Forty years after his media advance-work helping install a Stalinist regime in Cuba the legendary Don Hewitt of CBS still seemed proud of his work as a Castro media auxiliary. During that interim, over 20,000 Cubans were murdered by firing squad and beaten or starved to death in forced labor camps. Another 70-80 thousand were ripped apart by sharks or drowned in the Florida straits (attempting to flee a nation that previously took in more immigrants per-capita than the U.S.)
If Mr Hewitt had uttered a single word of remorse regarding this bloodbath, I'd find him easier to praise than to bury.
Shortly after Herbert Matthews of the New York Times made Fidel Castro an international pop star on the front page of the (at the time ) world's most important newspaper, CBS horned in on the act. The February 1957 NYT's headline article proclaimed that, "Fidel Castro has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore Cuba's Constitution....this amounts to a new deal for Cuba, radical, democratic and therefore anti-Communist."
Castro was by no means unappreciative but it was, after all, 1957. So the New York Times' own Walter Duranty's approach (print media) for celebrating Stalin 25 years earlier wouldn't cut it for this new-generation Stalin. Indeed, at the time, Cuba (that piteously backward little pesthole the New York Times described in their article) had practically the most TV's per capita in the world (surpassed only by Monaco, the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Fidel Castro (much like Don Hewitt) perceived the power of that medium before most others. So he wanted his mug and message on the screen--and plenty pronto!
Enter CBS. Two months after enabling Matthews' visit to Castro, the same Castro agents planted in New York contacted CBS, who quickly dispatched their ace anchorman, Robert Taber, and a camera crew to Castro's camp in Cuba's Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Taber (later a founding member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee) emerged from Cuba's hills with a long reel and tape of Castro lies that his editor/producer Don Hewitt fashioned into a 30 minute CBS/Castro snow-job titled; Rebels of the Sierra Maestra: The Story of Cuba's Jungle Fighters, that ran on May 19, 1957. Fully half of the "report" consisted of Fidel Castro facing the camera and monologuing into the mic. The liberties, rights and blessings Castro planned for Cuba's people, as transmitted by CBS, made John Stuart Mill appear like Ivan the Terrible. Regarding Castro's heart-warming and eye-misting plans for Cuba--nary a rebuttal was to be heard on this blockbuster CBS "investigative report."
Two years later while Castro's firing-squads murdered hundreds of Cubans per week, Don Hewitt was again on duty. This time he was producer of Edward Murrow's CBS show "See it Now," which on February 6, 1959 featured an interview with Fidel Castro. By this time Castro had abolished habeas corpus, filled Cuba's jails with ten times the number of political prisoners as under Batista, and was murdering hundreds of Cubans by firing squad without due process.
But ah! Now he'd be up against the valiant and intrepid pundit/interrogator who, employing his deadly verbal jabs, hooks and uppercuts, had KO'd that arch-villain, Joe McCarthy! Better be on your toes, Mr Castro!
"That's a very cute puppy, Fidelito!" Murrow tells Fidel's son, who skips merrily on camera at their "home" in the Havana Hilton and plops on the lap of his loving and pajama-clad Papa. For the record, Castro had no "home" to speak of at the time. He slept in a different place almost every night, wore army fatigues instead of pajamas, and had never provided for his son.
"When will you visit us again?" An (uncharacteristically) smiling Murrow asks a (very uncharacteristically) smiling Fidel. "And will that be with the beard or without the beard?" CBS did not breach a single issue of substance.
Every night during the week that Murrow interviewed him, Fidel, Raul and Che repaired to their respective stolen mansions and met with Soviet GRU agents to button down the Stalinization of Cuba. More significantly, that Feb. of 1959, Murrow was fresh from a harangue to the Radio and Television News Directors Association of America, where he blasted television for "being used to delude us."
By April 16, 2000 most people with eyes, ears and functioning brains had noticed that, for going on forty years, practically everything CBS had broadcast regarding Fidel Castro was indeed delusional. (During an interview with Castro in 1978, for instance, Dan Rather referred to his host as "Cuba's own Elvis!") But it was on that April date that Don Hewitt's brainchild, 60 Minutes, truly went the extra mile for Fidel Castro, by featuring a Dan Rather interview with Elian's father Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
America saw a bewildered and heartsick father simply pleading to be allowed to have his motherless son accompany him back to Cuba, his cherished homeland. How could anyone oppose this? How could simple decency and common sense possibly allow for anything else?
"Did you cry?" the pained and frowning Dan Rather asked the "bereaved" father during the 60 Minutes drama."A father never runs out of tears," Juan (actually, the voice of Juan's drama school-trained translator) sniffled back to Dan. And the 60 minutes prime-time audience could hardly contain their own sniffles.
Here's what America didn't see: "Juan Miguel Gonzalez was surrounded by Castro security agents the entire time he was in the studio with Rather." This is an eye-witness account from Pedro Porro, who served as Dan Rather's translator during the famous 60 Minutes interview. Dan Rather would ask the question in English into Porro's earpiece whereupon Porro would translate it into Spanish for Elian's heavily-guarded father.
"Juan Miguel was never completely alone," says Porro. "He never smiled. His eyes kept shifting back and forth. It was obvious to me that he was under heavy coercion. I probably should have walked out. But I'd been hired by CBS in good faith and I didn't know exactly how the interview would be edited - how it would come across on the screen.
"The questions Dan Rather was asking Elian's father during that 60 Minutes interview were being handed to him by attorney Gregory Craig (current White House counsel, btw)," continues Pedro Porro. "It was obvious that Craig and Rather where on very friendly terms. They were joshing and bantering back and forth, as Juan Miguel sat there petrified. Craig was stage managing the whole thing - almost like a movie director. The taping would stop and he'd walk over to Dan, hand him a little slip of paper, say something into his ear. Then Rather would read the next question into my earpiece straight from the paper."
"Midway through watching that 60 minutes broadcast, I felt like throwing up," said Porro. "My stomach was in a knot." His worst fears were confirmed.
But the Hewitt/Rather/Craig/Castro- produced soap opera was a major national hit. Right after the 60 minutes broadcast, 70 per cent of those Americans polled on the issue, sided with Fidel Castro.