Castro Dead – Good Time to Talk About "Fake News"

Part 1 of Herbert Matthews' 3 part series

Part 1 of Herbert Matthews' 3 part series

"Journalists" are writing about "fake news" as if "bullshit" was something new.

If you don't know the name "Herbert Matthews," but you think you know anything about Fidel Castro, you don't know shit. Matthews was the master of journalistic fiction, and he and the New York Times are why you even know Castro's name.

Matthews covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia for the New York Times. He didn't even try and hide his bias in favor of the Italian Fascists. He wrote, "[i]f you start from the premise that a lot of rascals are having a fight, it is not unnatural to want to see the victory of the rascal you like, and I liked the Italians during that scrimmage more than I did the British or the Abyssinians." He admitted that whichever side was "right" was of no interest to him. For throwing in with Mussolini, he became known as a "fascist."

His next posting was in Spain, covering the Spanish Civil War. He arrived still somewhat Right-Wing, sympathizing with Franco's forces over the Republicans. However, somewhere along the way he became friends with Hemingway, and switched polarities. Hemingway based Robert Jordan, the main character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, on Matthews. From then on, he was considered to be a dear friend of the Left.

On November 25, 1956, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and 79 other members of the 26th of July Movement boarded the Granma and sailed for Cuba. They planned to get to Cuba and raise an army to overthrow the reigning Cuban tyrant, Batista. But, most of them were captured or killed, and only 16 of them made it up into the mountains. Batista declared that they were all dead and victory was his. Castro was still alive, but his movement as dead.

In February of 1957, Matthews got an interview with Castro while he was hiding in the Sierra Maestra mountains with only about 20 guerrillas. However, nobody had heard from Castro since the Granma landed — strengthening Batista's claim that he had killed his upstart nemesis.

Senor Castro was waiting until he had his forces reorganized and strengthened and had mastery of the Sierra Maestra. This fortunately coincided with my arrival and he had sent word out to a trusted source in Havana that he wanted a foreign correspondent to come in. The contact knew as soon as I arrived and got in touch with me. Because of the state of siege, it had to be someone who would get the story and go out of Cuba to write it.

Matthews hid out with Castro and did his research for his three part series, starting with Castro Is Still Alive and Still Fighting in Mountains which appeared on page 1 of the New York Times' Sunday edition, on 24 February 1957. (reproduction of original, easier to read version) It continued with Rebel Strength Gaining in Cuba, But Batista Has the Upper Hand published the next day. (original) And finally, Old Order in Cuba Is Threatened By Forces of an Internal Revolt. (original)

I remember reading these articles in 1988 when I took Journalism 492, "Covering Revolutions" at the University of Massachusetts. As you might imagine, the course was hardly critical of Matthews or Castro. I recall taking the course thinking it would be about how to "cover revolutions." In reality, it was "how journalists can help revolutions." Professor Pinkham was a good-old-fashioned revolutionary academic. The Wall hadn't yet fallen, and it was completely foreseeable that some of his students would one day go on to be the next Matthews, Jack Reed, or Edgar Snow.

Reading these articles in 1988, I actually hoped to be lucky enough not to just chronicle a revolution one day, but to be its vehicle. Yeah, I wore a lot of red stars back then. And, for an 18 year old with Marxist sympathies, the thought that I could carry a revolution on my back was a hell of a dream.

I never got around to either chronicling or driving a revolution, so I guess I'm not getting that off my bucket list. But, if you sit down and read Matthews' work with an open mind, you can see how 18 year old me could have read them and thought "right on, man!" Matthews doesn't just tell a story — he really weaves a romantic tale of the revolutionary movement liberating Cuba against all odds. Consider it to be less "journalism" and more fiction based in part upon the facts — but crafted in a way to support the "rascal Matthews liked."

Was Matthews totally complicit or just somewhat fooled by the Revolution? Castro once said, years later, that he ordered the same 20 soldiers to march past his tent, in circles. The intent was to give Matthews the impression that the revolution was far larger than it was. Castro also reportedly had "messengers" come and give "reports" from nonexistent platoons all across the Cuban countryside. Matthews' series made it appear that Castro's movement was far larger than it was, and that the Cuban people were mostly behind him. If you repeat a lie enough, it can become the truth. But, if you tell the lie masterfully enough, it can also become the truth almost instantaneously.

Meanwhile, Batista maintained the articles were all fiction — including the fact that Castro was still alive. His problems got worse when his claim about Castro being dead was disproven. Once Batista was caught in that lie, the rest became much more believable. Matthews also portrayed the 26th of July movement as "anti-Communist," thus blunting any U.S. opposition. Castro was now the scrappy romantic revolutionary leader, fighting for truth, justice, and liberty.

I don't know whether Matthews was complicit in Castro's deception, or if he was the victim of an elaborate Castro psyop. Whichever is irrelevant. What is relevant is that at the time, Castro's movement was barely surviving, no more than two dozen poorly trained guys hiding in the mountains. After Matthews' articles, the Revolution became an inevitability. And, in 1959, Castro openly credited Matthews with bringing him to power.

The "rascal he liked" was clearly Castro.

Last 5 posts by Randazza

Comments

  1. Dorothy M. says

    Fascinating. I didn't know any of this. Amazing (and frightening) to realize the potential power of the press. Today, however, we have the internet, and just about anyone can do some fact checking on a story. But many don't bother and believe whatever is told them. During the election, I remember reading that someone had determined Trump was only telling the truth about 27 percent of the time (the lowest truth percentage of any of the candidates). However, look at all the people willing to be duped. The truth becomes somewhat pointless when people want a fantasy instead. I know someone who voted for Trump because they believed Hillary Clinton allowed Americans to be killed in Benghazi. I explained to them that the investigating committee (a very Republican committee) found that no one could have saved those Americans in that situation, that Hillary was not to blame. I also explained to him that the ambassador's family absolutely did not blame Hillary. The person who believed Hillary, as secretary of state, had allowed Americans to be killed admitted they did not know about the committee's findings nor had they heard that the ambassador's family did not believe Hillary to be responsible for his death. They didn't do any reading / research beyond what they heard (presumably on Fox "news"). How many other people never got "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey used to say? And who's fault is that?

  2. delurker says

    Thanks for this. I typically read Popehat for thoughts on free speech. I don't get quite enough in my lefty bubble. I look forward to the posts about fake news = free speech.

    On a semi-related note, I ran across this work of "fiction" this morning, apparently from the point of view of future (CE 2393) historians looking back to our time, trying to figure out why we did nothing about climate change even though our scientists had the information we needed. http://www.collapseofwesternciv.org/
    I will read it and report back.

  3. Fasolt says

    For a minute there, I thought this was going to be a Casto is still alive story like one of those Elvis sighting articles.

  4. Ed2 says

    Marc. Thanks for this. I didn't know any of it. But I never really knew much about Castro anyway.

    But cheer up. The NYT made amends for their pro-Castro fake news with their 8 years of pro-Bush fake news and their 25 years of anti-Clinton fake news. And they are already starting on their 4 (plus an option for 4 more) years of "normalize Trump" fake news. So they're all even now, right?

  5. rxc says

    "Fake news" is just the latest projection by the progressive movement. They do this all the time, once the opposition (whichever one it is) figures out the latest progressive strategy/tactic and turns it back on them. They scream "unfair!" and run around in circles, complaining about the evil people who stand in the way of utopia.

    Dis-information has been around for much longer that the progressives, but their recent control over the MSM is pretty close to total, and they have come amazingly close to having it all wrapped up, with the near election of Ms. Clinton. We have only the internet (thanks to Al Gore)to keep us from totalitarianism. And we still have a robust, uncontrolled internet because of the 1st amendment. And the 2nd amendment ensures that there are enough guns in the hands of the deplorables that they won't dare to try to eliminate the 1st.

  6. TimL says

    @rxc

    Please for the love of god step out of your little bubble and use the critical thinking skills that our schools have obviously forgotten to teach everyone.

    I'm not completely discounting everything you believe in because I have no idea what that is and until I had researched and read both sides of the issues, they are not mine to decide or comment on.

  7. Encinal says

    @Dorothy M.

    During the election, I remember reading that someone had determined Trump was only telling the truth about 27 percent of the time (the lowest truth percentage of any of the candidates).

    That's a bullshit statistic. It's not like everything is neatly categorizable as "truth" or "lie", and even if it were, how does one measure what percentage the latter make up?

    I have the feeling that if you track that statistic back to its source, you'll find that some fact-checking site categorized 27% of Trump's claims that it analyzed as "false". If so, then the 27% number is a reflection of what claims the site chose to analyze and what category it chose to put the claims in, and thus doubly removed from directly measuring Trump's dishonesty. A bit ironic that a statistic claiming to show what a bulshitter Trump is is itself bullshit.

    I know someone who voted for Trump because they believed Hillary Clinton allowed Americans to be killed in Benghazi.

    Well… she did. I'm not saying that there were reasonable steps she could have taken to keep them safe, but it's really not debatable that there are some steps she could have taken that she didn't.

    And the administration's terrorism apologia afterwards was rather offensive.

  8. En Passant says

    Randazza wrote:

    Matthews also portrayed the 26th of July movement as "anti-Communist," thus blunting any U.S. opposition. Castro was now the scrappy romantic revolutionary leader, fighting for truth, justice, and liberty.

    To be somewhat fair to Matthews, circa 1958 and well into 1959, Fidel Castro often publicly denied that he was a communist, and to many more reporters than just Matthews.

    That lie also gained some broad traction in the US among many who rightly viewed Batista as a distinctly evil dictator, reflected in the fact that the US government stopped supplying weapons to Batista around the same time.

    By 1960, it became apparent even to naive Americans that Castro was lying.

  9. OrderoftheQuaff says

    What I call "perceptional reality" is that which I see, hear, etc. "Representational reality" is what I read in newspapers, blogs…there's a narrow middle ground "provisional perceptional reality" which I've read or heard about so often that it has to be true, right?

  10. Cloudbuster says

    I was in journalism right during this same period (mid-to-late 80s), probably about the same age. Fortunately I was never dumb and naive enough to go around wearing red stars or dreaming of being a communist revolutionary. Do you ever really recover from that sort of fundamental wrong-headedness?

    I don't know whether Matthews was complicit in Castro's deception, or if he was the victim of an elaborate Castro psyop. Whichever is irrelevant.

    It's quite relevant. One is evil, the other is stupid. Evil is gonna evil, no help for that. But if one is that stupid, it's best to not spend one's life spreading that stupidity around. If Matthews was that stupid, he later took a turn for evil, because I'm not aware of him ever disavowing any of his reporting. Just another despicable name in the Walter Duranty school of journalism.

  11. Encinal says

    My favorite Mother Jones move was reporting during the Bush years that Congress was trying to bring back the draft. There was indeed a bill to reinstate the draft … sponsored by Democrats, precisely so that people like Mother Jones could claim that Congress was trying to bring back the draft.

  12. says

    Around 1960, the NYT had an ad campaign, "I got my job through the 'New York Times'!" (I was not quite old enough to learn whether the ad touted NYT's classified ad pages, or an NYT reader's ability to dazzle a prospective employer with his brilliance.) Someone did a cartoon where an ecstatic Fidel was the star of the ad.

  13. Danny Sichel says

    "The most interesting question of history is always, 'What were these people thinking?' But I’m afraid it’s often also the most elusive." — Duv Galeni (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold)

    Encinal, could you provide a source for your statement that the reason for that bill was "so people like Mother Jones could claim that Congress was trying to bring back the draft", and not for any other reason?

    Thanks in advance.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *