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Media Bias Against Cuba – Some Things Never Change

Che Guevara reading a newspaper. Photo source: Wikipedia. Public Domain

As the world struggles under the new realities of the COVID-19 crisis, some things never change. So, when Cuba is shown to be doing more than its part in combating the pandemic, American corporate media bias against the island nation remains unaltered.

While most countries are focusing almost exclusively to ensure their own citizens are safe and healthy, Cuba has maintained a level of internationalism as a reflection of the revolutionary commitment that goes back more than half a century. In the past month dozens of Cuban doctors and medical staff have volunteered to work in some of most effected areas including Italy, Andorra, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Surinam, Jamaica, Haiti, Belice, Dominica, and the island nations of Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda. Dozens of other countries have also sent requests for medical help from Cuba, including Ireland and other European nations.

The expectation that responsible mainstream media in the US would report on the situation in a positive light has not, unfortunately, been the case. The majority of coverage has been overwhelmingly negative, criticism based on false narratives that have been standard journalistic practice since the Revolution triumphed in 1959.

Most reports have tried to conflate Cuba’s decision to send medical teams out of country as incongruous with the nation’s own economic difficulties. A Bloomberg article in March, headlined: “Coronavirus Could Give Cuba’s Flying Doctors New Wings,” noted that while the doctors would make greater than average salaries outside of Cuba, much of the country is still experiencing shortages in food and medicine. The article carried no mention of the negative economic effects of the American blockade, nor the efforts of the Trump administration to increase the punishment against the Cuban people. Acknowledging the impact of American sanctions is simply not permitted in mainstream media reporting. To do so would lend credence to Cuban complaints and give balance as to why the country faces such economic difficulties.

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With no basis in fact, a March 20th story in the Pan Am Post claimed Havana was sending doctors abroad simply to score propaganda points while locals suffered from lack of care at home. The reality is Cuba maintains approximately 68 doctors per 10,000 nationals, a percentage far higher than any first world nation. The United States has approximately 24 doctors per 10,000. The Miami Herald published a lengthy anti-revolutionary piece from Cuban exile Fabiola Santiago who stated that, “Americans, in the midst of  food and supply shortages and limitations on personal freedoms, are getting a taste of what it’s like in Cuba and Venezuela—without coronavirus.” Food security was a serious issue for millions of Americans prior to the pandemic, a nation not suffering under sanctions or regime change policies.

Corporate media has provided substantial coverage to the US government’s pressure on countries to reject Cuban medical assistance, reporting uncritically on Washington’s spurious claim the program is a form of ‘human trafficking’ — as the Miami Herald did in its April 15 edition.

It is a historic truth that if mainstream media covers Cuba, then it will be predominately biased, mis-leading and designed to create a false narrative in order to support America’s historic policies of regime change. So whether it’s the left leaning New York Times or the right wing Washington Post, national perspectives are usually irrelevant when it comes to Cuba coverage – both sides are normally unanimous in negative, biased reporting.

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Or as Warren Hinkle, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner (a Hearst syndicate paper), said: “It’s a journalist axiom that if it’s anti-Cuba, it has to be true.”

The media’s role has been foremost to propagandize the revolution in the most negative forms, resulting in the normalization of the demonization of the Cuban revolution and its supporters. Media has led the inexorable march towards creating a critical narrative that does not stand up to honest scrutiny.

The foot soldiers have been the journalists who cover Cuba. While most are not intentionally biased, any reporter working in the mainstream media, expert in foreign affairs or not, who writes about Cuba approaches the subject with a predetermined set of value judgements based on strict capitalist/western democratic concepts. The journalist instinctively, unconsciously covers Cuba from that perspective – and writes accordingly – reemphasising the ingrained biases and misinformation about the revolution. Cuba does not conform to Western neo-liberal standards so by default the mainstream press looks for negative indicators to compare to the supposedly superior capitalist system. The result is that corporate media journalists who do not write in support of capitalist economic and social values will not be published. Reporters perceive Cuba’s system to be inferior, and so approach any subject with those established prejudices. Lack of any real understanding of revolutionary society or Cuba’s history only exacerbates those conditions.
Journalists conform to corporate media economic ideology. The media’s primary function now more than ever is to operate as a for-profit business – and that means the basic tenet of journalism integrity — fairness – is thrown to the wayside in order to appease shareholder’s wealth and advertiser expectations — not what is in the best interest of readership. Media critic website Project Censored succinctly described the relationship: “Corporate media have become a monolithic power structure that serves the interests of empire, war, and capitalism.”

Not surprisingly, as the media, no less a capitalist institution as the stock market, could barely allow Cuba’s socialist values and efforts at egalitarianism to be presented as any sort of positive model for other developing nations to follow. The media has done its job extremely well in presenting anything but a one-sided perspective, based on the control of information—what is used and what is left out.

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The mainstream media, now owned by a very small number of ultra-capitalists, are in complete compliance to the political and economic ruling classes and its foreign policy objectives. Media then becomes state controlled through the conjunction of the financial aims of private ownership and the political goals of leadership. Under US rules of proprietorship, the media’s voluntary compliance to disseminate government propaganda becomes more effective than overt state-run news organizations. The perception is that privately operated media equates to independence and a democratic barrier to state authoritarianism. In fact, when mainstream media ownership finds itself under the control of the uber-rich reactionary corporate elements of society, you don’t need government pressure to ensure compliance, it comes willingly.

As far as Cuba is concerned, Washington’s desire to destroy the Revolution has been readily supported by corporate media through a history of misinformation and anti-revolutionary propaganda.

One of the most egregious examples occurred in the late 1990s during the case of the Cuban Five, intelligence agents sent to Florida to infiltrate violent anti-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations with a history of terrorism against their former homeland.

The arrest and trial of the Five in 1998 was marred by the unending stream of misinformation from the media – guaranteeing the Five would have no chance of a fair trial. The result was incredibly long sentences for all five, including two life sentences, plus 15 years for Gerardo Hernandez.

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This travesty of justice was made possible when a number of journalists on the Miami Herald were paid by the United States government to write negative stories against the Five, thereby abrogating any semblance of journalistic integrity. During the trial, various reports written to condemn the agents bordered on the incredulous. Wilfredo Cancio Isla wrote a remarkable article in El Nuevo Herald on June 4, 2001, the day the jury began its deliberations on the question of guilt or innocence, implausibly claiming that: “Cuba used hallucinogens to train its spies.” The article had no basis in reality, making the unsubstantiated claim from an anonymous Cuban spy deserter that Cuba gave its agents LSD and other drugs before sending them on missions abroad. The article provided illumination as to how far editors put aside their journalistic judgment in order to publish anti-Cuban propaganda. Isla was paid more than $20,000 US to write those stories.

An American contractor, Alan Gross, generated a mini-industry of misrepresentation in the mainstream media when he was arrested in 2009 after bringing in high tech, illegal communication equipment known as BGAN, designed to set up untraceable satellite communication networks, equipment prohibited internationally unless under the control of the government.

The overwhelming articles claimed Gross was simply carrying in low level communication equipment, similar to cellphones, to help the Jewish community in Havana.

Consistently misrepresenting what he was doing in Cuba, the press constructed the issue as a helpless American only trying to bring, “free speech to an oppressed people under the nose of a government that did not want that to happen,” according to CBS news.

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Even with the facts firmly determined, mainstream media spun the story with little regard to the truth. Miami Herald Andres Oppenheimer led the way with an allegation that anyone who has ever been to Cuba knows is untrue. “Obama did not mention the case of Alan Gross, the US contractor who was sentenced to 15 years in prison this month for taking telephone equipment to Cuba.” Bringing telephones, including cell phones, into Cuba presents no problem, as thousands of visitors will attest to. State of the art military grade BGAN equipment, is a different story.

The Washington Post spewed the same fallacy with an additional twist a few days after his arrest: “The Cuban government has arrested an American citizen working on contract for the US Agency for International Development who was distributing cell phones and laptop computers to Cuban activists.”

A small Cuban boy was in the centre of a media storm in Florida when Elian Gonzalez created an international sensation by surviving the dangerous crossing of the Florida Straits on a raft in 1999, an attempt to reach the US that cost the life of his mother and the others on the raft. While there was some actual truthful reporting of how the boy was manipulated by his Cuban relatives in Miami, the overwhelming coverage was based on the standard anti-Cuban biases and propaganda against the revolution.

Normal immigration policy in a case such as Elian’s was not the only information missing in media coverage, facts that should have been self-evident in any other situation. The press created a series of narratives that merged into characteristic anti-Cuba bias – including a report that Elián wouldn’t last six months if he returned to the horrors of Cuba; that his father Juan Miguel really didn’t want to have his son back; and that his mother died in a desperate bid to gain freedom on America’s shore.

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A story in the Miami Herald promoted the misinformation that Elián would face, “a tragic life of deprivation if he returns to Cuba.” The article quoted a bystander who said “If he goes back, he will starve to death…. It would be a crime to send him back.”

When Elián’s father, Juan Miguel González, was interviewed, there was skepticism that he wanted his son returned. The New York Times irresponsibly speculated as to whether Juan Miguel was simply, “a puppet of the Castro government” who “not only would allow his son to stay but would seek asylum himself” if he “had the freedom to speak his mind.” The assumption in the press is, of course, that Cubans who want to remain in Cuba must be brainwashed by Castro.

Even the positive move in 2014 to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States was covered in typical anti-revolutionary bias. An editorial in USA Today, which was ostensibly from the side of endorsing the opening, brought up all the mis-information and ingrained rationalizations for American hostility against Cuba:

“For nearly 60 years, Cuba’s government has done two things exceptionally well: repress its own people and make a mockery of U.S. efforts to compel change through economic sanctions… Without question, U.S. economic sanctions have been an exercise in frustration. They have not prompted a popular uprising or compelled the Cuban regime to open up. If anything, they have been counterproductive, allowing the Castro regime to blame its woeful economic performance on vindictive U.S. policies, rather than on its failed communist ideology.” The article admits the blockade has been a failure because it hasn’t forced the Cuban people into rebellion. So now maybe a new approach – normalization — is needed to force these stubborn Cubans into getting rid of their government.

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Negative coverage of Cuba’s internationalism during the Coronavirus pandemic comes as no surprise. Washington’s policy of regime change will continue to be supported by a compliant corporate media to ensure anti-revolutionary misinformation remains regardless of what crisis the rest of the world is coping with.

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