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A Challenge to Journalism II

The Media and the Cuban Five

by RICARDO ALARCÓN de QUESADA

The great irony in the case of the Cuban Five seems to be its relationship with the media.

In Miami, the case had out-of-proportion coverage, and the “journalists” and local media were instrumental in the creation of an environment of irrational hatred that would result in the outcome predetermined by the Government. Self-appointed professional journalists distorted the facts, lied and fabricated an image that showed the accused as present threats to the community. In their role as covert government hirelings, these “journalists” fulfilled the task they were paid to perform.

They coordinated their actions with the prosecution and terrorist groups from the early stages of jury selection; and they did this especially to introduce –more than seven months after the arrest– a new and totally fabricated accusation of “conspiracy to commit murder”. Most of the trial and media attention revolved around this infamous slander. The jurors were constantly overwhelmed by interviews and press conferences with colleagues and relatives of the victims, conducted right in front of them, outside the courtroom. Then, at home they would see and hear this repeated on radio and TV. In their own homes they could see themselves being followed by cameras and microphones as they were leaving the courthouse.

Outside Miami, the trial of the Five did not catch the interest of the big corporate media. Details of the case were not reflected in news agency dispatches, published in the print media, or covered by radio or TV outside Florida. It found no space –not even once- on the TV channels that are devoted exclusively, 24 hours a day, to reporting US court occurrences.

How to explain such a disinterest? It was, at the time, the longest trial in the history of the United States. Generals, colonels, high-ranking officials and experts, an admiral and an advisor to the president were called as witnesses; well-known terrorists identified as such –some of them wearing their war-trade costumes– took the stand. This was a squabble implying international relations and issues related –truly or allegedly– to national security and terrorism, the favorite topics of the big media. But nobody said anything except the local media. For the rest of the people the trial simply did not exist.

The subject was ignored by big corporations outside Miami. But there, their local correspondents and broadcast stations reported everyday and took part enthusiastically in the media madness that flooded the city.

The ironclad censorship imposed on the case allowed for the amazing impunity with which the authorities protected the terrorists and, unjustly and cruelly, punished five men who confronted them heroically, unarmed, without resorting to violence, without hurting anyone. The prosecution never concealed that this was its purpose. They clearly said it several times, as can be read in the records of the proceedings. They had no concerns, because they trusted the silence of the big media and knew the general public seldom reads official records or attends court sessions, and finds out what happens through journalistic accounts.

The jurors, for their part, day after day for more than half a year, saw how the prosecutors held friendly chats with witnesses who bragged of their violent militancy and their terrorist accomplishments; they heard the heated statements of the former and the threatening diatribes of the latter.

When they got home to their families and neighbors, they were harassed by the same images. These were known faces and voices.

They had been seen shortly before, when they kidnapped the 6 year-old child, Elián González. They defied the federal government and its judges, created chaos in the city and threatened to set it on fire. The jurors remembered that nobody had been punished or prosecuted then. They had witnessed the unprecedented impunity, and feared it could be repeated and turned against them, if they did not deliver the verdict this mob demanded; they had confessed this many times when they were interviewed during the jury selection process. They were afraid.

And their fear increased as the long months went by; it grew even more when the “journalists” ran after them with their lights and microphones. The jurors complained many times and the Judge believed they were right. But things remained the same.

The prosecutors, on their part, kept telling them that they, as jurors, had a serious responsibility; that in their hands was nothing less than the survival of the United States and of the community that was watching them.

They jurors were frightened and felt abandoned. Not a single voice was heard in the local media to defend them and call for serenity and prudence. Most of all the jurors wanted to have the damned trial over with, go back home, and be forgotten.

They did not take long to decide. The longest trial in history ended with the shortest deliberation. But that was not news either.

* * *

The habeas corpus requests for the Cuban Five unjustly imprisoned in the United States, and in particular the affidavit submitted by Martin Garbus, Gerardo’s lawyer, focus on the role performed by “journalists” who, paid by the US government, created an environment of hysteria and irrational hatred that frightened the jurors until they brought in a guilty verdict despite the fact that the US Attorney did not present any evidence and -even worse- admitted they could not substantiate their main charge.

However, this is not a confrontation between the Five and their lawyers against journalism and journalists. It is really the opposite.

The operation orchestrated in Miami by the US Attorney’s Office, apart from violating the Constitution and the rules of due process, was also an insult to a profession that deserves respect. It was a Miami newspaper – The Miami Herald- that first revealed the existence of the secret operation in which some of their writers took part. These, by the way, were fired, because their editor considered their actions in violation of journalistic ethics.

The author of the revelation, Oscar Corral, paid dearly for his defense of professional ethics. Instead of being awarded for his investigative reporting he was, in his own words, “un orchestrated campaign to intimidate, harass, and silence. It was a barrage. Some threats were very specific and mentioned my family.” This made his editors move him to live in a safer place.

True journalism was also a victim of government prevarication.

But, who were the “journalists” paid by the government, and why were they hired to do what they did?

All of them, without exception, were members of -or had close links with- organizations that in Miami cultivate violence and terrorism. Some of them are themselves convicted and confessed terrorists; a few had done some previous journalism and are able to write more or less a couple of pages; others would not have passed the admission exam to any school of journalism.

They all have a long experience as provocateurs and frequently take part in radio and TV programs, characterized by their impudence and loudness, which openly promote the use of force against Cuba. All had the qualifications to be hired by Washington to carry out a clandestine operation. In other words, they were people they could trust and so were given the job and paid generously. After all, the money did not come out of their own pockets; it was taxpayers’ money.

It was all paid out of Radio and TV Marti budgets. These are government enterprises, financed by the federal budget which is fed from taxes and other public contributions; that is, from the money of the citizens and residents in the United States. But these, who unknowingly were paying for the covert operation, never heard about it.

For this reason, Garbus’ affidavit stresses the fact that this is a matter of exceptional importance. First of all, for our Five compatriots, who will soon reach their 14th year in prison. But it is also important, and very much so, for those who are not in prison.

It is particularly important for true journalists, without quotation marks. Those who perform with honesty a profession some others corrupted and turned into an instrument to kidnap five innocent men.

In the closing lines of his affidavit, Garbus mentions US Attorney General: “Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was not responsible for this prosecution when it began. He is now. Movant’s conviction should be vacated.” 

The professional journalists and the media outside Miami were not responsible for this crime when it was committed. But now that they know what happened, they cannot avoid their responsibility. Silence now would be complicity

Click here to read Part One: The Cuban Five and the Garbus Memo.

Ricardo Alarcón is the president of the Cuban National Assembly.

Translated by CubaNews.