Castro and the NY Times
Fifty years ago today, The New York Times ran a front-page love letter to Fidel Castro at a crucial moment in the Stalinist thug's drive to take control of the Cuban people.The NY Times and the Pulitzer Committee both have soft spots for despots who are communist. Its reporters also past Ho Chi Minh off as more of a nationalist than communist. The communist in Vietnam got a good laugh over that as well as the fiction that the Viet Cong were some indigenous rebels instead part of a North Vietnamese war effort. This false characterization undermined the war effort at home, which was the times intent, just as its glorification of despots like Castro and Stalin aided their rise to power.
Timesman Herbert Matthews' 4,400-word article disproved government claims that the rebel leader was dead. More important, it portrayed him as the popular commander of thousands of like-minded revolutionaries - and so gave Castro international stature.
Alas, the story was a tissue of lies.
Still, as former Times executive editor Max Frankel has written, it "practically invented Fidel Castro for the American people." Without it, Castro might well never have risen to power in Cuba.
Now the ailing Communist dictator is formally acknowledging the big favor he got from the Times.
The Cuban state news agency Prensa Latina reported last week that the government has unveiled a marble plaque commemorating Matthews' interview at the remote location where it took place in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
There's no denying that Matthews was infatuated with the 30-year-old revolutionary, who granted his first-ever interview to the Times. "Thousands of men and women are heart and soul with Fidel Castro and the new deal for which they think he stands," wrote Matthews.
Yet as Castro later gleefully admitted, his entire force at the time consisted of just 18 men. Matthews never caught on to the fact that he was seeing the same people, who kept going past him in circles.
That's not the only thing to which Matthews never caught on. That new deal that Castro was promising, he wrote, was "radical, democratic and therefore anti-Communist."
Indeed, long after Castro attained power and had jailed some of his former comrades, replacing them with Communists, Matthews continued to insist that Fidel had no Communist leanings.
Which no doubt is why when Frankel years later asked to interview Castro, the dictator replied that "any friend of Herbert's was also his friend."
Of course, this wasn't the first time the paper showed a soft spot in its heart for communist dictators. Back in the '30s, Walter Duranty served as an apologist for Joseph Stalin, knowingly filing false articles denying that Stalin's brutal collectiv ization policies had killed millions of Ukrainians through forced starvation.
Duranty never got a plaque or an award from Stalin - though he did win a Pulitzer Prize for his "reporting."