Perhaps the biggest media story of 2016 was the overdue discovery of fake news: totally manufactured information slickly packaged as journalism. Getting a lot less attention was the story that real news can be fake news, too, and often is. As the Huffington Post points out, when opinion (which is cheap) is blended with fact (which is expensive) and is endlessly recycled, it gets hard to tell the difference between 60 Minutes and The Daily Show.
Media coverage of the passing of Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016, should have been the occasion for sombre, balanced analysis of the man’s impact on history, not just in Cuba, but around the world. Instead, it was a sorry combination of fake news, dysfunctional journalism in which a story misleads the community it’s supposed to serve, and a showcase of political naïveté and parochial bungling.
The death of the iconic revolutionary was followed in Canada by a media festival of missed opportunities. It was a chance to correct six decades of unchallenged American influence over Canadian political perspective. It was a chance to explain why Canadian policy, if not Canadian media, was brazenly independent of the familiar American narrative. It was a chance to prepare Canadians to respond intelligently when Donald Trump turns his bellicose, hardline political eye to Cuba and expects Canada to do the same.
Instead, our best and brightest (well, journos high enough on the media ladder to report and analyze a historic event) gave us a dog-eared, clichéd, outdated and fundamentally racist account which enlightened no one.
First came the “Gotcha, Justin!” story, in which Trudeau the Younger was nailed for a simple acknowledgment of Fidel Castro’s larger-than-life leadership. Dutifully appalled, a breathless CBC reporter tweeted the prime minister had admitted that “Castro was a dictator.” The story then changed from Trudeau Doesn’t Know a Monster When He Sees One, to Trudeau Knowingly Endorses Monster. Canadian media predictably turned to what’s known as The Miami Voice (Marco Rubio and company) for proof of the prime minister’s folly. A full frenzy of humiliation for the Canadian statement of condolence followed in social media.
Framing Castro as the arch-enemy of liberty and human rights also meant that anyone attempting to balance that view was gormless or evil. This is as powerful a way to suppress honest dialogue as any ever invented by man.
The Castro Death story, with few exceptions, continued to float free of fact and context. Sloppy headlines listed heavily to the right: Castro, the man who brought communism to Cuba (CBC); Castro the torturer/oppressor (Canadian Press); Castro rolled the nuclear dice, willing to destroy the planet (recurring).
Totally missing was the actual source of the Castro-loathing narrative: American rage at Castro for reclaiming his country from their Empire, and their fear that his leadership of black solidarity might spread to their own population. Nor did we see any acknowledgment that the U.S. had been virtually alone in its anti-Cuba posture for at least 20 years and was ridiculed for it internationally. Never mentioned was the fact that the most barbaric place in Cuba remains the U.S.-run Guantanamo prison.
Missing also were Castro’s social accomplishments for Cubans — free health care, free education, lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy than Americans enjoy, not to mention Cuba’s abandonment of capital punishment and repudiation of its former homophobia. Cuba’s valiant resistance against Apartheid and its war on ebola in Africa were not significant enough to note.
Canadian coverage of Castro’s death took on a sour undercurrent of racism by dismissing the respect, affection and grief of millions of brown and black impoverished people in Central and South America, India and Africa, populations inspired by Castro’s successful resistance to white capitalism.
There was no reference to Castro’s heroic admirers, such as Nelson Mandela, and little identification of discredited critics like Richard Nixon, who first labeled Castro a communist and decreed that he be overthrown.
“History will absolve me,” Castro famously said in 1953. Historians, yes. Capitalists and their broken media? Not a chance.
It would not be lost on El Commandante that his death reaffirmed Canada’s status as a media colony of the United States.
This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension (Short Change).