Ever since Fidel Castro’s revolution, the New York Times has had a soft spot for Cuba. Not for the Cuban people, mind you, but for their jailers. It was a Times correspondent, Herbert Matthews, who persuaded millions of American readers to see Fidel Castro as a romantic hero and Fidel’s insurrection as a romantic cause. Like an earlier Times luminary, Walter Duranty, who had done the same favor for Stalin, Matthews was not a journalist but a publicist; the wily Fidel, who wanted and needed support from the Times reader base, worked him like a puppet – and, as a result, won the crucial backing of stateside power brokers and shapers of opinion.
Back in those days, the Times, by way of promoting its classified ads section, used to run pictures of various satisfied customers with the caption “I got my job through the New York Times.” In recognition of Matthews’s pivotal role in Fidel’s successful overthrow of the regime of Fulgencio Batista, the National Review published a parody ad in which a photo of Fidel appeared alongside that same slogan.
The Times has never deviated from its rosy take on Cuban Communism. When Fidel met his maker in November of 2016, the Times ran an obituary headlined “Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90.” Revolutionary! Defiance! How romantic. The subtitle described Castro as having “bedeviled 22 American presidents,” the word “bedeviled” making him seem like some kind of charming rogue. And so it went throughout the obit: Fidel was a “fiery apostle of revolution,” a “towering international figure” who “dominated his country with strength and symbolism,” a “savior,” an “inspiration.” Yes, he ruled via “repression and fear,” but “[i]n his chest beat the heart of a true rebel.” The Times even compared him to Don Quixote.
The Times’s latest dose of pro-Cuban PR has been provided by Nicholas Kristof, who spent a few days there this month. In a January 18 column headed “Learning From Cuba’s ‘Medicare for All,’” Kristof served up the long-discredited lie about Communist Cuba’s supposedly magnificent health-care system. “Cuba is poor and repressive with a dysfunctional economy,” Kristof wrote, “but in health care it does an impressive job that the United States could learn from.” Case in point: Claudia Fernández, a pregnant young woman who admittedly “lives in a cramped apartment on a potholed street” and has no freedom of speech, but whose “baby appears more likely to survive than if she were born in the United States.”
Even for the Times, this claim marks a journalistic low – for at least two reasons. First, as Kristof himself is quick to warn, the claim may be false, since Cuba’s infant-mortality statistics are provided by a government that can hardly be trusted to tell the truth about anything. Second, in order to keep thosee numbers down, Cuban doctors are forced to do something that shows just how inhuman the regime is: if you’re an expectant mother with a high-risk pregnancy, your fetus will be aborted against your will in order to avoid the risk of one more recorded stillbirth. Anyone who has done the most cursory probe of Cuban health care knows this. So is Kristof colossally lazy or spectacularly dishonest?
It’s been definitively documented that while Party-connected elites and tourists with hard cash receive decent medical treatment in Cuba, the care accorded ordinary Cubans is deplorable. As Jay Nordlinger noted in 2007, in a perfectly on-target response to Sicko, Michael Moore’s mendacious “documentary” on the subject, hospitals for the Cuban rabble are “crumbling” and “unsanitary.” Basic medications and medical equipment are scarce. Patients have to “bring their own bedsheets, soap, towels, food, light bulbs – even toilet paper.”
Yet Kristof, on January 18, parroted Moore’s B.S. shamelessly, using Claudia Fernández’s extraordinary prenatal care as Exhibit A. Which raises the question: how did Kristof hook up with Fernández? Did he ask his Cuban handlers (one imagines some equivalent of the Soviet-era Intourist) to introduce him to a typical example of an expectant Cuban mother? If she’s really getting the kind of care he describes, who exactly is she – which is to say, whom is she connected to? This, and many other questions, occur immediately to any remotely informed reader of Kristof’s column but seem never to have crossed Kristof’s mind.
Kristof’s January 18 piece was all the proof one needed that, when it comes to Cuba, the “newspaper of record” remains a broken record. But he wasn’t through. On January 23 he was back, this time urging the U.S. government to halt its Cuba embargo, asserting that “it’s time for both Cuba and the United States to grow up. Let’s let Cuba be a normal country again.” But Cuban authorities have it in their power to make it “a normal country again” simply by undoing their revolution. It’s that, not the U.S. embargo, that makes it “abnormal.”
Kristof insisted that Cuba is “simply a tired little country, no threat to anyone” – but unthinkingly tossed into the same sentence the obligatory acknowledgment that it’s a “repressive police state.” And how, pray, does that work? What kind of a “repressive police state” is “no threat to anyone”? Such is the laziness of Kristof’s thinking: he feels obliged to concede that Cuba is repressive, but riding in a cab through sunny Havana he’s incapable of imagining that somewhere on that exotic tropical isle democratic dissidents are being tortured. And just when you think you’ve plumbed the depths of Kristof’s fatuity, you encounter this gem: “extra credit goes to a country that so lovingly preserves old American cars.” It’s like praising Nicolás Maduro for helping the Venezuelan people to lose so much weight over the last couple of years.
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