ABC's Sawyer Hails 'Dashing' 'Rock Star' Fidel Castro

While covering the breaking story on Tuesday of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's decision to step down from power, various "Good Morning America" anchors and reporters soft peddled the communist leader's crimes. In a profile piece that narrated a brief history of his life, co-host Diane sawyer enthused, "Castro knew life is a stage and played the part of the dashing revolutionary coming to New York, getting rock star treatment."

Now, she did add that many people overlooked the "ferocity of his communism, even as he bankrupted his country and history passed him by." But over the course of five segments, GMA managed to completely ignore Castro's record of firing squads, jailing dissidents, imprisoning AIDS patients and other crimes. Instead, Sawyer found time to romantically state, "The world's longest-serving political leader is leaving on his own terms, having survived efforts by ten different U.S. presidents to bring him down..." Note the use of the term "political leader" rather than dictator.

During one segment in the 7am hour on reaction to Castro's resignation in Miami, ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman twice chose to denigrate Cuban refugees. He noted that in 2006, the city's "so-called Cuban exiles" celebrated when Cuba's dictator temporarily stepped aside. In a follow-up report later in the show, Kofman discussed how "the so-called Cuban exiles" had hoped for a transition to democracy after Castro. The ABC journalist didn't bother to explain what he meant by the phrase "so-called."

NewsBusters.org--Media Research CenterGMA also retrieved file footage from an old Sawyer interview with Castro (possibly from 1993). In the clip, Sawyer offered up softball questions such as "Do you believe there's a heaven or a hell?" and "If you were inventing heaven, what would you make you sure you had there?" She followed that up by prompting, "I guess George Bush or Ronald Reagan wouldn't go to heaven then." Sawyer cheerfully summed up Castro's legacy by asserting, "One half a century from a man who once said history may have derided him, but at least he stood for something."

Finally, Robin Roberts spoke with ABC News consultant Wayne Smith about Castro and communism. She described Smith simply as a former "top U.S. diplomat in Cuba" without ever mentioning his work for Democratic presidents such as John Kennedy and for Jimmy Carter as the Chief of U.S. Interest Section to Cuba (equivalent to an embassy where diplomatic relations are nonexistent.) In light of such liberal credentials, his attack on the Bush administration for its unwillingness "to deal with the Cuban government" seems more explainable." Smith also delivered leftist platitudes such as saying of Cuba: "Let's begin a dialogue. We have differences. We have disagreements. But how do you address them unless you talk?"

A transcript of the first two segments, which aired at 7:02am on February 19, follow:

SAWYER: But we have big news.

ROBIN ROBERTS: We do. We want to get right to the news of Cuban President Fidel Castro resigning after nearly 50 years in power. Now, aside from monarchs, he is the world's longest ruling head of state. So, why is he stepping down now? ABC's Jeffery Kofman joins us live from Miami's little Havana. Jeffery?

NewsBusters.org--Media Research CenterJEFFREY KOFMAN: Good morning, Robin. Well, this is momentous day for the 11.2 million people of Cuba and for more than a million Cuban Americans, most of them in here in Miami. But it's safe to say that this is not the way the people here hoped that Castro's rule would end. After almost half a century in power, Fidel Castro made the announcement online overnight saying, "I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of president of the state council and commander in chief." That means for the first time since 1959, Fidel Castro won't be running Cuba. The world's longest-serving political leader is leaving on his own terms, having survived efforts by ten different U.S. presidents to bring him down, including a disastrous CIA-backed invasion in 1961 and a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962. In the summer of 2006, the fervently anti-Castro community of so-called Cuban exiles here in Miami erupted in celebration with word that he was temporarily stepping aside because of failing health. Since then, a frail Castro has been seen sporadically on video, in meetings with leftist world leaders but he has not been seen in public. Which is why in Havana today it is life as usual. Mark Frank is a journalist who lives in Havana.

MARK FRANK I think the Cuban people slowly but surely have come to accept that Fidel Castro needs to retire, that he is no longer the man he was and that it's time to move on.

KOFMAN: Taking over from Fidel Castro is his younger brother Raul, who has been second in command for the last 49 years and acting president since his brother's illness. The transition of power will be ratified at a meeting of the Cuban National Assembly this Sunday. Now, in many ways this is the worst possible scenario for the Cuban exiles who have waited so long for Castro's rule to end because a peaceful transition to another communist leader, this time-- In this case, Raul Castro, means that a dramatic democratic transition is a long way off in Cuba. Diane?

DIANE SAWYER: All right. Thanks to you, Jeffery. Well, what about this man? Take a look at this picture. [Picture appears onscreen of a young Castro.] Fidel Castro, in fact was a lawyer, the son of a privileged land owner who landed on the shores of his native island and routed the dictator. He has survived assassination attempts, invasion, the collapse of communist rule in Russia and in eastern Europe and through it all maintained his iron-tight control over 11 million people in part with just the force of his personality on the island the size of New Jersey. From a tiny island, a larger than life personality. 1956, a rag-tag group of guerrillas led by Fidel Castro surprised the world after living in the hills of Cuba, eating bugs to survive with 40 comrades taking power and establishing a communist state 90 miles from America's shore.

FIDEL CASTRO [file footage]: We want to salute to the people of the United States.

SAWYER: Castro knew life is a stage and played the part of the dashing revolutionary coming to New York, getting rock star treatment. It took time for everyone to grasp the ferocity of his communism, even as he bankrupted his country and history passed him by. Once, I asked him about what would happen to him in an afterlife. [file footage of old interview with Castro] Do you believe there's a heaven or a hell?

CASTRO [Through translator]: But the conclusion I have is that hell cannot exist and that heaven would be a surprise for all of us.

SAWYER: If you were inventing heaven, what would you make you sure you had there?

CASTRO: I would build a socialist society.

SAWYER: I guess George Bush and Ronald Reagan wouldn't go to heaven then.

CASTRO: Perhaps they could get used to it, you know?

SAWYER: One half a century from a man who once said history may have derided him, but at least he stood for something.

CASTRO: I do not feel tired. But I neither have the energy or the strength I had when I started this struggle.

SAWYER: Are you saying then, if you do win and you outlast the embargo, that at that point, if Cuba begins to thrive economically, that you would like to step down?

CASTRO: Partly so, yes. More or less so. I could be more accurate. One is not free to do what one would like to. I am not here because it is my pleasure to do this job. Now, I'm just a soldier in the front line and in the most difficult time of the battle. Then I would be a coward.

SAWYER: And again, he could not and would not budge, no matter how much the world said it's time to move on. He would not budge from his old ideas.

Audio available here (282 kB | 37 seconds).

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org