The Poynter Institute's Romenesko weblog draws some strange letters, where some feel passionately that dictators like Fidel Castro and terrorist groups like Hezbollah have been maligned by media labeling. Yesterday, Harrison Chastang of the non-commercial San Francisco radio station KPOO-FM complained:
Many news outlets doing stories on Cuban leader Fidel Castro's surgery have lead stories with "Cuban dictator Fidel Castro...." The term dictator is rarely, if ever used to describe the leaders of China, Vietnam or Saudi Arabia, all nations with unelected leaders of governments that match the classic description of the term dictatorship. In regards to Castro, the term dictator is the favorite word President Bush and the Miami exile community uses to describe Castro. Do reporters and editors buy into the mindset of the Bush administration and the exile community in using the term dictator to describe Castro, but not leaders of other Communist or unelected governments.
Right there on their web page linking us to their story it blares. "Lawmakers almost giddy over Castro's illness", the headline trumpets. Later in their story they repeat the negligently emotive rhetoric.
"Another Cuban-born U.S. politician, Sen. Mel Martinez, was almost giddy over the report of Castro's surgery.
"My hope is that there will be an opportunity for voices of freedom to be heard in Cuba, that this could begin a moment of transformation and transition to a better life and a better day," the Republican from Florida told reporters.
Martinez described his reaction to Monday's report that Castro is ill as "intensely emotional."
As the totalitarian communist dictator of Cuba for 47 years, Fidel Castro repressed those who worked for democracy, human rights and a free press. Yet through the decades, many in the American media have maintained their romanticized mythology of Castro as a progressive revolutionary icon, provider of “free” health care, a Latin American David vs. the Goliath of the United States.
In contrast to their coverage of right-wing dictators, like Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, journalists do not often mention those killed, imprisoned or exiled by Castro’s ruthless “revolution,” but treat him as a celebrity head of state. Just a few years ago, ABC’s Barbara Walters trekked to Havana to produce yet another soft feature on the dictator.
“For Castro, freedom starts with education,” Walters oozed on the October 11, 2002 "20/20." “And if literacy alone is any yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth.”
Now that Fidel’s reign may have ended, it was interesting to see that the New York Times Web site included a sidebar "From the Archives," with links to PDF versions of their own coverage of Castro’s rise to power in the late 1950s. I didn’t read them all, but one that I clicked on showed an incredible pro-Castro bias, with the Times justifying Castro’s executions of political opponents, touting his genius and insisting that his new government wasn’t communist but “conservative.”
We're #156! Cuba, that is, in this CIA ranking of per capita income of the world's countries. Cuba trails such economic powerhouses as Guyana, Micronesia and, of course, Niue. But, hey, it's a full $200 ahead of basket-case Angola!
But economic beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Tothe Associated Press, the Cuban economy, with a litle help from designated Fidel-successor Raul, is 'successful.' Here's an excerpt from an AP article of today [hat tip to Drudge]:
"Raul has been deeply involved . . . with the military's successful peacetime efforts to help rescue Cuba's economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991."
High on the list of annoying media tics is their tendency to call murderous totalitarian dictators "presidents." That ought to be an honorific reserved for elected leaders. But here's the AP dispatch that ran in Tuesday's Washington Post:
Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night and told Cubans he underwent surgery...
Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his younger brother and successor Raul, the defense minister, but said the move was of "a provisional character."
Not only is this inaccurate, but if one can imagine someone who does not know who Fidel Castro is (I once had a brother-in-law who thought he ruled Jamaica), they might actually think he's a democratic leader from the tone of AP's report.
In Miami, Cuban-Americans were literally dancing in the street at the prospect that the repressive regime of Fidel Castro might finally be drawing to an end. But back in Cuba, people greeted the news of the great liberator's illness with dismay. At least, they did according to CBS News' woman-on-the-spot.
On this morning's Early Show, CBS ran a brief clip of a phone interview with Portia Siegelbaum, a CBS News producer based in Cuba. Here is the entirety of her report:
"The news of Castro's illness was most unexpected. I spoke to half-a-dozen people last night and they seemed most shook up by his handing over power, even if provisionally, to his younger brother Raul."