NBC Touts Cuban Celebration of Bay of Pigs Invasion Anniversary

On Saturday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Lester Holt marked the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as "one of the most infamous events in American history." In the report that followed, correspondent Mark Potter proclaimed: "This weekend Cuba is remembering a critical moment in history still felt today. Huge crowds have come out to celebrate in ways not seen here for years."

Sounding like he was reading a press release about the celebration, Potter declared: "In the Plaza of the Revolution, a massive display of military might and a celebration of Cuba's victory 50 years ago at the Bay of Pigs. The failed invasion planned by the CIA and backed by the US military is seen as a historic turning point for Fidel Castro." At no point in the story was the brutality of Castro's 50-year communist dictatorship mentioned.

A sound bite was featured from University of Denver Professor Arturo Lopez-Levy, who framed the invasion as "a watershed event for Cuba that put Cuba in the track of an alliance with Soviet Union and in the role to a hardcore Communism." As if Castro was not already committed to "hardcore communism," but pushed toward it by U.S. actions.

Potter touted the success of communist forces in the battle: "In just three days, Fidel Castro's massive defense force crushed the invaders, killing more than 100, capturing more than 1,000." Walking on the beach where the fighting took place, he observed: "In the history of the Cuban revolution, this is a very important place."

In addition, Potter spoke with veterans of conflict who fought for Castro: "Seventy-year-old Domingo Rodriguez still remembers how invaders opened fire on his militia platoon. Cuban radio host Arnoldo Coro helped capture the attackers, and says the Cuban victory was a worldwide embarrassment for the U.S."

Potter noted: "On the other side, in a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, Cuban exile veterans mourn the anniversary....in Playa Giron [Cuba], at their war museum, the solemn remembrance is for Cuban lives lost defending the revolution in a battle that forever changed US-Cuban relations."

Only in the last sentence of his report did Potter make any mention of the unhappy ending for the Cuban people: "And on a day of history there is concern here for the future. Earlier today the Communist Party congress convened here to address new ways to fix Cuba's deeply troubled economy."

The American media have a long history of celebrating Cuba's communist revolution, as the Media Research Center's Rich Noyes detailed in a 2007 special report, Fidel's Flatterers: The U.S. Media's Decades of Cheering Castro's Communism.

As one example, on NBC's April 1, 1990 Nightly News, correspondent Ed Rabel gushed:

They are the healthiest and most educated young people in Cuba's history. For that, many of them say they have Castro and his socialist revolution to thank....If they long for the sweeping changes occurring in Eastern Europe, they are not saying so publicly....To the extent he can, Castro has been rewarding young people. For example, on their return home [from Angola], the 300,000 Cubans sent to Africa were first in line for housing, jobs, and education. Such benevolence breeds dedication, some young people say.

Here is a full transcript of Potter's April 16, 2011 report:

6:50PM ET

LESTER HOLT: It's been 50 years since the Bay of Pigs invasion, one of the most infamous events in American history. But in Cuba it's seen far differently. NBC's Mark Potter joins us now from Havana with more. Mark, good evening.

MARK POTTER: And good evening to you, Lester. This weekend Cuba is remembering a critical moment in history still felt today. Huge crowds have come out to celebrate in ways not seen here for years. In the Plaza of the Revolution, a massive display of military might and a celebration of Cuba's victory 50 years ago at the Bay of Pigs. The failed invasion planned by the CIA and backed by the US military is seen as a historic turning point for Fidel Castro.

ARTURO LOPEZ-LEVY [UNIVERSITY OF DENVER]: This is a watershed event for Cuba that put Cuba in the track of an alliance with Soviet Union and in the role to a hard-core Communism.

POTTER: On April 17, 1961, 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles made landfall in southern Cuba. The US supplied them with planes, ships and armament. But in an attempt to hide its involvement, the Kennedy administration withheld air support when the invasion began to fail.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: We made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way.

POTTER: In just three days, Fidel Castro's massive defense force crushed the invaders, killing more than 100, capturing more than 1,000. This now tranquil area, called Playa Giron, is where the main invasion force came ashore and was confronted by Cuban fighters. In the history of the Cuban revolution, this is a very important place. Seventy-year-old Domingo Rodriguez still remembers how invaders opened fire on his militia platoon. Cuban radio host Arnoldo Coro helped capture the attackers, and says the Cuban victory was a worldwide embarrassment for the U.S.

ARNOLDO CORO: There were two or there small boats with the pirate sign.

POTTER: On the other side, in a Bay of Pigs museum in Miami, Cuban exile veterans mourn the anniversary. Esteban Bovo, who flew a bomber in support of the invasion, says the U.S. refusal to save the exiles still hurts.

ESTEBAN BOVO: We were promised something, but it wasn't delivered. So that's betrayal. We don't like to say it, but I feel betrayed at the time.

POTTER: But in Playa Giron, at their war museum, the solemn remembrance is for Cuban lives lost defending the revolution in a battle that forever changed US-Cuban relations. And on a day of history there is concern here for the future. Earlier today the Communist Party congress convened here to address new ways to fix Cuba's deeply troubled economy. Lester.

HOLT: Mark Potter in Havana for us tonight, thanks.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC