No Valentine wishes for Fidel

Feb 29 2012 - 12:44pm

Chalk up another victory for the greeting-card cartel: Valentine's Day now goes on for weeks, months, even decades -- at least when it comes to the American left and the Castro brothers. The sweet nothings (the phrase has never been more literally appropriate) just never end.

The latest gooey love letter to Havana comes from Peter Phillips, a sociologist at California's Sonoma State University, where he runs a beloved progressive outfit called Project Censored. It is the conceit of Project Censored that mainstream news media in the United States and other liberal democracies ruthlessly suppress real news in order to protect the world's corporate ruling order.

I've always been underwhelmed by Project Censored's thesis. For one thing, in 40 years in journalism I have never once heard a city editor scream, "I'm killing this story because it insidiously undermines the Rockefeller family's ambitions for world domination!" And for another, the examples of stories that Project Censored considers to have been suppressed seem, well, daft. I mean, is it news to you that we recently fought a war in Iraq and a lot of people got killed?

But last week, Project Censored got a chance to make its case for a free, independent press in a place where the message is sorely needed: Cuba. Phillips went to Havana for a conference for authors and journalists hosted by Fidel Castro, the most relentlessly tyrannical censor in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps even the world, give or take a North Korea.

It's been more than 50 years since a critical word about the government has been uttered on Cuban television or radio, or written in a Cuban newspaper. Even foreign correspondents whose stories can't be read on the island quickly learn that there's no such thing as bad news in Cuba.

Agence France-Press reporter Denis Rousseau was forced out of the country for slandering socialist chickens. (Honest. His story about an egg shortage was headlined Cuban chickens don't obey the government's Five-Year Plan.) And Rousseau should consider himself lucky; Spanish television reporter Sebastian Martinez Ferrate was jailed after he interviewed 15 teenage hookers for a documentary on Cuba's growing child-prostitution problem. He was released only last month after two years of intense negotiations by the Spanish government.

So Phillips had a great opportunity to speak out forthrightly on the subject of censorship. And, bravely, he did. Against us. "The lies and propaganda of the corporate/capitalist media were important themes for the day," Phillips wrote. "One participant remarked how the global corporate media seeks to create a monoculture of the mind inside the capitalist countries."

Not that he didn't have something to say about Castro. "I was honored to participate in the discussions held with the 'Commandante,'?" Phillips bravely opined. "His energy is inspiring and his command of history and contemporary issues is phenomenal."

Of the Cuban law that decrees a year in prison to insult a public official (make that three if he's a president, a cabinet member or in the National Assembly), Phillips had nothing to say. Likewise for the laws criminalizing dissemination of "unauthorized news" or "enemy propaganda." If we had the latter in the United States, Phillips would surely have been prancing around a cell in Fort Leavenworth last week rather than a stage in Havana, owing to his regular tirades on how the 9/11 attacks were a U.S. government plot.

The reason Phillips had nothing to say about Cuban censorship is that there isn't any, as he discovered during a 2008 tour. As he was making the rounds of government radio stations, being interviewed about the depredations of the New York Times and CBS, Phillips asked some of the Cuban hosts -- on the air -- whether they face government censorship. "All said that they have complete freedom to write or broadcast any stories they choose," he reported.

Leaving aside for a moment the wee possibility that the radio hosts might have been reluctant to denounce Castro on the air while the secret police were listening, I'd like to suggest that next time Phillips wants to talk to a feisty Cuban reporter, he go to the place where they mostly hang out: jail. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 21 were imprisoned at the time of Phillips' 2008 visit. Cuba's egg cartons may be mostly empty, but the jails never are.

Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via email at

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