Gumbel: ‘Whipping Up a Frenzy’ Over Imagined Slights ‘Is a Play Straight Out of a Far Right Handbook’

Catching up with Bryant Gumbel from a couple of weeks ago, on the April edition of his Real Sports show on HBO, the NBC News and CBS News veteran came to the defense of Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who caused outrage amongst Cuban-Americans when he declared “I love Fidel Castro.” In an end of the program commentary, Gumbel couldn’t resist taking a jab at conservatives, charging:

Whipping up a frenzy over slights real and imagined is a play straight out of a far right handbook and Florida’s electoral cloud has often given Fidel’s critics far more leverage than their arguments merit.

Gumbel contended that ever since the Bay of Pigs failure, “exploiting anti-communist fears to portray Castro as a monstrous boogeyman, has been a cottage industry in Florida and Washington.” Those upset with Guillen, Gumbel maintained, “simply hate” Castro because “he overthrew their dictator, Fulgencio Batista, whose corrupt government helped enriched privileged Cubans and American interests at the expense of the country’s poorest people.”

Audio: MP3 clip

Offering an innocuous paraphrasing of Guillen’s words, Gumbel asserted Guillen “said that he essentially admired Fidel for his longevity.” The actual words from the interview with Time magazine: “I love Fidel Castro...I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherfucker is still here.”

Flashback to 2006: “Gumbel: Lack of Blacks Makes Winter Olympics ‘Look Like GOP Convention’”

Gumbel’s commentary at the end of the Real Sports which first ran on Tuesday night, April 17 on HBO. (It will re-air on Monday, April 30 and 9:30 AM and 6:30 PM EDT and PDT):

Finally it’s worth noting that tonight marks the 51st anniversary of the Bay of Pigs
invasion. That, of course, has nothing to do with sports, but it has lots to do with the rhetoric that followed the heavily publicized comments of Marlin’s manager Ozzie Guillen. Back in 1961, the ill-fated invasion was fueled by Cuban exiles who had convinced two U.S. administrations to help them launch an attack on their former homeland -- an attack that was easily repelled by the forces of Fidel Castro and the Cuban masses who the invaders had mistakenly hoped would rise up and help them.
           
Ever since that failure, exploiting anti-communist fears to portray Castro as a monstrous boogeyman, has been a cottage industry in Florida and Washington. While many have certainly assailed Fidel and still do for very legitimate reasons, others simply hate that he overthrew their dictator, Fulgencio Batista, whose corrupt government helped enriched privileged Cubans and American interests at the expense of the country’s poorest people.

Given that backdrop, when the manager of the Miami Marlins recently said that he essentially admired Fidel for his longevity, it wasn’t surprising that a number of Castro’s critics demanded not just Guillen’s job, but his head to boot. And while there is no way to defend Ozzie or the blatant insensitivity of his remarks, lets not pretend there’s no politics at work in some of those calls for his ouster.

Whipping up a frenzy over slights real and imagined is a play straight out of a far right handbook and Florida’s electoral cloud has often given Fidel’s critics far more leverage than their arguments merit. If the Marlins start winning, the furor will most likely die. But for many, I doubt Ozzie’s words will ever be forgotten. Cuba may have been a foreign battlefield 51 years ago tonight, but it’s a domestic minefield now and, for a variety of complex reason’s, it’s still a very dangerous subject on which to tread.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center