ABC’s Muir Wonders to Obama: Does Castro ‘Have a Point’ Criticizing U.S. for No Universal Healthcare?

In what was otherwise a solid interview of President Obama that focused heavily on communist Cuba’s horrid human rights record, ABC’s World News Tonight anchor David Muir dropped the ball when he wondered if Cuban President Raul Castro is onto something when criticizing the United States for not being an authority on human rights when the U.S. lacks guaranteed rights to food and health care plus mandated equal pay.

Part of the way through the extensive interview, Muir observed that “Castro seemed to be defending himself, his record on human rights today” in the midday news conference when he stated that he found “it inconceivable that the government does not find a right to secure health care, food provision, and equal pay.”

Muir asked the President what he made of those comments and Obama warmly responded by partially boosting Castro’s credibility on those critiques:

Well, look, this is an argument that I think the Cubans make whenever they hear criticism from the United States. Their argument is that, okay, we may be in your view short on some democratic practices. On the other hand, you guys still engage in the death penalty or racial discrimination and they'll tick off a list. 

The ABC anchor followed up with this stunning admission that would make Michael Moore proud: “But when he says health care, does he have a point?”

Perhaps more forcefully than a few seconds ago, the President bluntly affirmed that those policy areas are not things that Castro should use “as a way of deflecting the kinds of repression that happens here.”

Muir used similar language that his fellow network cohorts have in the past 24 hours in touting the “historic moment” of Obama’s visit representing “a thaw” in a dispute that began during the Cold War.

Right before the exchange about health care, Muir highlighted the slew of political dissidents still imprisoned and the President explained that the U.S. has repeatedly provided lists to the Cuban government but have only “responded intermittently to our — to our engagements.”

Tell the Truth 2016

Speaking of dissidents, Muir pressed him on the nature of his upcoming meeting with a few of them and how the administration made sure that the Castro regime had zero input on who he would meet with: 

MUIR: You plan to meet with dissidents here. 

OBAMA: Yeah. 

MUIR: Did you choose the list? 

OBAMA: Absolutely. 

MUIR: Did Cuba have a hand in it? 

OBAMA: No. We were very clear that we're going to meet with who it is we want to meet. 

Muir also reported on the uptick in arrests of dissidents by the communist regime to the tune of “1,400 people arrested in January alone, setting a new high” plus “500 of them” being women and has grown so tense that “the arrests are higher since you announced normalizing relations with Cuba.” 

The President emphasized that it “does concern” him and as it’s been preventing innocent people from having “a right to express their differences.” In addition, he told Muir that he made clear to Castro “that if they were less fearful of dissent, that not only might they be able to improve governance here, but I suspect that they could enhance their legitimacy in the eyes of the Cuban people.”

The relevant portions of David Muir’s interview with President Obama on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir from March 21 can be found below.

ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
March 21, 2016
6:31 p.m. Eastern

DAVID MUIR: Good evening tonight from Havana, where we witnessed and historic moment today. President Obama standing side by side with Cuban President Raul Castro. Saying, the United States and Cuba are no longer enemies. A thaw, decades after the Cold War ended, but there were tense moments today. The two leaders did not always see eye to eye. There was the hand shake between the American President and the president of Cuba, and then a private meeting between the two and then, a very rare, a true sign of the shift here, news conference. Raul Castro taking questions along with President Obama and Castro did not hide his criticism of the United States and, in another unexpected moment at the end of the news conference, Raul Castro reaches for President Obama's arm there. It made for an awkward moment, with much of the world watching. A short time after arriving here in Cuba, our exclusive walk with president Obama, through old Havana and, tonight, right here, our new interview with him. We sat down with him just a short time ago, after his meeting with Raul Castro and we begin tonight with what it was like in that room. [TO OBAMA] You have said that you would speak candidly with President Castro about the serious differences you have with the Cuban government, particularly on human rights and on democracy. So, take us inside that room today. What did you tell President Castro that needs to change here in Cuba? 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: ABC News Exclusive; Breaking News; Inside the Obama, Castro Meeting]

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, what I indicated to him was that, for 50 years, they have used American aggression, or interests in regime change as the excuse for why they had to guard against dissent inside of Cuba and as normalization occurs, that excuse is taken away and what I indicated to him is that we can't force changes on Cuba, but what we can do and will continue to do is to stand up for the rights that we consider to be universal. 

MUIR: You heard President Castro late today said, give me a list of political prisoners and I'll release him.

OBAMA: Yeah. 

MUIR: Will you give him a list?

OBAMA: Well, the truth of the matter is we've given him lists in the past and they have responded intermittently to our — to our engagements. 

MUIR: You were in that room. Do you trust President Castro? Do you believe that he truly wants change here? 

OBAMA: I believe that President Castro truly wants change. I do not believe that President Castro wants to upend the ruling party or the system that they have. 

MUIR: President Castro seemed to be defending himself, his record on human rights today, and he went further, saying, I find it inconceivable that the government does not find a right to secure health care, food provision, and equal pay. What did you make of that? 

OBAMA: Well, look, this is an argument that I think the Cubans make whenever they hear criticism from the United States. Their argument is that, okay, we may be in your view short on some democratic practices. On the other hand, you guys still engage in the death penalty or racial discrimination and they'll tick off a list. 

MUIR: But when he says health care, does he have a point? 

OBAMA: Well, here's the point that we should not use our shortcomings as a way of deflecting the kinds of repression that happens here. 

MUIR: But two making history, standing side by side. Raul Castro, taking questions and taking hold of President Obama's arm unexpectedly. 

OBAMA: If you think about today's press conference, as far as I can tell, that may be the first time that Raul Castro's ever stood in front of not just U.S. press, but also Cuban press and answered questions and that could not have happened unless we had changed this policy. 

MUIR: You plan to meet with dissidents here. 

OBAMA: Yeah. 

MUIR: Did you choose the list? 

OBAMA: Absolutely. 

MUIR: Did Cuba have a hand in it? 

OBAMA: No. We were very clear that we're going to meet with who it is we want to meet. 

MUIR: You’re aware of some of the numbers, Mr. President. By some estimates, 1,400 people arrested in January alone, setting a new high. 500 of them, women. In fact, the arrests are higher since you announced normalizing relations with Cuba. 

OBAMA: Right. 

MUIR: Even arrests as you were arriving here in Havana. Does that concern you? 

OBAMA: Well, it does concern me, and, you know, my view is that people have a right to express their differences. Now, one of the things I said to President Castro, and I truly believe in this, is that if they were less fearful of dissent, that not only might they be able to improve governance here, but I suspect that they could enhance their legitimacy in the eyes of the Cuban people.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center