"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.
Marc Randazza is the national president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association
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