It seems like years since Fidel’s favorite child was hustled off the stage in Little Miami by rude battle-ready agents of the federal government. But it was only last Saturday at dawn — the worst possible time for the major newsweeklies.
Newsweek each scrambled their troops at deadline to cover the surprise ending of the high politicized miniseries that most of America — especially its jaded media folk — had grown so bored with they don’t care what totalitarian methods Ms. Reno used as long as they don’t have to hear those annoying Cuban-Americans whine about Castro and communism anymore.
It’s unfair to be too critical, given the mad rush they were in. But after judicious, objective, absolutely scientific analysis — and by employing the latest semiotic and syntactical tools of deepest academia — it can be stated unequivocally that Newsweek kicked Time’s butt in several categories.
Newsweek’s cover choices made more journalistic sense. Its headline was a newsy/edgy “Seizing Elian,” while Time’s was a touchy-feely “Papa!” Newsweek used a big news photo of a scary female INS agent (with red photo-flash eyes) clutching a howling Elian, plus a small insert of a smiley reunion snapshot of Elian with his father Juan.
Time went big with a grainy propaganda snapshot of happy Elian and his dad. Its tiny cover insert is intrepid AP photographer Alan Diaz’s now iconic (and no doubt future Pulitzer Prize-winning) portrait of the new symbol of law enforcement — an all-American SWAT guy with a submachine gun. Inside, Time runs several other AP photos of the raid-in-progress while Newsweek spreads Alan Diaz’s photo over two pages.
Both magazines cranked out quick, psycho-babbling sidebars worrying about little Elian’s mental health. As a bonus, Newsweek provided an illustrated map of the Gonzalez house showing how the raid went down and a scathing, back-page attack on Clinton administration lawlessness by an irate George Will.
Editorially, Newsweek played fair and responsible in its main story. But Time’s writers, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, lost their grip, resorting to a phony moral equivalence between the posed snapshots of happy Elian and the news shots of him terrified.
More creepily, Time — which unlike Newsweek presents the breakdown of the pre-raid negotiations almost exclusively from the federal government’s point of view — becomes almost sycophantic with its depiction of “lonesome” Janet Reno as the real victim.
Not only was her poor conscience tossing and turning for months, sniff, sniff. When a federal appeals court decision made it clear that the case would be dragged out further, Time says “even the law seemed to abandon her.” “You could see the pain,” Time quotes one of her faithful, tear-choked advisers. Readers who care about the rule of law ought to cry too.
It’s discouraging that so many Americans, especially those in the news media, have no clue about how unfree and backward and stupid things are in Cuba, politically and economically. The May issue of Ideas on Liberty, the venerable
Foundation for Economic Education magazine formerly known as the Freeman, provides some good detail about the hard daily struggle for existence in Cuba in “La Lucha: The Human Cost of Economic Repression in Cuba.”
As a member of the Communist Party elite and new Friend of Fidel, Elian’s dad can get toilet paper and fresh vegetables whenever he wants. So can foreign tourists. But Patricia Linderman, who lived in Cuba from 1995 to 1998, says that economic restrictions force the average Juan “to spend each day scrounging to provide a level of subsistence for themselves and their families, often by illicit or illegal means.”
Traveling around the island, she learned a simple rule: If it looked good, it’s not for Cubans. It’s a good thing American liberals and unionists are so fond of Fidel, because his tender government — which employs 80 percent of the population and owns, operates and controls everything — isn’t exactly paying everyone a living wage. Sugar cane cutters get 107 pesos a month — that’s about $6 in Yankee money. A doctor gets 400 pesos a month. But who needs money? Everything is free in Cuba, except the people.
This week was supposed to be devoted to marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, which is Sunday.
U.S. News & World Report, which got burned by its early Friday night deadline and couldn’t cover the grabbing of Elian, made do with its Vietnam cover package. It argues that 25 years after Vietnam, America’s leaders have forgotten, cast aside or deemed inconvenient or irrelevant many of the lessons of that military misadventure.
In Kosovo and elsewhere, says Richard Newman, White House civilians tried to micromanage the war. And Pentagon bosses “have increasingly blessed practices denounced after Vietnam: gradual increases in military pressure, bombing to signal American resolve, indefinite involvement in overseas disputes.”
Newsweek’s Vietnam package got bumped off the cover by Elian. Another member of the ruling class who wants us to feel his pain and loneliness — Henry Kissinger, is brought out of mothballs to tell us, at pedantic length, what he thinks the lessons of Vietnam were.
Among much else, Henry-the-brave-international-interventionist says sadly, “one of the most important casualties of the Vietnam tragedy was the tradition of American ‘exceptionalism.’ The once near-universal faith in the uniqueness of our values — and their relevance around the world – gave way to intense divisions over the very validity of those values and the lengths we should go to promote and defend them. And those schisms have had a profound impact on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”
In other words, Henry is an unrepentant power-politics guy who wants a new generation of leaders to come up with a working definition of national interest in dealing with issues like nuclear proliferation and warring nations-states. He says we can’t be afraid to throw our weight around in all corners of the globe to right wrongs and protect our interests, and that we needn’t apologize for it. Thank God, Nixon isn’t around anymore to take him seriously.
No kidding. The current New Yorker — a double issue devoted to money — contains some excellent stuff that even a capitalist can enjoy. Jeffrey Tobin’s mini-piece on Mark Katz, who has served six grim years as President Clinton’s joke writer is good. So is business writer James Surowiecki’s one-page musing on the many counter-intuitive — to the typical tax-spend-and-regulate-loving New Yorker reader, anyway – advantages businesses like restaurants get when they bunch up together in the same neighborhood.
And John Cassidy, who not long ago treated New Yorker readers to their first taste of the great Austrian economist Frederick Hayek, writes a friendly profile of Ayn Rand’s former acolyte and everyone’s favorite Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan. The key to Greenspan’s success in Washington, says Cassidy, “is his ability to impress influential people.”