There’s something deeply wrong with journalism that scrutinizes and criticizes the institutions of free and successful nations, but produces puff pieces on the supposed achievements of totalitarian dictatorships. On Thursday, CNN aired a piece of Communist Party propaganda about how Cuba could serve as “a model for health care reform” in the United States, complete with an authoritative sound bite from an American medical expert, identified only as someone “who’s lived and worked in Cuba for decades.”
But the expert, Gail Reed, is a longtime admirer of the Cuban revolution, married to the Cuban official who served as ambassador to Grenada in the early 1980s when U.S. troops liberated the island from hardline communists who had executed the leftist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. She's also worked at Granma, Cuba’s official communist party newspaper.
Correspondent Morgan Neill also recited all of the standard tropes about how Cuban health care is the best in Latin America, is completely free, and “no one falls through the cracks.” While he acknowledged that “critics charged that conditions in Cuban hospitals are appalling and that Cubans had to pay bribes to get decent care,” nearly all of the August 6 report was positive.
Anchor Don Lemon teased: “Cuba as a model for health care reform? Well, we’ll see. It is a poor country. But it can boast about health care. A system that leads the way in Latin America. So, what are they doing right?” Neill walked through a modern clinic, “an idea of where the country wants to go, the future of its health care, all of it free of charge.”
The problem is that the communist government exercises heavy controls on how journalists operate in Cuba, but news organizations like CNN maintain a presence to advertise their international reach. A Media Research Center study found that during the first five years of CNN’s operation of a Havana bureau, coverage was heavily tilted in favor of the Castro regime, with the vast majority of soundbites coming from officials of the communist government, with little attention to dissidents.
Here’s the transcript of the story, which aired during the noon ET hour of CNN’s Newsroom on August 6:
ANCHOR DON LEMON: We have been looking at how other countries deal with health care. Cuba provides its citizens with universal health care. Is it working? Is it working? We'll have a report on that in just about 12 minutes from now, right here on CNN....
LEMON: You know, we're hearing a lot about socialism in the debate over health care reform. We're going to look at real socialized medicine Cuban style right here in the Newsroom....
LEMON: Cuba as a model for health care reform? Well, we'll see. It is a poor country. But it can boast about health care. A system that leads the way in Latin America. So, what are they doing right? CNN's Morgan Neill takes a look at the good, the bad of Cuba's health care system.
CLIP OF MICHAEL MOORE FROM "SICKO": Is there a doctor here in Cuba?
REPORTER MORGAN NEILL: When Michael Moore's film "Sicko" came out in 2007, the debate it sparked put Cuba's health care system under the microscope. Cuba's supporters gleefully pointed out that the poor communist island gave its people universal health care, something the United States doesn't do. Critics charged that conditions in Cuban hospitals are appalling. And that Cubans had to pay bribes to get decent care.
How does health care work in Cuba? It's not an easy question to answer, but there are some impressive statistics. According to the World Health Organization, Cuba's life expectancy is 78 years. The same as Chile and Costa Rica and the highest in Latin America. And its infant mortality rates are the lowest in the hemisphere, in line with those of Canada.
This clinic in Managua, a community outside Havana, is one of the country's newest and best equipped. It serves a population of some 15,000 people. The director tells us under one roof she has dentists, general practitioners, physical therapy, homeopathic medicine and a laboratory that makes vaccines.
[NEILL IN CUBAN CLINIC]: Built just five years ago, this clinic is really a symbol of what Cuba wants to do with health care all over the country. You can see the machinery is new. The walls, freshly painted. It's an idea of where the country wants to go, the future of its health care, all of it free of charge.
How does Cuba do it? First of all, the government dictates salaries. Doctors earn less than $30 per month. Very little compared to doctors elsewhere. And priority is given to avoiding expensive procedures, says Gail Reed, who's lived and worked in Cuba for decades.
GAIL REED (IDENTIFIED ON SCREEN AS: ‘CO-PRODUCER, SALUD’): They concentrate on prevention. They concentrate on bringing services closer to people's homes so that the big-ticket items don't really take up, don't sponge up all that small budget they have.
NEILL: But Cuba's system certainly has its problems. Many hospitals and emergency rooms are decrepit and even unsanitary. Equipment is frequently old. And patients often supply their own sheets and food while in the hospital. Health officials admit the system isn't perfect, but, they say, no one falls through the cracks. Morgan Neill, CNN, Havana.
As for Reed, she was profiled in the Miami Herald back in 1983 after she and her husband returned to Cuba after American forces liberated Grenada. She talked about the fear she felt at seeing U.S. Marines surrounding the Cuban embassy, and told the newspaper, “I feel I have a very strong identification with the Cuban revolution.”
“When I first came to Cuba in the ’70s, I was very impressed with their efforts in building a new kind of society,” Reed explained.
According to her bio on the Huffington Post, Reed also worked as a Havana producer for NBC News in the mid-1990s.