Has US Media Coverage of Castro’s Death Been Overly Politicized?

Fidel Castro was as polarizing in death as he was in life. 

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro speaks during the May Day ceremony in Havana in 2006. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

We saw the scenes of Cuban exiles in Miami dancing in the streets Saturday at the news that Fidel Castro had died at age 90.

It was not difficult to find the views of people like Tom Llamas, an ABC News reporter whose parents fled the island as political exiles. He was emotional as he told his ABC colleagues that Castro “was a tyrant. He was a killer. He was a liar.”

Perhaps surprisingly, some of Castro’s most ardent defenders were African Americans. “The Fidel Castro that Sam Riddle and many other African-Americans admired was not the brutal revolutionary dictator who plunged Cuba into economic ruin and held the island nation in an iron grip,” Corey Williams reported Monday for the Associated Press.

To them, he was a freedom fighter who cared about improving the lives of all Cubans, regardless of race,” Ronald Howell wrote in the Daily News in New York, “I say the greatest media shortcoming of the past half century was not recognizing that Fidel Castro was the most dedicated and powerful proponent of racial justice the world has ever known.”

Others posted photos of Castro with such figures as Joe Louis and Nelson Mandela and praised his intervention in Southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s against expansionist plans of apartheid South Africa.

Dig around a little more, however, and a reader might come across an essay by Nigerian writer Oreoluwa Runsewe, headlined, “#FIDELCASTRO: Why Africa’s Love-In With the Revolutionary is Very Naive.”

Going by reactions to his death from Africans and their leaders since yesterday, there seems to be some kind of naivety somewhere in there,” Runsewe wrote for venturesafrica.com. “As much as he helped to free countries from dictatorial regimes, he helped in installing others, because of shared Marxist-Leninist values. . . .”

In the New York Times archives, one might find a 2013 essay by Roberto Zurbano, an Afro-Cuban, who wrote, “Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about. The government hasn’t allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead as though it didn’t exist. . . .”

Julie Schwietert Collazo, who describes herself as “a bilingual (English-Spanish) writer, editor, and translator whose work covers a wide range of topics and interests, from art to science and from food to Pope Francis,” wrote Saturday for alldigitocracy.org that the American news media were less than helpful in sorting through the contradictions.

“Regardless of one’s politics or, if Cuban, one’s own opinions forged through the lens of family and first-hand experiences of Castro’s revolution and all it meant, it’s hard to argue that Castro was anything other than one of the most polarizing figures of our time,” she wrote.

“But even in death, the man and his legacy are proving difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to report on in any measured way. Whether you’re looking at the so-called ‘liberal’ media or more conservative outlets, the reporting of Castro’s death is — not surprisingly — being done in exactly the same way his rule and revolution were for nearly six decades, which is to say: entirely decontextualized, partial, and overly-politicized. . . .

“In the 10-plus years I’ve been covering Cuba (and covering coverage of Cuba), a persistent frustration has been the seeming inability of U.S. media to report on Castro, specifically, and Cuba, generally, without resorting to tired terms and tropes that obscure the complexity and nuances of this most compelling — and, yes, contentious — leader, as well as the revolutionary movement he headed for more than 50 years.

“To say there are one or two generations of Cubans whose members have grown up knowing nothing other than Castro is true, just as it is also true to say that, in the United States, there are one or two generations of Americans who have grown up knowing nothing other than shoddy reporting about Castro and ‘Castro’s Cuba.’

“In addition to developing ideas about Castro and the Revolution that are based entirely on biased language, words used so many times that they’ve practically lost meaning, Americans have learned little, if anything, about what Cuba was like before Castro’s ‘triumph of the Revolution’ (and thus, what precipitated it), and know nothing about some of the Revolution’s most significant achievements and global contributions, such as its role in African liberation movements in the 1970s. . . .”

Citizens of Miami-Dade poured into the streets on Saturday after the announcement of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death. (Credit: David Santiago and German Guerra/Miami Herald)

Miami Herald in Step With Anti-Castro Cubans

Editorially, the Miami Herald and its columnists were no fans of Fidel Castro, a stance entirely in line with that of the anti-Castro Cubans who settled in its circulation area.

The Herald’s editorial on Saturday said:

” . . . Unceasing defiance of the American Colossus made Castro a hero to millions, including many who did not otherwise share his left-wing politics. He was the most influential figure of the 20th century in Latin America, the lion whose roar gave voice to the resentment and grievances, real and imagined, that accumulated over decades as the United States rose to become the dominant force in the hemisphere. At the height of his power in the 1970s, his admirers in the Third World — disregarding his status as a Soviet pawn — chose him to lead the Non-Aligned Movement.

“But all of his prominence and power came at a terrible cost to the Cuban people, and therein lies his most lasting, tragic and unforgivable legacy.

“The history of Latin America is replete with the names of dictators who ruled by fear and violence, including some of Castro’s contemporaries, from Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay to Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. But Fidel Castro outdid them all because his regime was the most oppressive — and most enduring. Petty tyrants like Peru’s Alberto Fujimori and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez came and went. Castro endured.

“The painful price that his suffocating tyranny exacted on the Cuban people is impossible to measure, but safe to say that there is hardly a single freedom recognized by civilized countries around the world that Fidel Castro did not violate.

“In one of the great paradoxes of the era, Castro successfully posed as a champion of the downtrodden around the world, even as he trampled on the rights of downtrodden Cubans. His many admirers abroad chose to ignore, and illogically justify, his denial of freedom to the people of Cuba even as they fought for the right to enjoy civil liberties and freedoms at home. . . .”

2006 Exchange on Cuba Between David Gonzalez and DeWayne Wickham

Chris Ariens, TVNewser: ABC’s Tom Llamas Gets Choked Up Talking About the Castro Regime

Chris Ariens, TVNewser: How TV News is Covering the Death of Fidel Castro

Todd Steven Burroughs, The Root: Black Radicals Owe a Great Deal to Fidel Castro

Stacy M. Brown, National Newspaper Publishers Association: NNPA President Benjamin Chavis Recalls Fidel Castro’s Fight Against Apartheid

Ericka Blount Danois, Shadow League: My Day With Fidel Castro

Ralph De La Cruz, Dallas Morning News: With Castro’s death, the weight of hate is lifted for so many of us exiles

Alfredo Estrada, NBC News Latino: Children of Exile Won’t Forget Fidel

Bill Fletcher Jr., AlterNet: Black America and the Passing of Fidel Castro

Juan Forero, Santiago Perez and Taos Turner, Wall Street Journal: Fidel Castro’s Death Echoes Across Latin America [accessible via search engine]

Ryan Grim, Huffington Post: You’re Thinking About Fidel Castro All Wrong

Ronald Howell, Daily News, New York: Fidel Castro was an unwavering champion of racial equality

James Kirchick, Daily Beast: Fidel Castro’s Horrific Record on Gay Rights

Laura Krantz and Jeremy C. Fox, Boston Globe: Joy, relief, and worry in Boston with Castro gone

Larry McShane, Daily News, New York: Fidel Castro’s death draws reactions of praise, criticism for the late Cuban leader from around the world

National Association of Hispanic Journalists: Covering the Death of Castro

Louis Nevaer, New America Media: Cuba: Now That Fidel is Gone, What Comes Next?

Andrés Oppenheimer, Miami Herald: Far from a courageous leader, Fidel Castro was a coward

Oreoluwa Runsewe, venturesafrica.com: #FIDELCASTRO: Why Africa’s Love-In With the Revolutionary Is Very Naive

Armando Salguero, Miami Herald: Unrepentant hypocrite Colin Kaepernick defends Fidel Castro

Rick Sanchez, Fox News Latino: My rare meeting with Fidel

Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald: There is no RIP for Fidel Castro in Miami. Just good riddance

Carmen Sesin, NBC News: Cuba After Castro: How Much Change, and How Quickly?

Carlett Spike, Columbia Journalism Review: Q&A: Photojournalist on documenting Cuba, challenging country’s stereotypes

Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute: Years of planning pay off for CNN and Miami Herald’s coverage of Castro’s death

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa, NBC News: On Fidel’s Death, Cuba and Puerto Rico, Two Paths Intertwined

DeWayne Wickham, USA Today: Castro bedeviled the United States

DeWayne Wickham, The Root: Why African Americans Should Be 1st in Line to Cuba (2015)

Corey Williams, Associated Press: Some blacks applaud Castro legacy of racial equality

Roberto Zurbano, New York Times: For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun (2013)

The U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service uses a diversity consultant’s video on Arab and Muslim cultural awareness for law enforcement roll call training.

Diversity Consultants Foresee More ‘Us Vs. Them’

On election night, as it became clear that Donald Trump would be the country’s next president, Dorcas Lind was feeling unsettled,” Kat Chow reported Monday for NPR’s Code Switch. “With her children tucked in bed, Lind watched as the results trickled in and battleground states like Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina turned red on the TV map. She thought about work.

“Maybe, she thought, this would be good for business. Or, maybe, it was time for a career change.

“Lind is a diversity consultant in the health care industry. It’s her job to go into companies and help them create inclusive environments for their employees.

“For consultants like Lind, the election’s polarizing nature, which especially divided the nation on issues of race, is two-fold. While it means some of their business will almost certainly boom, a new set of challenges emerges for the professional peacemakers. Now, they say, they have to work harder to tamp down heightened feelings of us versus them; they have to hear the concerns of people usually thought of as privileged; and they have to navigate a language minefield where the wrong word can ignite conflict. . . .”

AP Urges Caution With ‘Alt-Right’ Term

John Daniszewski, vice president for standards of the Associated Press, urged caution Monday in use of the term “alt-right.”

The ‘alt-right’ or ‘alternative right’ is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order,” Daniszewski wrote.

He also wrote, ” ‘Alt-right’ (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the ‘self-described’ or ‘so-called alt-right’ in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

“Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist. . . .”

Blow Says ‘Never’ to Accommodating Trump

Charles M. Blow
Charles M. Blow

Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper,” Charles M. Blow wrote Wednesday for the Times in one of his most unequivocating columns.

Blow also wrote, “I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along’ plea: Never.

“You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

“I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity. . . .

“You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver. . . .”

Pastor Blasts ‘False Religion’ Behind Trump

William Barber II
Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Two weeks after electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, America pauses this week for a day of Thanksgiving,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, wrote Wednesday for the Washington Post.

“No doubt, many dinner tables will be as divided as the election results — as contentious as our anxious streets. But if we listen closely to the prayers of those who are jubilant in this season, we may discern the false religion that blessed Trump’s reactionary campaign.

“Such discernment is necessary, as we have learned through our cross-racial Moral Mondays movement, before we can experience the moral revival that offers the only way forward together for American democracy.

Franklin Graham, the son of our home state’s most famous preacher, Billy Graham, celebrated Trump’s election with this prayer of thanksgiving: ‘Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump-Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God factor. . . . While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened.”

“While many progressives scoff at neo-Nazi and Klan celebrations of Trump’s victory, they often fail to comprehend the deep wound race has inflicted on white religion in America. . . . ”

Bernie Sanders’ Next Target: ‘Corporate Media’

In his new book, “Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., “lays out 10 concrete things Americans can do to fight corruption and carry on the message that inspired so many people to join his side during the primaries,” Caitlin Abber reported Nov. 22 for PRI’s “The Tavis Smiley Show.” On his list is fighting corporate media and recognizing the power advertisers wield over journalists. That can impact not only the information the public receives, but also the outcomes of elections.

“Sanders points out that President-elect Donald Trump sees this media coverage as something he can manipulate and bend to his interests, as evidenced by his recent tweet storm about ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ as well as his treatment of journalists who refuse to meet with him off the record.

“ ‘Trump, who is nobody’s fool, understands that if you say outrageous things, you’ll get the media all over the place,’ Sanders explains.

“The lack of coverage surrounding climate change also greatly concerns Sanders, who points to a clear path as to why the media avoids such a crucial topic.

“ ‘Climate change, according to the scientific community, is the great global crisis that we face,’ says Sanders. ‘Yet there is unbelievably little coverage of climate change, and I believe that has a lot to do with the fossil fuel advertising and the special interests that dominate television.’

“To fight this type of bias, Sanders recommends holding journalists accountable, and that citizens share information directly — via the internet or interpersonal discussions — to avoid being beholden to whatever CNN or CBS might be saying. . . .”

Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register: Consistency, please, in judging presidential appointees (Nov. 22)

R. Derek Black, New York Times: Why I Left White Nationalism

Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Media Helps Boost Donald Trump’s False Claim That ‘Millions’ Voted Illegally

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Michael Steele: What Republicans need to do about all ‘the KKK stuff’ (Nov. 22)

Ed Diokno, AsAmNews: We Will Not Go Quietly into the Night

Ken Doctor, Politico: Covering the Trump era — with shrinking newsrooms

Sydney Ember, New York Times: News Outlets Rethink Usage of the Term ‘Alt-Right’

Garrett Epps, the Atlantic: The Signal Sent by Picking Jeff Sessions for Attorney General (Nov. 21)

Renée Graham, Boston Globe: Trump summons a monster he can’t control

Emil Guillermo, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: Obama pardons turkeys; should we pardon Trump?

Mira Jacob, BuzzFeed: Here’s What I’m Telling My Brown Son About Trump’s America (Nov. 10)

Allen Johnson, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.: ‘Trump effect’ may have been part of pollsters’ downfall

Ayron Lewallen, Morehouse News: Inspiring Panel Answers Trump’s ‘Wake-Up Call’

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: ‘Hamilton’ cast threw away its shot

Stephen A. Nuño, NBC News Latino: Recounts Without Evidence of Fraud Will Harm Latino Voters

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald: Fake news will have real consequences — it already has

Gideon Resnick, Daily Beast: Ben Carson, Trump’s HUD Pick, Once Called Fair Housing ‘Communism’

Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star: Donald Trump as CEO of America is a seductive but dangerous idea

Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Boos for Pence at Broadway show are an uncivil act (Nov. 20)

Zachary M. Seward, Quartz: Donald Trump, editor-in-chief of the fake news movement

SNCC Legacy Project: Civil Rights veterans: ‘Fear was at the heart of Donald Trump’s campaign.’

Alecia Swasy, Poynter Institute: Actually, journalists aren’t failing rural America

George Takei, Washington Post: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims. (Nov. 18)

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: ‘Heil’ vs. ‘Hail’: New York Times corrects report on alt-right conference

Anchor Improves After Collapse During Newscast

Dawne Gee
Dawne Gee

A Louisville news anchor collapsed while broadcasting on live television Friday,” Jere Downs reported Monday for the Courier-Journal and WTSP-TV, both in Louisville, Ky.

“In a clip during the 7:30 p.m. broadcast, WAVE’s Dawne Gee was talking about holiday shopping when she began to slur her words and slumped forward onto the news desk.

“Gee was rushed by ambulance to Norton Hospital, with meteorologist Kevin Harned at her side.

” ‘She is talking now,” Harned said on the ambulance ride from WAVE 3’s news station. ‘I am with her.’

“Gee is a veteran television personality who spends most weekends as the emcee of community and charity events. The mother of three is a survivor of both kidney and breast cancer, and a vocal advocate for health and nutrition. . . .”


Video accompanying Journal-isms fund drive. (Credit: National Association of Black Journalists)

Journal-isms Undertakes ‘Stay Woke’ Fund Drive

“Stay woke!

“That rallying cry took on added urgency in November, not only with the election of Donald J. Trump, but with the passing of Gwen Ifill, a truth-teller who, like fellow journalist George Curry, left us this year with daunting journalistic shoes to fill.

“Reports tell us that some news organizations are seeing huge spikes in donations and subscriptions as readers look to support newsrooms that hold Trump accountable.

“That’s a good thing. But we also must hold newsrooms accountable, especially on issues of diversity and inclusion. . . .”

So begins the first official fund drive for “Journal-isms,” inaugurated on this gofundme page on Nov. 29, “Giving Tuesday.” Donors will be enrolled as “Journal-isms” charter members and as “Journal-isms” subscribers. The goal is $50,000.

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Standing taller because of Gwen Ifill (Nov.11)

Marjorie Cotton Supple, letter, Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket, R.I.: Ifill informed women about uterine cancer

Short Takes

Chioke l'anson
Chioke l’Anson

Chioke I’Anson, an instructor of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, joined Jessica Hansen Monday as a second voice delivering underwriting credits on NPR. “Radio listeners will hear two distinctive and identifiable national voices each hour – voices that will complement the range of local credit voices at stations,” Izzi Smith, senior director, promotion and audience development, wrote to stations on Nov. 11. “With Chioke, we expand the diversity of voices on NPR, develop a ready and familiar sounding ‘back-up’ voice, and create additional capacity for NPR’s Programming division. . . .” Journal-isms was not a fan of Hansen’s voice and last year urged more diversity.

Tony Valdez
Tony Valdez

Reporter Tony Valdez has signed off for the last time from KTTV, the Los Angeles Fox-owned station where he has worked for the past 35 years,” Veronica Villafañe reported Friday for her Media Moves column. “His retirement is now official. His last day was Friday, November 18. Tony joined Fox 11 News in 1981. . . .”

Gun deaths have risen sharply since the passage of Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground’ gun law, a new study found,” Hayley Miller reported Monday for the Huffington Post. “The report, published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed data from 1999 to 2014 and discovered that homicides in Florida have increased 24.4 percent, while gun-related homicides are up 31.6 percent since the law was enacted in 2005 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. . . .”

Five U.S. Senators have joined the fight for accountability in the federal government’s advertising practices — or lack thereof when it comes to minority-owned news outlets,” Stacy M. Brown reported Monday for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “A letter penned by the senators demands that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the advertising habits of federal agencies. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) each signed the letter. . . .”

Kevin Martin
Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin, chief operating officer at KQED, begins work as president of ideastream in Cleveland Jan. 9,” Dru Sefton reported Monday for current.org. Ideastream is Cleveland’s local public broadcasting organization.

NPR was to begin distributing the award-winning Spanish-language podcast “Radio Ambulante” on Nov. 22. “The show uses long-form reportage to broadcast under-reported Latin American and Latino stories,” Radio Ink reported Nov. 15. “Those stories range from humorous to political, to investigative reporting — some are very personal. . . .”

Charlie LeDuff, reporter for Detroit’s WJBK-TV, announced on Facebook Monday that Thursday would be his last day at the station. “It has been an insane experience: Detroit, Flint, The Border, Ferguson, Trump, you name it. I thank my bosses and colleagues for all they’ve given and taught me. . . . I have no plan for what comes next. But considering the way things are in this world, I think it time to step out and look. I’ll be staying here in Michigan, so I’ll see you around. Stay tuned.” MLive.com report

Radio host Herman Cain announced Tuesday that he will no longer be syndicated on about 120 stations nationwide starting January 1, 2017,” Rodney Ho reported Wednesday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He will remain on air on five Cox Media Group news/talk radio stations. . . .” Cain was a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful.

“As the dark days of late-fall [envelop] the country, for low-power AMs and daytime-only stations the number of hours at full signal strength is near its low point. So the timing of a push from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) to the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to do away with nighttime skywave protections couldn’t be better,” NABOB said in a statement Wednesday. “. . . . NABOB president Jim Winston says today, those skywave protections work to prevent many local radio stations from serving their communities. That’s because some AMs are forced to sign off while others are prohibited from improving their nighttime signal. . . .”

The University of the West Indies is launching UWItv, a new multimedia public information and education service that plans to go live on Thursday, “initially with three hours of programming per day, showcasing a diversity of UWI-owned content,” according to a news release. It plans to deliver UWI programming to millions of viewers in 22 Caribbean country markets as well as the large Caribbean diaspora communities in New York, Toronto, Montreal, London and Europe. Don Rojas, activist on Caribbean and U.S. issues, is executive director of the project.

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