NBC to Broadcast from Cuba's Meeting of U.S. Enemies Because It's 'Interesting'

Checking in from the so-called Non-Aligned Movement summit in Havana, on Thursday's NBC Nightly News Andrea Mitchell relayed: "Well, at times, Brian, this looks like a reunion of the Axis of Evil, George Bush's worst nightmare." Following Mitchell's brief report, which mainly dealt with Fidel Castro's status, anchor Brian Williams told Mitchell and viewers: "We will join you there tomorrow evening when this broadcast will originate from Cuba." Why? On MSNBC.com's "Daily Nightly" blog, Williams described those gathering at the meeting, which was held in the hardly unaligned Cuba in 1979, as [ellipses and parentheses in original] "basically all those who didn't want to be our friend or the Soviet Union's (with exceptions, of course) back in the 60s. What an interesting gathering...how often do all of this nation's enemies gather in the same hotel ballroom, after all? The fact that it's happening 90 miles off the coast of Florida makes it all the more interesting."

In her "Daily Nightly" blog posting, Mitchell trumpeted how excited the Cuban regime is about the arrival of Williams, as if that's anything of which to be proud: "Brian will be anchoring from here tomorrow night, which is a very big deal. Cuba TV -- part of the government here -- has already talked about his anticipated arrival." She soon adopted Williams' favorite word for the event: "Why are we all Here? For one thing, Havana is always interesting." As for how Cubans feel about Castro, "this is our first chance to talk to Cubans about how they view this change after a half century of Fidel's rule. We've found some unease, but less than you might think." Indeed, Mitchell touted how one "visitor described Castro as looking like Don Quixote, especially after losing so much weight since his surgery."

Mitchell did, however, at least note in her blog entry: "Cuban officials tell me the point is not to attack America, but many of the billboards here tell a different story: they portray President Bush with fangs, call him an 'assassin' and even compare him to Adolf Hitler."

The brief coverage on the September 14 NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams: "There is a worldwide gathering under way tonight in Cuba, with more than 50 heads of state arriving in Havana for a summit meeting, and some of the names on the guest list read like an enemies list of the United States. We are joined now from Havana by our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell. Andrea, set the scene for us."

Andrea Mitchell: "Well, at times, Brian, this looks like a reunion of the Axis of Evil, George Bush's worst nightmare. One of the first to arrive, in fact, was Iran's President, Ahmadinejad. He came in last night, and already the summit has indicated that it is going to support Iran's position against the West in its showdown over nuclear research. But this is also, of course, the first time to see Fidel Castro. He is the man who is not here. He's in the hospital, but just a short time ago, Cuba TV showed the first video of him today out of bed, standing up, and meeting with a visitor, his closest ally down here, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, another sharp critic of the U.S. Right now, Fidel Castro's brother Raul and a group of other Cuban officials are in charge. It's a collective leadership. No sign that he's going to be returning to full power, but he may put up a symbolic appearance tomorrow."

Williams: "Andrea Mitchell in Havana, Cuba tonight. Andrea, as you know, we will join you there tomorrow evening when this broadcast will originate from Cuba."

An excerpt from Williams' "Daily Nightly" blog post of 4:26pm EDT:
"Andrea Mitchell is in Havana for the summit of non-aligned nations... meaning basically all those who didn't want to be our friend or the Soviet Union's (with exceptions, of course) back in the 60s. What an interesting gathering... how often do all of this nation's enemies gather in the same hotel ballroom, after all? The fact that it's happening 90 miles off the coast of Florida makes it all the more interesting."

An excerpt from Mitchell's "Daily Nightly" post of 4:04pm EDT:
HAVANA, Cuba -- This city is festooned with signs and banners welcoming foreign leaders to a gathering that looks like a reunion of President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil." Cuban officials tell me the point is not to attack America, but many of the billboards here tell a different story: they portray President Bush with fangs, call him an "assassin" and even compare him to Adolf Hitler. (The Castro government is accusing the U.S. of harboring a man known here as the Osama bin Laden of Cuba -- a Cuban exile now jailed in Texas on immigration charges, but accused in Havana of terror plots. It's part of the backdrop for the angry rhetoric against the U.S.)

Brian will be anchoring from here tomorrow night, which is a very big deal. Cuba TV -- part of the government here -- has already talked about his anticipated arrival.

WHY ARE WE ALL HERE?

For one thing, Havana is always interesting, and Cuba has not permitted any foreign journalists in since Fidel Castro turned over power -- he said temporarily -- to his brother Raul and a triumvirate of officials on July 31st. This is our first chance to talk to Cubans about how they view this change after a half century of Fidel's rule.

We've found some unease, but less than you might think. It's clear that Fidel prepared well for a succession....

Of course, we are also here to cover the summit, a meeting of so-called "non-aligned nations." It is an artifact of the Cold War, of countries seeking power for themselves outside either the East or the West. When they first gathered in Belgrade in 1961, Fidel Castro was 35, a revolutionary leader admitting that he was a communist. In 1979, at the peak of the Cold War, he hosted the annual gathering. Now 80 and ailing, Castro was supposed to be greeting the 50 heads of state arriving here today to talk about world poverty and criticize U.S. policy. Instead, he's in his hospital room, but his aides say he is recovering and giving orders by phone. That said, there is a real sense here of the passing of an era. No one in government says Castro will be back in charge. Friends, like an Argentinian author who visited him yesterday, are trying to perpetuate the legend. This visitor described Castro as looking like Don Quixote, especially after losing so much weight since his surgery. Another visitor today -- Venezuela's Hugo Chavez -- described Fidel as looking like the Man of La Mancha, but "victorious and invincible" (unlike Cervantes' dreamer).

Buoyed by billions in oil revenues which have helped Cuba offset the crippling affects of the U.S. economic embargo, Chavez was greeted as a hero when he arrived today. With Castro offstage, Chavez is asserting himself as the next leader of the movement. But he isn't the only focus of attention: Iran's President Ahmadinejad is also in Havana and will likely get an endorsement for his nuclear standoff with the West....

Thursday's Washington Post ran a preview of the conclave, "Summit Is Stage for Anti-U.S. Sentiment: Non-Aligned Movement Leaders Head to Havana."
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