Exactly a half century ago both The New York Times and CBS--between hailing him as a 'humanist" "a Christian" a "Robin Hood" and an "anti-communist"--reported that the Cuban rebel chieftain Fidel Castro commanded "hundreds" of guerrillas in a "war" against Cuban dictator Batista. On clandestine trips to the war zone in Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains reporters for the two most prestigious media outlets in America had seen these hundreds of rebels first hand.
Two years later Castro himself cackled while recounting how he'd ordered his eighteen "rebels" to march in front of the gaping U.S. reporters then scurry into the bushes, change uniforms and march through again. The U.S. embassy's public affairs officer in Havana, Richard Cushing had performed the role of tour guide for these valiant and intrepid reporters, as well as for their media colleagues who soon formed a veritable parade..
By 1958 reporters for every magazine from Look to Boys Life had braved the furtive journey to Castro's campsite. Ever hospitable to the U.S. media, Castro had his people erect a sign saying "Press Hut" to more easily direct the traffic flow of this camera and notebook-toting (and ever-friendly) throng, with their amazing immunity to harm from the Fascist hordes of Batista's diabolical army and police.
During this time the wire dispatches from New York on the Cuban rebellion, including those from the Associated Press, were being concocted and written word for word by a Castro's own agent in New York, Mario Llerena, who admits as much in his book, The Unsuspected Revolution. Llerena was also the contact with Castro's most famous publicity agent, the New York Times', Herbert Matthews. National Review's famous 1960 cartoon showing a beaming Castro, "I got my job through the New York Times!" nailed it.
In the words of (leftist) British historian Hugh Thomas: "In all essentials Castro's battle for Cuba was a public relations campaign, fought in New York and Washington." "Fought" and also won, I might add.
In 1979 David Halberstam's book, The Powers That Be was all the rage in Beltway circles. The book claimed that the major media had "stopped following the news and was now making the news...an account of the rise of the modern media as an instrument of political power," reads the jacket. The major media, claimed Halberstam, had supplanted both the Executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government as a power broker, and he listed the main players in that brokering. Reportedly, this became one of Fidel Castro's favorite books. Not that he probably learned anything from it. Simply that he received smug confirmation of something he'd proven decades earlier.
Well, he's still at it--and still (mostly) winning.
Along with the above, the intervening half-century witnessed many events that might have prompted the U.S. media (and their readers) to question the Castro regime's press releases. Alas, such is the case in too few quarters. Castro's propaganda ministry retains an influence (more of a spell, actually) over worldwide media and academic circles that simply will not abate and that has proven impervious to refutation, however thorough, consistent and authoritatively documented.
But Michael Moore's parroting of Castro's claims in Sicko gagged even some in the U.S. mainstream media. An ABC producer, amazed by pictures smuggled out of Cuban hospitals and posted on the website The Real Cuba, decided to counter Sicko by using ABC's Havana Bureau to interview Cuban dissidents. These would reveal the actual conditions in Cuba's hospitals.
ABC's Havana Bureau shuffled nervously and finally said OK--but first they'd have to ask the Stalinist regime's permission for such an interview. Think about that for a second. Then remind yourself that these people are probably clinically sane. Then ask yourself what's in Cuban water.
ABC's Havana Bureau (like any news agency's Havana Bureau ) proved utterly useless in reporting anything unsanctioned by a Stalinist regime's propaganda ministry--and dared not raise a peep of public protest over this totalitarian censorship. This is the very same ABC, by the way, that on its World News Tonight bemoaned the Dixie Chicks canceled concerts (in completely private-sector venues) as a form of "censorship."
Thwarted by their own Havana Bureau, some ABC producers resolved to get their hands on any evidence regarding conditions in Cuba's hospitals, feature them on 20/20, and blow the case wide open. For this they contacted George Utset who runs The Real Cuba website whose pictures had originally impressed them. George now turned to contacts inside Cuba. The evidence was to come from the very belly of the beast, in the form of smuggled videos.
Michael Moore's reputation inside Cuba helped the clandestine project..Two years ago Fidel Castro hailed Michael Moore as "that outstanding American!" For weeks Fahrenheit 9-11 was featured on Cuba's state TV.
All this instantly made its director suspect among Castro's subjects. Sicko confirmed the worst. This American millionaire, by spreading a Stalinist regime's lies, struck many Cubans as a simple accomplice to their oppression-- one of many. The friend of my oppressor is also my oppressor, they reasoned. The Castroite propaganda in Sicko so outraged some Cubans that, now knowing the truth could reach millions of Americans via ABC's 20/20, they risked their lives by using hidden cameras to film conditions in Cuban hospitals--but only those hospitals that were genuinely Cuban, meaning that they served Cubans.
The ones showcased by Michael Moore exclusively serve rich foreigners and high Communist party officials. Watching Moore reading from Castro's cue cards by claiming these hospitals served average Cubans, knowing this propaganda would be spread worldwide (and swallowed by many), was more than these desperate Cubans could stomach.
At enormous risk, two hours of shocking--often revolting--footage was obtained with tiny hidden cameras and smuggled out of Cuba. The man who assumed most of this risk was Cuban dissident--a medical doctor himself-- Dr Darsi Ferrer, who was also willing to talk on camera, narrating much of the video's revelations. Dr Ferrer works in these genuinely Cuban hospitals daily, witnessing the truth. More importantly, he wasn't cowed from revealing this truth to America and the world.
Alas, with the videos finally n their hands ABC started getting cold feet. The 20/20 segment kept getting smaller and smaller. That on-again, off-again funeral extravaganza widely expected in Havana has raised the perceived importance of Havana press bureaus, and ABC's Havana staff had already whimpered objections to this project. They were unaware of the smuggled videos but many of their colleagues stateside apparently "felt their pain." More cutting and more paring ensued. On Sept. 12th 20/20 ended up running a short segment on the matter, barely 5 minutes long and with almost none of the smuggled video footage.
Even so, viewer response was thunderous. 20/20 was deluged with atta-boy! e-mails. The Cuban regime responded also. The Cuban Communist party's Central Committee called a meeting to discuss the issue then called in ABC's Havana bureau for talking-to. John Stossel's follow-up shows on Sicko included no mention of Cuba's healthcare.
Enter Fox News, and the Hannity & Colmes Show in particular. Fox producers got word of these smuggled videos and immediately requested a look. They promptly got to work editing, translating and subtitling. On Oct 10th they ran huge segments of the smuggled videos. Fox viewers saw naked patients covered with flies while laying on "hospital beds" consisting of a bare mattress. They saw building that would be condemned by the health board of any U.S. municipality serving as "hospitals." They saw and heard Dr Darsi Ferrer along with other Cubans who described their inability to obtain something so basic as aspirins.
"Greed," was the motif of Michael Moore's Sicko, right?
Well, Fox viewers saw footage of Cubans being told that aspirins and other medicines just might be available to them--but only if they paid in U.S. dollars, not the Cuban pesos they held out in desperation.
Dr Ferrer, from all we hear to date, has not been arrested or pummeled by the secret police, which is cause for some consolation. But as so often happens with totalitarian regimes, once one of their targets is widely publicized, the regime simply moves their crosshairs to one more obscure.