Journalists like to point out the 1950s and ’60s classic cars dominating Cuba’s streets, but in the wake of dictator Fidel Castro’s death they largely ignored the story those cars tell.
Those vintage cars are emblematic of the island nation’s constricted economy and the way the regime’s oppression led to poverty and reduced economic growth.
Castro died on Nov. 25, after decades of leading his country to economic suffering through central planning. But networks neglected to expose Castro’s crippling economic legacy. Between Nov. 26, and Nov. 28, 94 percent of network news coverage ignored economic issues (40 minutes and 4 seconds out of of 42 minutes 42 seconds).
Much of the networks’ reporting on Cuba’s economy focused on positive developments that occurred after Fidel’s brother Raul Castro assumed power. And when the networks did cover Cuba’s economic problems under Fidel, they often didn’t explicitly attribute them to the dictator’s economic policies.
Both President-Elect Donald Trump and The Washington Post editorial board slammed the Castro for plunging his country into poverty. Even the former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, said Cuba’s economy was “terrible” on Nov. 27.
CBS Evening News (and Weekend News) spent the least amount of time discussing Cuba’s economy with just 41 seconds compared to 57 seconds from ABC World News Tonight and 60 seconds from NBC Nightly News.
On Nov. 26, Weekend News also gave a very flattering portrayal of Castro the night after his death which included anchor Scott Pelley touting Castro’s foreign policy success.
Weekend News Anchor Reena Ninan introduced Pelley’s segment by describing Castro as “the bearded revolutionary who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo and possibly hundreds of assassination plots.”
Pelley listed Castro’s achievements: overthrowing a U.S.-backed Cuban dictator, defeating the U.S’s invasion during the Bay of Pigs, as well as the country’s free health care and high literacy rate.
“He was the revolutionary leader who put Cuba on the world stage and made himself a world player,” Pelley remarked.
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NBC Nightly News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell speculated that Castro’s legacy would highlight how his reign as his country’s leader outlasted other modern leaders.
This was a dictator whose authoritarianism prevented free elections, a free press, limited religious freedom and suppressed all manner of dissent.
Much of the media response to the “revolutionary” was flattering. Non-network news coverage was even more laudatory than the networks, with Andrea Mitchell telling MSNBC Castro “will be revered” for providing education and medical care to all. Chris Matthews admitted that when Castro took control of Cuba he was like a “folk hero to most of us.”
When Pelley did cover Castro’s failures, he suggested Cuba was a mixed bag which included positives as well as negatives. “Cuba is a land of contradictions,” Pelley said.
Networks Show Cubans Revering ‘Immortal’ Castro, Ignore Economic Problems
The liberal networks boosted fawning perspectives of Castro, describing him as a “grandfather” and “father” figure to Cubans and even finding someone who viewed him as “immortal.” At the same time, they barely reported any economic struggles or pains inflicted by the communist dictator and his policies.
While networks did show some people calling Castro a “dictator” and describing him in harsh terms, they showed many praising him or mourning his death.
Networks found people who described Castro as a father. One woman even told Nightly News, “For us it was really like he was immortal.”
One would think a father figure would provide for his country. But when it came to Cubans’ most basic need — food — Castro failed to provide it. The American Enterprise Institute reported on Nov. 3, that Cubans received harsh food rations worse than even the country’s previously held slaves.
Meager rations were just one part of Cuban’s economic hardship under what The Washington Post’s editorial board called Castro’s “terrible legacy. ” The board wrote on Nov. 26, that Castro was responsible for “impoverishing the island through a program of total state control.”
Adam Smith Institute economist and fellow Tim Worstall similarly argued in Forbes on Nov. 26, that Castro “visited an economic disaster upon the island.” Worstall rebutted ideas that external factors caused Cuba’s economic hardship, and placed the blame on Castro’s “socialism.”
“It was quite simply the idiocy of the economic policy followed, that socialism, which led to there being near no economic growth at all over the 55 years or so of his rule,” Worstall said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 17, 2014, that Cuba’s unemployment rate was likely more than 8 percent, citing the Central Intelligence Agency. Cubans also made very little money. According to the Journal, Cubans’ gross national income in 2014 was around $5,890.
Methodology: MRC Business searched video archives for mentions of Castro and searched Nexis transcripts for mentions of Cuba. If a network reported on travel bans, tourism, economic statistics such as income, the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo or sanctions, MRC Business tallied the amount of seconds given to those parts of the broadcast and counted them as coverage of Cuba’s economy whether or not they criticized Castro. MRC Business also tallied the total amount of time the three networks evening news programs spent covering Fidel Castro’s death.