Monday, October 10, 2005

JEFF JACOBY has an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe castigating "60 Minutes" for what he called its "fawning" interview with Elian Gonzalez.

Elian Gonzalez, for those who don't recall, is the Cuban boy who, in November, 1999, was rescued off the coast of Florida after the boat he was on capsized in a storm. He was with his mother and a dozen other passengers, all adults trying to reach the United States. His mother and most of the other passengers drowned; Elian ended up with relatives in Miami, part of the fiercely anti-Castro exile community in that city. Elian had, and still has, a father, too. His father was not part of the decision to take Elian out of the country, and when he found out what had happened, he made it clear he wanted his son back. That triggered a seven-month-long custody battle with the Miami relatives, which only ended after the Miami relatives exhausted all their appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Even then, they defied the court order and refused to release Elian; the Clinton administration was forced to send federal marshalls to their home in the middle of the night to forcibly remove Elian and return him to his father.

You would not even know Elian had a father at all, though, from reading Jacoby's piece. You wouldn't, in fact, know about any of the nuances in this case. To hear Jacoby tell it, Elian was rescued, taken in by his relatives, and then torn from their arms by federal stormtroopers who were determined to send poor Elian back to life in a totalitarian prison camp.

LIKE WINSTON SMITH, Elian Gonzalez has learned to love Big Brother. CBS News loves him, too. Elian's excuse is that he is 11 years old and has been brainwashed by a totalitarian police state. What excuse is there for CBS?

Last week, "60 Minutes" aired an interview with Elian, the Cuban boat child who survived a desperate escape from Fidel Castro's island dictatorship in November 1999 only to be forcibly turned over to the Cubans by the Clinton administration the following April. The story was a shameless piece of agitprop. From correspondent Bob Simon's opening description of the Elian affair as a conflict on the order of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis to his fawning speculation at the end that Elian "may have a future in Cuban politics," virtually the entire segment had the oily feel of Cuban government propaganda. Which it may literally have been: Simon disclosed that "Castro's personal cameraman" had "helped" put the story together.

He goes on in this vein, but the only time the word "father" comes up is when Jacoby is quoting Elian saying he regards Castro as a father. You would not know that Elian has a father in the actual sense and not just in a metaphorical or figurative sense. You would not know that Elian actually lives with his father, who has remarried, and that he has siblings. You would not know that his father was with his son during the "60 Minutes" interview. He truly exists. He is not a myth or a fiction.

The battle over Elian Gonzalez sparked enormous controversy and heated debate when it happened six years ago, and that's not surprising. It pitted two hot button issues against each other: parental rights (in the context of a small child who had just lost his mother in a very traumatic way, and now was being told he was going to lose his father as well) and political freedom (in the context of a community of people who had suffered terribly in Cuba and whose hatred for Castro was very personal). It was my feeling at the time that Cuba's political system was less of a central issue in this particular situation than the fact that a five-year-old boy was being kept from his father by non-immediate family the boy had never even seen before -- and right after his mother had drowned right in front of him! It just didn't sit right with me, and it still doesn't, that a father could be told he couldn't see his son again because his country's political system was more central to his son's happiness and well-being than being with a loving parent -- or that a little boy could be given the message that it was better for him to stay in a strange city, in a strange country, with people he didn't know that well, than to return to his only remaining parent, who loved him and wanted him back.

If I were a small child who had just lost my mother, I would rather live with my father in a dictatorship than live with extended family in a democracy.

All this having been said, I do agree that reasonable, rational, good-hearted people can disagree and take the position that Elian's long-term welfare would have been better served by staying in the United States, even if that meant he never saw his father again. I can understand that point of view, even if I don't share it.

What I cannot understand or excuse, though, is being so deeply invested in a particular ideological position that you ignore all the complexities and subtleties, not to mention the facts, inherent in what happened to Elian Gonzalez, so that you can make your point more dramatically.

Shame on you, Jeff Jacoby.

No comments: