 1994 Good Morning America.

■ “For all of China’s economic success, much of the vast country is still either desperately poor or suffering from the excesses of runaway capitalism — or both.”
Newsweek’s Bill Powell, March 3, 1997.

■ “Ten years later, many are saying the unbridled capitalism that followed communism has unleashed misery on citizens who had all their social needs taken care of, especially in the former Soviet Union. [to Gorbachev] Mr. President, you are regarded by many people in this world as a hero for causing the end of tyranny and the collapse of communism. But you are also criticized heavily by those who say you opened a Pandora’s Box. And they say, ‘Look at the strife now, look at the economic chaos, look at the Mafia structure, look at the corruption.’ They say that you opened and started a plan that you did not know how to finish.”
— CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewing ex-Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev, November 8, 1999.

■ “In the good old days, the Communist Party found a job for everyone. Now young people have to fend for themselves.... The future of the Communist Party may be in doubt if it can’t ease the pain felt by the once-pampered work force.”
— NBC reporter Chris Billing from Beijing on the February 13, 2000 NBC Nightly News.

■ “Frankly, 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.”
— Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, April 8, 2000.

■ “Elian [Gonzalez] 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 again in a more peaceable society that treasures its children.”
— Brook Larmer and John Leland, April 17, 2000 Newsweek.

■ “Workers’ Rights Suffering as China Goes Capitalist.”
— Headline over front-page New York Times story by Erik Eckholm about low-paid workers employed by private and foreign companies in China, August 22, 2001.

■ “As President [George W.] Bush toured Asia last week, some world leaders worried publicly that the war on terrorism was starting to look suspiciously like the last great American campaign — against communism....The McCarthy years in some ways were eerily similar to the present moment.... Communists were often conceived as moral monsters whose deviousness and unwavering dedication to their faith made them capable of almost anything....The first victims of anti-communist hysteria were immigrants, and hundreds of immigrants have been detained since Sept. 11, many with little apparent cause beyond the fact that they were Middle Eastern men.”
New York Times reporter Robert F. Worth in a February 24, 2002 “Week in Review” article headlined “A Nation Defines Itself By Its Evil Enemies.”

■ “For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96 percent.”
— Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20, October 11, 2002.

■ “Russia’s rush to capitalism left the vast majority scrambling to survive. For many, life is worse than it was in Soviet times.”
— NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer, February 12, 2004.

■ Ted Turner: “I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere....I looked them right in the eyes. And they looked like they meant the truth. You know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or the present. That happens all the, all the time.”
Wolf Blitzer: “But this is one of the most despotic regimes and [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?”
Turner: “Well, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look — in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.”
Blitzer: “But look at the way he’s treating his own people.”
Turner: “Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but-”
Blitzer: “A lot of those people are starving.”
Turner: “I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality....”
— CNN’s The Situation Room, September 19, 2005.

■ “For all its flaws, life in Castro’s Cuba has its comforts, and unknown alternatives are not automatically more attractive....Many foreigners consider it propaganda when Castro’s government enumerates its accomplishments, but many Cubans take pride in their free education system, high literacy rates and top-notch doctors. Ardent Castro supporters say life in the United States, in contrast, seems selfish, superficial, and — despite its riches — ultimately unsatisfying.”
— Associated Press writer Vanessa Arrington in an August 4, 2006 dispatch, “Some Cubans enjoy comforts of communism.”

■ “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, September 9, 2009.

For more on how the media have covered communism over the years, check out MRC’s 2009 Special Report, “Better Off Red? Twenty Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Recalling the Liberal Media’s Blindness to the Evils of Communism.”

— Rich Noyes is Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Rich Noyes on Twitter.