FNC Highlights CNN's Memo Calling for Praise of Fidel Castro

Saturday's Fox News Watch featured a discussion on revelations that CNN staff were sent a memo advising them to make positive claims about Fidel Castro to balance out the regime's critics, crediting the communist dictator as a "revolutionary hero" to leftists who established "free education and universal health care." FNC's liberal contributor and NPR correspondent Juan Williams took exception:

I don't know what was going on there. ... what news man is at work and saying here is what we want to say nice about a man who was an oppressive force in his culture, in his society? A man who long ago left the heroic stance, the Che Guevara time period, and became somewhat of a hard hand that has left his people living at a low quality of life. I don't get it.

(Transcript follows)

Host E.D. Hill set up the story:

Castro's resigning, it was big news around the world, as the communist dictator announced he was stepping down in a letter. Castro has been a thorn in the side of every U.S. administration dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, has been known for his brutal repression of free speech and dissidents in Cuba. But, over at CNN, staffers were told in a note to accent the positive in their coverage.

She then read two quotes from the memo:

Please note Fidel did bring social reforms to Cuba -- namely free education and universal health care, and racial integration -- in addition to being criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech.

While despised by some, he is seen as a revolutionary hero, especially with leftists in Latin America, for standing up to the United States.

Hill first turned to Williams, who responded with criticism of CNN:

I don't know what was going on there. I can only, you know, I'm trying to think, you know, what news man is at work and saying here is what we want to say nice about a man who was an oppressive force in his culture, in his society? A man who long ago left the heroic stance, the Che Guevara time period, and became somewhat of a hard hand that has left his people living at a low quality of life. I don't get it.

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas joked that because CNN and much of the media have already been "singing the praises of Castro" for years, sending out a memo asking for positive coverage is a "redundancy."

Jane Hall of American University, while conceding the memo didn't "say it well," still defended CNN's actions as an effort not to appear "way too pro-American" or "xenophobic" in the eyes of international viewers:

I think that this may have been aimed at the international coverage, which they're afraid, you know, sometimes can seem way too pro-American, and, you know, xenophobic, and I'm assuming it was in the context of, "Remember, a lot of people still think he's a hero. A lot of people still think the embargo was our fault." That's what I thought they were trying to say. I'm not sure they said it well.

Williams still stuck to his criticism:

Picking up on what Jane said, maybe they're just trying to remind people, you know, some who might view him as this romantic revolutionary. But I think, as news people, you have to look at the realities on the ground, and I just think, long ago, we've gone past that era in Cuba. And even the Russians have bought off of Castro, at this point.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Saturday February 23 Fox News Watch on FNC:

E.D. HILL: Castro's resigning, it was big news around the world, as the communist dictator announced he was stepping down in a letter. Castro has been a thorn in the side of every U.S. administration dating back to Dwight Eisenhower, has been known for his brutal repression of free speech and dissidents in Cuba. But, over at CNN, staffers were told in a note to accent the positive in their coverage. For example: "Please note Fidel did bring social reforms to Cuba -- namely free education and universal health care, and racial integration -- in addition to being criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech.

"While despised by some, he is seen as a revolutionary hero, especially with leftists in Latin America, for standing up to the United States."

Well, this note to CNN producers surfaced on several blogs this week, which raises a lot of questions. Be nice to the dictator, remember the nice parts of him. I guess you could make the same argument for Saddam Hussein and Hitler. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, National Public Radio: I don't know what was going on there. I can only, you know, I'm trying to think, you know, what news man is at work and saying here is what we want to say nice about a man who was an oppressive force in his culture, in his society? A man who long ago left the heroic stance, the Che Guevara time period, and became somewhat of a hard hand that has left his people living at a low quality of life. I don't get it.

CAL THOMAS: I'm surprised that they had to put the memo out because, for years, not only CNN, but all of the big media, including the Hollywood left, have been doing nothing but singing the praises of Castro. I found it to be a redundancy.

HILL: Yeah, I'm wondering who all those actresses and actors will go to visit now.

THOMAS: Yeah, exactly.

RICH LOWRY, National Review: If you watched CNN's Cuba coverage over the years, you kind of wondered, "Are they sending around memos internally saying be nice to Fidel Castro?" And the answer is yes, they are.

HILL: Jane, it was kind of surprising that you get this. Even if they believe this, even if that was sort of mind think at an organization, to put it down in writing and send out a memo?

JANE HALL, American University: Well, you know, I'm not entirely clear on where this was circulated. I gather this was a producer who was on the international desk. I think that this may have been aimed at the international coverage, which they're afraid, you know, sometimes can seem way too pro-American, and, you know, xenophobic, and I'm assuming it was in the context of, "Remember, a lot of people still think he's a hero. A lot of people still think the embargo was our fault." That's what I thought they were trying to say. I'm not sure they said it well.

HILL: Well, this went to the, the line on it is the CNN SuperDesk, and it came from a producer at CNN. But telling people, look, you've got to look for the bright side of this, the silver lining in this cloud. Juan, I was still just kind of shocked that they would, that they would go there.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, picking up on what Jane said, maybe they're just trying to remind people, you know, some who might view him as this romantic revolutionary. But I think, as news people, you have to look at the realities on the ground, and I just think, long ago, we've gone past that era in Cuba. And even the Russians have bought off of Castro, at this point.