JENNINGS CANNOT EASILY ESCAPE
Peter Jennings’ history of insulting Cuban American exiles is not new.
In an April 1989 report from Havana, Jennings raved about Cuba’s cheap housing and extraordinary educational system, hospitals and health care – all of the examples of which that he saw, however, are showcases for foreigners and fools. He also raved about their "program" to control the spread of AIDS - which would be unconstitutional and a violation of individual rights in the U.S. He justified it by declaring, "the interests of all the people are more important than the interests of some people." He failed to mention that Castro sent thousands of homosexuals to concentration camps. But, he kept reminding viewers that Castro "delivered the most to those who had the least."
Annoyed by his customarily favorable reports about the regime that executed thousands and destroyed my country, I wrote to him on April 10, 1989, "Given the highly oppressive totalitarian regime imposed upon the Cuban people for 30 years, you were very kind and very careful in your reporting not to offend the Cuban ruling regime. I know that what you report from Cuba determines your future visas and trips there and the privileges as an anchorman you receive from the Cuban government. However, what is extremely puzzling for me is why you are so willing to compromise the freedom of the press and the right of the people to know the facts as they are for a Cuban visa and the privilege of ‘reporting’ from a ‘foreigners-only’ hotel in Havana." I sent a follow-up letter to him on June 2, 1989, but he did not reply to either.
While Jennings had gone to great lengths and took risks to expose the regime of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile, Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos in Philippine, Duvalier and Cedras in Haiti and W. P. Botha in South Africa, etc., he does not use the same criteria when dealing with Castro’s tyranny in Cuba.
Jennings’ coverage from Cuba on July 26, 1990, again suppressed reality by pretending that the people interviewed inside Cuba who praised Castro’s regime were disclosing their true feelings. Freedom of expression against Castro’s government is penalized by the 1976 Cuban Constitution. Jennings must know that. Therefore his reports were deceiving and misleading. His July 27 report added insult to injury by labeling as "propaganda" Radio Martí’s broadcasts to Cuba. This prompted me to write another letter to him on July 28 saying, "Then your news broadcast can be also classified as ‘propaganda’ since it spreads misinformation for the purpose of helping the brutal 31 year old dictatorial Castro regime." He did not answer. I wrote again on October 7, 1991 and sent him a Washington Post article by Margaret Shapiro and Fred Hiatt supporting my previous letter, but, again, no reply.
Jennings’ segment on November 20, 1993, about the defection of 40 Cuban sportsmen was extremely irritating. Instead of reporting about the human factors leading to those defections, he deviated attention (which he often does in relation to news unfavorable to Castro) and implied that they were racially motivated. In subsequent broadcasts, he continued the comparison. So, I wrote on December 1, 1993, "It appears that for quite a while you have been trying to encourage animosity between the Cuban and Haitian communities to create problems in South Florida, since most of the time when you report a Cuban defection you keep repeating yourself about Haiti.
"Hopefully you will be able to understand that this letter and what I have been trying to convey to you comes from the frustration and outrage you made me feel. It is entirely in your hands; what you have to do is to research and to listen rather than taking blindly what is handed to you by Castro’s agents, or so it appears by those who are better informed." No reply.
On July 27, 1994, I wrote, "In your broadcast last night you committed another one of your typical anti-Cuban-exile ‘Jenningsisms.’ When you added the Haitian comparison to the report of the recent arrival of a boat of Cubans in Miami, your personal feelings came through loud and clear (although you did not label them as such). The attitude you used when you suffixed the Cuban report with the statement about Haitians was in an obviously irritated fashion showing your disapproval that the Cubans would be granted political asylum in opposition to Haitians.
"However, absent from your TV show (no surprise to me) is the incident on July 13 in which the Cuban government drowned 41 of its citizens, including women and  children that is so indicative of an ongoing systematic series of murders perpetrated by Castro’s government for over 35 years. If this Cuban [tugboat] incident had involved Haitians, we would never hear the end of it. But let me clarify for you that my heart goes to the Haitians, too.
"The way you report about the Cuban tragedy is an insult to all Cubans, there and abroad. It is not all right to discriminate against and to malign the Cubans who want freedom and democracy instead of tyranny. Or is a tyranny, in your eyes, politically correct when it comes from the left?" Still no reply and that was the last time I wasted my time with Jennings.
In 1995 I finished my documentary COVERING CUBA with the personal opinions of 26 Cuban Americans from the Washington DC metropolitan area assessing the coverage that the Cuban issue has received from the U.S. media. Peter Jennings received his share of criticisms for his bias and insensitivity. I contacted ABC News to request permission to use a photograph of Jennings to illustrate my documentary. In no uncertain terms, they would not allow me to use the "likeness of Peter Jennings." So much for honoring the First Amendment on the part of ABC. Apparently, they are convinced that they have the right to malign others, but that they are untouchable.
With the recent coverage of the case of 6-year-old Elián González, Jennings continues to clearly show his bias with his attitude, his face of disapproval, voice inflexions and carefully chosen words that irritate and belittle Cuban American exiles. This bias may not be as evident to the American audience because they generally have been kept uninformed about the reality of living under Castro’s boot and have become insensitive about Cuban Americans’ feelings. But Cuban Americans, used to decades of attacks by the U.S media easily note the prejudice as a black or a Jew would in the same circumstance. Cuban Americans with first hand experience living inside a communist system and very well informed about what is going on inside their own country cannot be fooled.
A Cuban American viewer from California said, "Last night [Dec. 31, 1999] I watched a portion of ABC 2000 with Peter Jennings. They had a segment on Cuba, which was truly deplorable. Among the tidbits was an ABC female correspondent briefly visiting a classroom, admiring what she called the steadfastness of Cuban children. She taped several 6-8 year old kids in a classroom parroting the regime's propaganda. Then she was on a side street of Havana reporting to Jennings. She spoke briefly to Jennings about how adamantly these children want Elián back.
"Then Ricardo Alarcón [the President of the Castro-controlled Popular Assembly] showed up. Jennings ran through pleasantries and with the correspondent, conducted an interview - hardly an interview, more like a love feast, allowing Alarcón to speak for a long time without rest, repeating parental principles, ‘this boy should be with his father.’ He went on and on about Elián and the regime's 'love’ for children. The woman reporter simply nodded in agreement. Jennings ended by saying, ‘Mr Alarcón is a very influential Cuban Politician. He has a point!’ The crap about Alarcón being a ‘politician’ is what pissed me off. The spectacle was concluded live from Tropicana [night club] where Jennings left the impression that there were actually ordinary Cubans among the guests."
This Cuban American was so upset that he E-mailed Jennings and ABC the next day. Among the questions he asked, "How is it possible that someone calling himself a Journalist can ignore the fundamental principle of his profession by not taking the Castristas to task about a free press in Cuba?" Since Jennings called Alarcón "a very influential politician," he asked him, "exactly what kind of politicking does he think Alarcón practices?" This Cuban American from California believes that Jennings is "intellectually dishonest in regards to Cuban issues." When dealing with Cuban issues, Jennings, instead of reporting all the facts in a non-judgmental way, obviously takes sides, omitting and manipulating vital information. Therefore, Americans watching his reports cannot make a qualified assessment of the Elián case or the Cuban situation in general.
There are many Jenningses in the U.S. media, who, because of their bias, have rendered a disservice to the American people and have been part of the problem. In relation to the Cuban case, the prevalent biased reporting has been lethal for people on both sides of the Florida Strait who want freedom and democracy for Cuba.
Unfortunately for Peter Jennings, his arrogant attitude and transparent hatred for Cuban American exiles (especially in Miami) and lauds for Castro’s "accomplishments" are recorded for all to see and study in hundreds of hours of videotape from which his "likeness" cannot easily escape.
Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Mr. Blázquez is the Producer/Director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA & CUBA: THE PEARL OF THE ANTILLES