Ted Turner: pimping for Pyongyang

tedturner2
Ted Turner

Ted Turner: founder of CNN, ex-husband of Jane Fonda, billionaire. Yesterday we looked at his hypocrisy about the environment (28 homes, a “Save the Planet” bumper sticker on his car) and about population growth (father of five kids, supporter of a proposal for an an internationally enforced one-child law). But now for the most sordid part of all – his lamentable tendency to defend totalitarians.

KimJong-il_1444913c
The late Kim Jong-Il

Case in point: in 2005 Turner visited North Korea, and after returning to the U.S. shared his experiences and conclusions in a stunning interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Describing himself as having “had a great time,” Turner said, apropos of a new arms deal: “I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There’s really no reason – no reason for them to cheat.” When Blitzer pointed out that North Korea had violated similar deals before, Turner said: “I mean, you know, just because somebody’s done something wrong in the past doesn’t mean they can’t do right in the future or in the present.”

tedturner3
The king in his kingdom

The transcript continues – but, before quoting it, let us just interject that we’ll be reproducing excerpts from this and one or two other interview transcripts at some length. Why? Because Ted Turner, for all his power and wealth and purported business savvy, has a special gift, in such conversations, of revealing just how staggeringly uninformed and unreflective he is on the subject of dictatorship. It’s as if he just can’t grasp the idea that foreign leaders who are chummy with him at a dinner table could possibly be guilty of doing anything terrible to anyone else. Anyway, back to his exchange with Blitzer:

crowd-weeping_2090186i
Mass “mourning” upon the death of Kim Jong-Il

BLITZER: But this is one of the most despotic regimes and Kim Jong Il is one of the worst men on Earth. Isn’t that a fair assessment?

TURNER: Well, I didn’t get, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look, in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.

BLITZER: But look at the way, look at the way he’s, look at the way he’s treating his own people.

DMZ-Korea
The DMZ

TURNER: Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah –

BLITZER: Lot of those people are starving.

TURNER: I didn’t see, I didn’t see any, I didn’t see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ….I think they want to join the western world and improve the quality of life for their people just like everybody else. And I think that we should give them another chance. It doesn’t cost us anything. We already have agreements. And North Korea never posed any significant threat to the United States. I mean, the whole economy of North Korea’s only $30 billion a year. It’s less than the city of Detroit. It’s a small place, and we do not have to worry about them attacking us.

ted_turner_pointingBLITZER: You know, they have a million troops within literally a few miles.

TURNER: A half million.

BLITZER: Well, best estimates are a million. A million troops along the DMZ.

TURNER: We have a half a million troops, of which 28,000 are Americans and they’ve been there for 50 years. One of the things I said in both North and South Korea is it’s time to end the Korean War officially and move on. And get those hundreds of thousands of young men that are sitting there back building hospitals and roads and schools in North and South Korea and improving the gross national product. It’s just a waste of time and energy for them to sit there.

turnernk
Okay, this is photoshopped. In reality Turner hasn’t yet won the Gold Star identifying him as a Hero of the Democratic Repubic of North Korea. Yet.

BLITZER: I think the bottom line, though, Ted, and I think you’d agree, they had this opportunity in the ’90s, when they signed this first agreement and they cheated. They didn’t live up to it. Now they have a second chance. I hope you’re right. I certainly do.

TURNER: Well I hope I’m right, too. But you know it’s, in the Bible says you’re supposed to forgive seven times seventy, or something like that….Let’s give ’em a break. Give ’em a break. And besides, even if they do – even if they do threaten us again, the threat is non-existent to the United States. They can’t threaten us. I mean, it’s like a [flea] attacking an elephant.

Well, there it is. Yes, this is the all-powerful Ted Turner speaking. Pick your jaw back up off the floor. And come back tomorrow. There’s more where this came from.

CNN founder Ted Turner: master of hypocrisy

Ted_Turner
Ted Turner

Recently we spent a couple of days scratching our heads over Jane Fonda‘s lifelong career as a fleabrained enthusiast for totalitarianism. Now it’s time to train the camera on this aging fluffhead’s third husband, Ted Turner, the billionaire founder of CNN, godfather (in the eyes of some observers) of cable TV itself, and currently the second largest landowner in the U.S., with more acreage, all told, than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together. (Until recently he was #1, but another media tycoon, John Malone, edged ahead of him.)

You’d think, given his remarkable financial success (he’s now worth over $2 billion), that, unlike his ditzy ex-wife (they divorced in 2001), Turner must be quite the sharp cookie. Indeed he has to be some kind of a business genius – many of those who’ve worked with him over the years have said so, and his own accomplishments can hardly be explained otherwise. But to peruse the record of his public statements on various issues is to be gobsmacked by what seems nothing less than a stunning combination of foolishness, nuttiness, ignorance, and immaturity. (And we’re talking about a man who’s now 72 years old.)

1992 emmys
With Jane Fonda at the 1992 Emmys

Like Fonda, Turner is on the extreme political left, loath to criticize the likes of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, or North Korea’s Kims but quick to compare Fox News or people like George W. Bush to Hitler. Like Fonda, too, he’s a world-class hypocrite. As of 2012, when he was profiled by Stephen Galloway in the Hollywood Reporter, Turner was spending his time jetting privately from one of his 28 (yes, 28) homes to another – and was, at the same time (no joke) identifying himself as a passionate environmentalist who found it “heartbreaking” that “the Tea Party…say that global warming is a hoax.” In a list he’s drawn up of “11 Voluntary Initiatives,” Turner vows “to care for Planet Earth and all living things thereon, especially my fellow beings.” Back in 2001, Ken Auletta reported on Turner’s climate hysteria: “In a hundred years, he believes, New York will be under water and it will be ‘so hot the trees are going to die.’” As of July 2015, when Turner was interviewed by CNN’s Cristiane Amanpour, “protect[ing] the environment” remained his “current aim,” as demonstrated by the fact that his car was “adorned with two bumper stickers, proclaiming: ‘Save the Planet’ and ‘Save Everything.’” In short: do as I say, not as I do. 

turnerranch
One of Ted Turner’s 28 residences

Another cute little hypocrisy: Turner has had five kids, but in 2010 he called for an international directive that would penalize couples for having more than one child. (He’s openly praised the Communist Chinese government for its one-child policy, which has resulted in the widespread murder of baby girls by their parents.)

But Turner’s biggest hypocrisy is the fact that he’s a billionaire with a soft spot – and a blind spot – when it comes to Communism. We’ll get into the details – of which there are many – next time.

Warren Beatty and Lenin’s “fight for freedom”

On Friday we harked back to 1981 and the movie Reds, Warren Beatty‘s nostalgic look at the beginnings of Soviet Communism. 

A trailer for the film makes it clear exactly how Beatty viewed it and how he wanted potential audiences to view it. “There is a movie,” reads the on-screen copy, “that challenges conservative politics[,] that shines a spotlight on the issues of our day.” It’s about “a nation’s right to freedom…about the fight for freedom.”

kerensky
Alexander Kerensky

Let’s break this down: this trailer is actually suggesting that the Bolsheviks’ October Revolution of 1917 – which overthrew the democratic government under Alexander Kerensky that had been installed after the February Revolution of 1917 and replaced it with a totalitarian regime – was a step forward for freedom. Yes, the Bolshevik Revolution, which led to decades of oppression, terror, forced collectivization, show trials, political murders, genocide in the Ukraine, the Gulag, and much else. Furthermore, the trailer equates the Kerensky government with American conservatives circa 1981 (the year, of course, that Ronald Reagan became president), and implies that both are enemies of freedom; meanwhile it likens the Bolsheviks to the American Democratic Party of 1981, and suggests that both are heroes of freedom.  

big-the-dorchester-hotel-london-07
Dorchester Hotel, London

Beatty began writing Reds in 1976 with Marxist playwright Trevor Griffiths. They worked together on their screenplay celebrating Communism during months-long stints at the luxurious Carlyle Hotel in New York, the Dorchester in London (described by Wikipedia as “one of the world’s most prestigious and expensive hotels”), and the glamorous Plaza Athénée in Paris. Sometimes, while working in Paris, they were helped out on the script by Elaine May, who flew in and out of New York on the Concorde. There’s no record that any of them saw the irony in any of this. 

redsposterCertainly the irony seems lost on Peter Biskind, author of an in-depth Vanity Fair article about the making of Reds. Biskind makes it clear that he finds the “idealism” of the film’s hero, John Reed, praiseworthy, and he expresses regret that this “idealism…seems even more alien today than it did in 1981, given the current cynicism about politics.” He actually writes the following about Reed (played by Beatty) and his girlfriend and fellow Communist, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton): “More than just lovers, more than just revolutionaries, they have made political lives, lived their politics, and Reds is above all a tribute to that.” At least the late Roger Ebert picked up on the irony, noticing in his review that the copyright statement at the end of this film about a man who hated millionaires reads “Copyright MCMLXXXI Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance Limited.” Beatty, for his part, appeared, by the time he won the Oscar for Best Director, to have recognized the contradictions at the heart of his own project, giving a nod in his acceptance speech to the bigwigs at Paramount and its then parent company, Gulf + Western, for their “decision, taken in the great capitalistic tower of Gulf + Western, to finance a three-and-a-half hour romance which attempts to reveal for the first time just something of the beginnings of American socialism and American communism.”

gulag
Film rights, anyone?

Don’t get us wrong. Reds is a terrific piece of filmmaking – excellently acted and directed, with splendid production design, stirring set pieces, a lucidly told and fast-paced story about memorable characters. That’s precisely the problem. Beatty made a hero out of America’s most prominent early enthusiast for the Russian Revolution, and did a remarkably effective job of making that useful stooge’s blind devotion to a cruel and monstrous tyranny look praiseworthy, exciting, and supremely romantic. One can only be sorry that Beatty was moved to make a film about an ardent fan of Boshevism rather than about any one of its millions of victims. When, one wonders, will Tinseltown release a movie on the scale of Reds about the Gulag? 

Venezuela: a new assault on freedom

leopoldo
Leopoldo López

He studied sociology at Kenyon College and public policy at Harvard; after returning home to Venezuela, he was elected mayor of Chacao, one of the five political subdivisions of the city of Caracas. Twice during his eight-year tenure (2000-2008), Transparency International gave him awards for presiding over an honest and efficient municipal administration in a country otherwise rife with corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency. The City Mayors Foundation awarded him third place in its international World Mayors Commendation, calling him “a hands-on mayor as well as a national politician fighting for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela.” When he completed his two terms as mayor, he had a 92% approval rating.

chavez2
The late Hugo Chávez

What stopped Leopoldo López from going on to a third term? Hugo Chávez. In 2008, citing manifestly trumped-up corruption charges, the government denied López and a number of other opposition politicians the right to run for office. Human Rights Watch, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) all took López’s side, calling his treatment undemocratic, but the chavistas held firm: they knew a serious threat to their rotten-to-the-core regime when they saw one.

López – young, handsome, passionate, eloquent, charismatic, and sharp as a tack – went on to become not just a leader but a symbol of his country’s democratic opposition. On February 18 of last year, after organizing and participating in a mass protest against the Chávez government, he was arrested on charges of “terrorism, murder, grievous bodily harm, public incitement, arson, damage to property, and conspiracy to commit crimes.” The charges were as patently illegitimate as the charge of corruption that kept him from running for elective office, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded his immediate release – to no avail.

maduro
Nicolás Maduro

He has been in prison ever since. During his incarceration, he has been showered with honors. Harvard gave him an award. So did the National Endowment for Democracy. In Spain, he won the Cádiz Cortes Ibero-American Freedom Prize. This June, Foreign Policy – which had already named him one of its “Leading Global Thinkers of 2014” – ran an article hailing him as “Venezuela’s Last Hope” and said he embodied “the change his country needs.” Polls show that in an electoral face-off for the presidency between López and the incumbent, Chávez protégé Nicolás Maduro, the vote would be 72% to 28%.

(Meanwhile The Nation, the flagship weekly of America’s far left and home base for the nation’s most egregious useful stooges, exhibited its usual contempt for freedom by deferentially interviewing a longtime chavista who was allowed to smear López in its pages as an “extreme right-winger,” “fanatical fascist,” and “ultra-super-reactionary.”)

vdheuvel12
Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Nation

The latest outrage came two days ago, on September 10. After a closed-door trial, López was sentenced to thirteen years and nine months in prison. Erika Guevara-Ross, Americas Director at Amnesty International, made her organization’s position clear: López, she said, is being punished for leading “an opposition party….He should have never been arbitrarily arrested or tried in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, called the case “a complete travesty of justice.” The Washington Post noted that in recent months U.S. diplomat Thomas A. Shannon Jr. had met with Maduro and other officials “to convey U.S. concern about the outcome of the López trial,” but obviously to no avail.

Innumerable Americans and Europeans root reflexively for Venezuelan socialism, having been beguiled into thinking that it embodies “liberal” or “progressive” values. If they had any decency, this latest cruel and cynical move against the ruling party’s #1 opponent would awaken them to the truth about Maduro’s monstrous regime. But don’t count on it. As history shows, useful stooges have a remarkable gift for preserving their own self-delusion.

Warren Beatty’s love letter to Lenin

reds1
Warren Beatty in Reds

We’ve spent the last couple of days contemplating Shirley MacLaine‘s love affair with Mao’s China. Now let’s turn to her brother, Warren Beatty, and his long-term crush on Soviet Communism. Our focus is on the epic 1981 movie Reds, Beatty’s “dream project” and “labor of love,” which he co-wrote, directed, produced, and starred in. It tells the true story of John Reed (Beatty), a journalist – and devoted Communist – who, in the U.S., helped establish the American Communist Party, and, in Russia, was a fervent participant in and witness to the birth of the Soviet Union, where he became one of Lenin’s very first American useful stooges and ended up as the only American to be buried in the walls of the Kremlin. 

redsmarch
A scene from Reds

Politics aside, Reds is a good old-fashioned big-screen drama in the best Hollywood tradition. Over three hours long, it’s as stirring and sweeping as Gone with the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia. And there’s no fashionable modern-day moral ambiguity: Reed is, quite simply, a hero. The movie encourages us to view his commitment to Communism as admirable. As Peter Biskind wrote in a 2006 retrospective on the film for Vanity Fair, it’s an “homage, of sorts, to the Russian Revolution as well as to the high passions that animated the largely forgotten American left in the years before, during, and after World War I.” In Biskind’s eyes, it wasn’t just John Reed who was a hero – Warren Beatty, too, was a hero, whose “vision and persistence” enabled him to win over studio heads who weren’t enthusiastic about the idea of a motion picture that would “dramatize the Russian Revolution from a not entirely unsympathetic perspective.”

reds1
Diane Keaton in Reds

Biskind tells a story that provides a glimpse into Beatty’s mindset. While visiting the Soviet Union in 1969, Beatty was asked by Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk to star in a movie about Reed. Beatty turned Bondarchuk down – not because he was loath to take part in a project that would have been a work of sheer Communist propaganda filmed under close Kremlin control, but because he didn’t like the script. Even then, however, he was already thinking of making his own Reed movie, and asked to meet an old woman who had been one of Reed’s lovers. She had spent 16 years in a labor camp, and hated Stalin, but was philosophical, telling Beatty that “of course the revolution is in its early stages.” Beatty’s reaction? “It was at that moment I thought, I have to make a movie about that kind of passion.” Not, note well, a movie about that kind of self-destructive delusion – the woman was still devoted to an evil and pernicious ideology that had landed her in a labor camp for 16 years! – but about what he regarded as a laudable ardor.

More on Monday.

Shirley MacLaine: a fool’s paradise

Back in 1975, as we saw yesterday, Shirley MacLaine released The Other Side of the Sky, a staggering whitewash of a documentary about China, which she’d visited a couple of years earlier.

Shirley-MacLaine-2
Shirley MacLaine

Before going to China, she’d told reporters that sexual equality was “an official fact” in China and that America hadn’t achieved it yet; in China, far from waking up to the fact that she was a guest of a totalitarian terror state, where interviewees had to parrot the party line or else, MacLaine believed everything she was told. China, she insisted, was without social friction; everyone there shared a feeling of “brotherhood” and a “commitment to working for the common good”; during her visit, she later wrote, “it slowly dawned on me that perhaps human beings could be taught anything.”

central-hall-1977-deng-xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping at the White House

All nonsense, of course. But guess what? The documentary was taken seriously. It was nominated for an Oscar. Yes, for an Oscar. At a time when China was still a great unknown, it helped sell many Americans on a massive lie about the reality of life there.

In 1979, the Cultural Revolution finally having ended, China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping, visited the United States at the invitation of President Carter. At a state dinner, Deng was seated near Shirley MacLaine, who, according to one report, 

china_cultural-revolution-burning_antique-_buddha_statues
Buddhist statues being burned during the Cultural Revolution

gushed that she had visited China during the Cultural Revolution and that everything had been wonderful. She was particularly struck by a professor who told her how grateful he was that the party had decided to send him and his fellow academics to the countryside. Deng looked at her scornfully and said that “he was lying.” Professors should be teaching university classes not planting vegetables.

Deng, eager to put China on the road to prosperity, had no interest in preserving the disastrous fabrications and delusions of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile the starry-eyed Shirley, ignoring all reports to the contrary about the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, had remained in her fool’s paradise.

MADR-12
Cultural treasures being burned during the Cultural Revolution

This is, needless to say, a woman who in interview after interview over the decades has presented herself as a proudly independent artist and intellectual, a thoroughgoing and defiant individualist, answerable to no person and no institution. But she had no trouble whatsoever wholeheartedly embracing the idea of a government with the power to force people out of their own beloved occupations and ship them out of the city to work on collective farms. A government that burned books and films – and executed countless artists, actors, authors, and other creative people like herself.

rally
Beijing rally during the Cultural Revolution

There’s no record of how MacLaine replied to Deng that evening. One thing’s for sure, however: his answer sure didn’t teach her a lesson. In the more than three decades since that state dinner, she’s continued to be a useful stooge for tyrannical regimes, promulgating cockamamie theories about international events and comparing the U.S. unfavorably to any number of unfree nations. As recently as 2011, she told an interviewer that, after World War II, the U.S. government, in cahoots with Nazi scientists, pushed a fear of Communism onto the American public in order to “keep control” over them. In other words, it’s not Communist governments that “keep control” over their subjects through terror; it’s the U.S. government that does so, by inculcating a (presumably unwarranted) terror of Communism.

She’s a useful stooge of the first water. And yet she still reaps applause everywhere she goes. Which is also the case with another star we might mention – her younger brother, Warren Beatty. How could two such ridiculous tools of totalitarianism have been born into a single family? We’ll continue pondering that question next time, when we move on to him. 

Shirley MacLaine, publicist for the Cultural Revolution

maclaine
Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine has been a movie star for sixty years. She’s appeared in dozens of films, won all the major awards in the business, and received a Kennedy Center Honor. At age 81, she’s still active, with one movie recently released, another in production, and a third identified on her IMDB page as “announced.”

Of course, she’s not just known as an actress. She’s also been very outspoken about her New Age beliefs, including her conviction that she’s lived several previous lives. She’s written several bestselling books about these matters. According to her, she’s been “a medieval warrior, an orphan raised by elephants, a Japanese geisha and a model for post-impressionist painter Toulouse-Lautrec.” When she dated Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, she “realized” that they’d hooked up over a thousand years ago, when he was Charlemagne and she was a peasant girl. She’s also said that her pet dog was “a reincarnation of the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis.”

A Conversation with Shirley MacLaine and Leonard Maltin at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel on Sunday 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival In Hollywood, California.  3/29/15 PH: Tyler GoldenThere are apparently people who view themselves as having learned spiritual lessons from her; there are many more who think of her as a very talented woman who also happens to be something of a harmless kook.

But in fact MacLaine’s non-acting activities haven’t all been harmless. Case in point: her 1975 documentary The Other Half of the Sky, about a trip she and a group of other women made to China in 1973.

As of 1973, it will be remembered, Mao’s so-called Cultural Revolution had been going on since 1966. It involved the often random and utterly unwarranted harassment, persecution, forcible displacement, torture, imprisonment, and murder of millions of people. During these years, the population of China lived in terror – fearful of losing their homes, their jobs, their families, their lives. During this period, few Westerners were welcome into what was then called (as North Korea is now) a “hermit kingdom.”

Cultural_Revolution_poster
A Cultural Revolution poster

Enter Shirley MacLaine, her film crew (including director Claudia Weill), and her entourage, composed of “regular American women” such as a Texas housewife, a Navajo woman, a California psychologist, and a Puerto Rican sociologist. Invited to China by Mao Zedong’s government, the group traveled from city to city – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou – where they filmed the sights and talked to people. The result: a movie, written and produced by MacLaine, that the New York Times described as a “generally eye-catching spectrum of happy people in such places as homes, farms, day-care centers, city communes, schools, hospitals, the Great Wall, the ballet and Peking’s May Day celebration.”

Destroy_the_old_world_Cultural_Revolution_posterBut The Other Side of the Sky wasn’t just a travelogue. MacLaine wanted to make a point: namely, that women in China had attained a degree of liberation that their American counterparts had yet to match, and from which they could learn. As the Times put it, MacLaine’s documentary depicted the women of China (and the men, too) as “uniformly contented.” The film provided not a single glimpse of “crime, poverty, deprivation or unhappiness among China’s 800 million people.” There was hardly a hint of recognition on MacLaine’s part that the land she was visiting was not a free country, and that the people to whom she posed questions were not free to answer them honestly. Although some of the Chinese people interviewed by MacLaine did “gently point out that artistic, musical and literary creativity must conform to Maoist principles,” MacLaine herself showed no inclination to probe or ponder this fact.

More tomorrow.

The shameless stoogery of E.L. Doctorow

doctorow
E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow died on July 21. He was the author of several novels, including the bestseller Ragtime. He was also an radical leftist who for decades provided financial support to the far-left weekly The Nation and contributed innumerable articles to it.

The important thing to know about Doctorow’s fiction is that he wasn’t the kind of novelist – which is to say, the greatest kind – who is motivated, above all, by a burning desire to capture the truths of the human heart and of human relationships. The kind of novelist, that is, for whom political convictions are secondary – are, as it were, windows into a character’s soul. No: for Doctorow the whole thing worked the other way around. He created characters to make political points. For him, the novel was not a mirror held up to the world but a vehicle for propaganda.

To put it bluntly, Doctorow was a useful stooge for Communism. In some novels this was more explicit than in others. It’s a measure of his own skill as a writer that this fact eluded so many critics and readers.

Julius_and_Ethel_Rosenberg_NYWTS
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

What Doctorow did in one novel after another was to take historical figures and twist the truths of their lives in such a way as to suit his ideology. In none of his novels was his ideological agenda more obvious than in The Book of Daniel (1971). The book was a shameless effort to win sympathy for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two members of the American Communist Party who were longtime Soviet spies in the U.S. and who helped pass the secrets of the atomic bomb on to the Kremlin, thus changing the world in a way that few if any other people have ever done. Thanks in large part to them, the U.S. lost the nuclear monopoly it had enjoyed for a few short years after World War II.

Note well: America could have used that postwar monopoly to bomb the Soviet Union into the Stone Age. It didn’t. But after the Rosenbergs, everything changed. The USSR became a superpower – presumably on a par with the U.S. – solely by virtue of its possession of a weapon whose secret had been handed to them by a gang of spies including this couple from New York.

stalin
Josef Stalin

The Rosenbergs were slavish acolytes of Stalin – mindless devotees of a murderous totalitarian regime. If they’d had their way, American freedom would’ve been crushed and replaced by show trials, mass executions, the Gulag. Yet for a generation of American on the extreme left, the Rosenbergs were heroes. Doctorow was one of those Americans. In The Book of Daniel, he plainly wanted Middle America to see them as heroes, too.

But how to do that? How to turn two real-life traitors into heroes? Doctorow happened upon a brilliant solution. The real-life Rosenbergs had two sons who were both small boys when their parents were executed for treason in 1953. Doctorow’s idea was to blend those two real-life children into one fictitious son and to make him the hero of the novel, and to present his parents in flashback – not objectively, as traitors, but through the eyes of the boy, to whom they were, of course, just his beloved Mommy and Daddy.

bookofdanielIt was a stroke of genius. Who could be a more sympathetic protagonist, after all, than an innocent boy who had lost both his parents, on the same day, in an execution that made all the papers? How better to humanize his parents than to show them as loving parents, not as Stalin-loving traitors? But Doctorow does even more than that. Not only doesn’t he depict the Rosenbergs as traitors; he represents them as victims – as objects of persecution. Persecution, that is, by the U.S. government, which Doctorow invites us to view as supremely evil and oppressive for having taken the lives of this man and woman who were devoted to each other and their family. Meanwhile the fact that the Rosenbergs (who in the novel are called the Isaacsons) were servants of one of the world’s great mass-murdering dictators is dropped down the memory hole.

Anyway, that’s E.L. Doctorow’s legacy. The radical left has always been about prioritizing ideology over facts. What Doctorow did was turn the ideological twisting of reality into a literary art. 

The Rev. Jackson’s Cuba sojourns

June 26-27, 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Jesse Jackson smokes Cuban cigars with Fidel Castro during a controversial visit to Havana in June 1984. Jackson, a candidate for President of the United States, caused a stir in the U.S. government and press by visiting with the Communist leader. --- Image by © Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro, June 1984

Jesse Jackson is such a patently unsavory creature – a shameless race hustler, an inveterate shakedown artist, a hardcore anti-Semite (remember “Hymietown”?), a sleazy player posing as a man of the cloth – that his coziness with the Castro government should hardly seem a surprise. Yet it’s important that this aspect of his slimy character not be lost in the mix.

27 Aug 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Original caption: Reverend Jesse Jackson (L) is seated next to Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro during negotiations for the release of a group of prisoners to Jackson. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jackson and Castro, August 1984

For one thing, unlike other useful Castro stooges, Jackson hasn’t just visited the island prison once or twice. Over the decades, he’s been there so many times – and met Castro so many times – that it’s hard to come up with an exact count. On a couple of these visits he attempted to secure the release of political prisoners, but any objective observer of his career would find it difficult to see these supposedly humanitarian efforts as anything other than cynical bids for attention, power, and positive PR. They were, in any event, clear breaches of the Logan Act of 1799, violation of which is a felony. (In addition to Cuba, Jackson was able to persuade the governments of Syria, Iraq, and Yugoslavia to release prisoners at various points in the 1980s and 90s – actions they presumably took because his involvement enabled them to receive very prominent and very positive press in the U.S. while making the U.S. government itself look impotent.)

jjcc
Jackson and Castro, 1993

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of Jackson’s Cuba adventures. In 1984, while he was running for President, he flew to Havana, where Fidel Castro welcomed him at the airport and, according to BBC correspondent Alastair Cooke, was treated “as if he were already president of the United States.” Giving a speech at the University of Havana, he shouted “Viva Fidel!” and “Viva Che Guevara!” He raised his fists: “Long live our cry of freedom!” During that trip, Castro praised Jackson as “brilliant” and “sincere,” a man full of “honesty” and free of “demagoguery.”

jjkk
Okay, he didn’t really say that, as far as we know. Jackson at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, 2013

Jackson didn’t return home alone: he took back with him to the U.S. sixteen American and seven Cuban political prisoners whom Castro had released as a sort of gift for the good reverend. (Castro himself said that he had made the gesture “as a result of Rev. Jackson’s visit. I did it for him and for the people of the United States.”) 

cooke
Alastair Cooke

Upon their arrival at Dulles Airport, one of the released Cuban prisoners, Andres Vargas Gomez, an anti-Castro activist who’d been incarcerated for 21 years, spoke to reporters. He didn’t have kind words for either Castro or Jackson. “To go to Cuba to join in a moral offensive with Fidel Castro,” he said, referring to Jackson, “is more than morally offensive, it is a moral offense.” Cooke called the prisoner release “a very small price that Castro has to pay for helping to advertise among his people, and other Central American peoples, the fact that here is an actual candidate for the presidency of the United States, who is as much against the Central American policies of the detested Reagan as they are.” Jackson, pronounced Cooke, had been “used”; he was “a patsy” who’d made it “all the harder” for the U.S. government to improve relations with Cuba.

jj2013b
Jackson at a religious service in Havana, September 2013

Oh, and let’s not forget that this patsy, this serial violator of the Logan Act, this man who shouted “Viva Fidel!” at the University of Havana in 1984 became, in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration’s house preacher. During the Lewinsky crisis, he reportedly prayed with Hillary and gave Bill “emotional solace and political advice” (not necessarily in that order). In 2000, President Clinton actually presented this champion of Castro’s dictatorship – who as recently as 1993 had vacationed in Havana and hung with Castro – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award citation stated that Jackson “has preached a gospel of hope, unity and responsibility and has helped establish common ground across lines of race, class, gender, nationality and faith.”

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Back at the Hotel Nacional, 2013

In September 2013, Jackson went to Cuba yet again. He wanted, he declared, to try to secure the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who’d been imprisoned there since 2009.  This time, however, Castro didn’t deign to meet with him; perhaps he’d decided that Jackson’s star was on the wane and his Logan Act violations were no longer the front-page news they’d once been. (Gross was finally released last December.) But Jackson’s time wasn’t wasted: during the same visit, he met with leaders of FARC, the far-left Colombian terrorist group, and gave a talk advocating actions against the U.S. economic blockade. 

Jackson claims to be delighted at the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But is he? When every American can legally travel to Cuba, who’s going to care anymore when he makes the trip?

Castro, ; Garcia, no

garciamovie
Inés Sastre and Andy Garcia in The Lost City

Yesterday we brought up The Lost City, a 2005 Andy Garcia film about Havana before and after Castro. Mainstream critics in the U.S., traumatized by the movie’s nostalgic depiction of pre-revolutionary Cuba and its categorical disapproval of the revolution’s consequences, couldn’t forgive it for what they called its historical inaccuracy – a charge that exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova powerfully and definitively refuted.

cuba501
Havana then

Among other things, the reviewers chided Garcia for failing to depict pre-revolutionary Cuba (in accordance with the Castro regime’s propaganda) as a cesspit of poverty. Citing UNESCO statistics from the late 1950s, Fontova set the record straight on this score: in fact, Batista’s Cuba had a “large middle class”; union-membership rates were higher than in the U.S.; the average Cuban wage in 1957 was higher than in Belgium, Denmark, France, or Germany; Cuban laborers earned 66.6% of gross national income, compared to 70% in the U.S. and 64% in Switzerland; 44% of Cubans were “covered by social legislation,” a higher share than in the U.S.; Cuba had a higher per-capita income in 1958 than Spain, Austria, and Japan, and “Cuban industrial workers had the eighth-highest wages in the world”; stevedores made higher hourly wages in Cuba than in New Orleans or San Francisco; Cuban workers enjoyed an eight-hour day and (30 years before it came to Europe) a month-long vacation. “Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S.,” wrote Fontova. “And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S.”

havananow
Havana now

Noting that critics had compared the supposed historical accuracy of The Lost City unfavorably to such films as Havana (1990) and Godfather II (1974), Fontova pointed out that Havana director Sydney Pollack had cast a blue-eyed blond to play Batista (who was black) and that Godfather II director Francis Ford Coppola had shown the streets of Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958, the night of the revolution, as being packed with people (in reality, Fontova recalls, “Havana streets were deathly quiet that night”). All in all, charged Fontova, the negative reviews of The Lost City reflected “the Mainstream Media’s thundering and apparently incurable ignorance on all matters Cuban.”

Batista_resigns
Batista’s resignation, as portrayed in Godfather II

Unlike the mainstream-media reviewers, Cuban exiles who saw the film gave it rapturous notices:  

“This film will offend a lot of people that have bought into the idea of Fidel Castro as a benevolent dictator and Che Guevara as a righteous revolutionary….Some have criticized this film for not showing ‘the grinding poverty’ of the masses in pre-Castro Cuba. There’s a reason for that. There wasn’t that much of it back then. The Cuban revolution was one led and funded by the middle and upper classes and supported by intellectuals throughout the island. They wanted democracy not a totalitarian dictatorship.”

“I’m a 65 year-old Cuban woman who lived through that historic time….I’m very grateful to Andy Garcia for the gift of this movie.”

“For many of us who have lived through our own ‘Lost City,’ watching this film was a bittersweet experience….Amazing that this film made it to the screen given its honest portrayal of the brutal architects of the Cuban revolution, particularly Hollywood’s darlings, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.”

Splendid tributes. But let’s give Fontova the last word: “Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958…Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such distinctions are too ‘complex’ for a film critic to grasp. They prefer clichés and fantasies of revolution.” Alas, they’ve all heard too much Castro disinformation – and seen too many movies about Cuba that reflect that disinformation instead of telling the truth.