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The Media War Against Cuba

Keith Bolender's latest book "Manufacturing the the Enemy - the Media War Against Cuba" - a must-read for all journalists.

Since the earliest days of the Cuban revolution, mainstream media in the United States has been consistent in presenting a misinformed, biased narrative against the island nation and its social/economic system.

The media is unerringly negative when reporting on the revolution, all in compliance to Washington’s stated foreign policy goals of regime change. So whether newspaper, television or any other form of corporate media tasks itself to coverage Cuba, it is accepted that the reporting will conform to self-created denigrations that the socialist government is either inferior, illegitimate or incompetent. This false narrative maintains itself regardless of what is being covered, political or otherwise. Or as Warren Hinkle, a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner said: “It’s a journalist axiom that if it’s anti-Cuba, it has to be true.”

Media coverage is the means where the worst charges against revolutionary society are believed and any attempt at authentic examination is denied. The United States audience has been particularly susceptible to this bias, because of the travel restrictions placed on the individual who has a difficult time visiting Cuba. Because of those restrictions, most Americans have no opportunity to see for themselves the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Nor to challenge the misinformation about the island nation.

There are a number of reasons for this bias. First, mainstream media still retains the most influential voice for the general public, particularly when it comes to framing the narrative in foreign affairs. Add that to the fact of American capitalism vs Cuban socialism. Then you put in the historical relationship between Cuban and USA, and American foreign policy since World War II based on the strategy of preventing national movements in former colonies to succeed. Particularly one under US control as Cuba was for more than 50 years.

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However, the most important reason why corporate media has been so one-sided against Cuba is economic ideology. The media’s primary function now more than ever is to operate as a for-profit business – and that means the basic tenant 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.”

Corporate 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 misinformed negative perspective, based on the control of information—what is used and what is left out. The vast majority of mainstream media articles on Cuba will ignore the economic and social impact of the American embargo – to do so would lend credence to Havana’s legitimate justifications for the economic shortcomings the country faces. In addition, corporate media rarely gives voice to those Cubans who support the revolution.

Mainstream’s media anti-Cuba narratives traverse well before the revolution, dating back to the 19th Century when the United States was obsessed with owning the island. Thanks to the corporate media the opportunity presented itself during the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was made possible when the US Maine battleship was blown up in Havana harbour, after which the two most influential newspapers in the United States, the New York World and the New York Journal, created a fictitious chronicle blaming the Spanish for the explosion and thereby creating public support for America’s entry into the war. All in conformity with Washington’s strategy of controlling the island, which it did from 1902 to 1959 before Fidel Castro and the revolution ended the media-created fantasy of a benign local population forever beholding to its American ‘liberators’.

One of the first examples of media bias against the revolution came during the Bay of Pigs attack in April 1961. Known in Cuba as Playa Giron, the invasion involved a failed effort by anti-revolutionary Cuban-Americans to overthrow Fidel Castro. It took only three days for the government to defeat the American trained invaders, but the reality that the revolution was never in danger did not stop media outlets like the New York Times and Miami Herald falsely report that the invading forces were splitting the island in half and would soon take over. Not a word was true, but readership had little other opportunity to find out what was actually happening.

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In the 1990s there were a number of outrageous lies against the revolutionary government, including a series of fabricated reports following the arrest of American contractor Alan Gross, charged with bringing in illegal high tech military grade BGAN communication equipment. While the facts were indisputable, corporate media chose to spin a series of lies, falsely reporting Gross was arrested for distributing cell phones to the Jewish community in Havana. The Washington Post spewed the fallacy a few days after his detention: “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.”

The worst example of media bias against Cuba occurred when corporate media sold their souls, literally, in order to ensure a completely unjust court decision against five men who were trying to prevent acts of terrorism. The 1998 arrest and trial 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 was marred by the unending stream of misinformation from the media. Thanks to that bias there was no chance at a fair trial, resulting in incredibly long sentences for all five, including two life sentences plus 15 years for Gerardo Hernandez.

This travesty of justice was made possible by a number of journalists on the Miami Herald who 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 five 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. Isla was paid more than $20,000 US to write those stories.

When former President Barack Obama announced his intent to normalize relations with Cuba in 2014, corporate media was in full support, not for the benefits it would bring to the Cuban people, but that the new strategy would be the best avenue to finally achieve regime change. The New York Times ran a series of articles on a variety of social and culture topics in Cuba, all with the slant that the opening to American businesses, tourists and capitalism would finally convince the locals to overthrow their own government. President Donald Trump’s return to hostility has initiated some pushback, based on the media’s continued support for Obama’s strategy of regime change through the use of the carrot, and not the stick.

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While corporate media continues to retain the greatest influence in framing the anti-Cuba bias, the new social media has also entered the war. Twitter has been weaponized against Cuba, with an attempt in 2014 to establish a social network built on texts. Named ZunZuneo, slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet, the hope was it could be used to organize ‘smart mobs’ to trigger a Cuban uprising. What few realized was the funding and operation for ZunZuneo came from USAID – the State Department organization that had been for years trying to undermine Cuban society.

At its peak, ZunZero drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the US government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

Twitter’s latest actions against Cuba took place just a couple months ago when they shut down the accounts of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, top journalists, news outlets and government officials. Twitter, American owned and operated out of San Francisco, initially reported the accounts were shut down for violating company protocols, then redefined the reason as due to their use for political manipulation. Cuba’s journalist union denied there being any such violations. A number of the accounts were restored in a few days, although many others remained suspended.

As Cuba’s revolution moves into the 21st century with a series of important social and economic reforms, American corporate media, as well as certain aspects of social media, remained mired in the ability to ignore what is really happening in the country. The war of words and ideas will undoubtedly continue.

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