How Fidel seduced (literally) ABC News

The lovebirds

On Tuesday, we examined the 1963-64 meeting, mutual seduction, and unconsummated hotel-room encounter between ABC News reporter Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro. It was, as they say, hot stuff. Today, our focus will be on what Howard did back home in the U.S.: publicly, on ABC News, she did her best to improve Castro’s image in America; secretly, as Politico reported recently, she served as a channel between Castro and JFK, and then between Castro and LBJ, urging both U.S. presidents to sit down with Castro and soften their line on his dictatorship.

Adlai Stevenson

When a ten-page letter to JFK got no response, she turned it into an article urging negotiations. She huddle with Adlai Stevenson and one of his U.N. flunkies in an effort to win Kennedy’s approval for a meeting between the flunky and Cuba’s U.N. guy. That ended up happening – at Howard’s own residence, which “became the hub for secret communications between the U.S. and Cuba.”

When she finally managing to put together a phone call between a high-level American official and a Castro sidekick in Havana, she confided to her diary: “At last! At last! That first halting step. Contact has been established!…A long, frustrating, tension-filled, but exciting experience lies ahead.” More than once in Politico‘s article on the Castro-Howard connection, one gets the distinct impression that serving as a diplomatic go-between was positively aphrodisiacal for the ABC talking head.

A clip from one of Howard’s ABC News specials about Castro, showing how much his people supposedly worshiped him

She later did a TV special from Cuba – which, from Politico‘s description, sounds exactly like every mainstream TV report about the island prison that has been aired in the decades since: “Howard and her crew traipsed around Cuba with the energetic Castro, filming him playing baseball, visiting a cattle farm and interacting with peasants. As much as Howard believed Castro was a dictator, the overwhelming public adoration he generated impressed her. ‘They mob him, they scream ‘Fidel, Fidel,’ children kiss him, mothers touch him,’ she wrote. ‘They are awed, thrilled … ecstatic, but mostly passionate. There is no doubt in my mind that the emotion Fidel inspires in all women is sheer undiluted sexual desire. He is the most physical animal man I have ever known.’”

Lyndon B. Johnson

This time when they went to bed, they went all the way. She later described it as “thrilling and ecstatic—as much as anything I have ever experienced.” Even so, she recognized that “so much of what he was doing was truly evil.”

What’s a poor girl to do? Well, in this case, she kept pushing the White House to talk to Castro. Nothing came of it. (The LBJ aide she lobbied was no dummy: he concluded that it was “likely” she was getting it on with the cigar-chomping Comandante.)

But again Adlai pitched in, and Howard was sent as a secret emissary to Cuba, where “Castro arranged for Howard to stay in one of the confiscated mansions that now served as a protocol house. The house came with a Cadillac and chauffeur, a butler and cook, air-conditioned bedrooms and a sunken bathtub.”

Castro and Che

Next thing she knew, however, Howard was discarded as a U.S.-Cuba bridge. Frustrated, she “seized on the visit of Che Guevara” to the UN to restore her bona fides: she “shepherded Guevara around town—together they attended a premiere of a new documentary film commemorating the life of Kennedy—and organized a soiree for him at her New York apartment.” She offered to arrange a meeting between Che and some LBJ honcho, but her days as a power broker were over. So was her TV career: largely because of her positive portrayal of Castro, ABC fired her. On July 4, 1965, age 39, she died of a drug overdose, having loved a brutal tyrant not wisely but too well.

Shameless: David Sirota

David Sirota

Yesterday we met David Sirota, an ardent supporter of Hugo Chávez and former spokesman for Bernie Sanders. As of 2013, Sirota was singing hosannas in Salon about what he described as Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” The next year found him working as an editorial staffer for Pando, a new website intended to be “the site of record for Silicon Valley.” In June 2014, however, Sirota and Ted Rall, the far-left cartoonist (who’d been working for the site for less than a month), were both abruptly dismissed without explanation.

Friend: Bernie Sanders

By July 2015, Sirota was doing political coverage for the International Business Times – and being criticized for his failure to disclose his ties to Sanders, whom he had described on Twitter as a “friend,” even though many of his contributions to IBT were critical of Sanders’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. Sirota, wrote one observer, made “little pretense of either accuracy or objectivity.”

Target: Chris Christie

For example, a report by Sirota claiming that the U.S. Attorney in Newark was investigating then Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie – a claim that was readily picked up by the AP, ABC News, New York Magazine, and the Rachel Maddow Show blog – proved to be without basis. Sirota’s modus operandi, noted the observer, was to “publish an attack on a Republican, centrist or anyone not following the progressive agenda closely enough, and then create an echo chamber, regardless of the facts. Once the story has begun to take hold – in spite of inaccuracy – the damage is done.”

In other words, the fact that Sirota turns out to have been disastrously wrong about chavista economics hasn’t exactly imbued him with humility. Certainly he hasn’t issued any mea culpas for his inane, know-it-all gushing over the Venezuelan “economic miracle.”

Marian Tupy

But if he’s tried to drop that chapter of his life down the memory hole, others remember. In May, Marian Tupy of the Foundation for Economic Education noted that thanks to the chavista economics that Sirota was applauding so recently, babies are dying in Venezuelan hospitals. Tupy quoted a recent New York Times account:  

By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died… The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans.

A pediatric ER in Venezuela

Tupy didn’t let Sirota go easily. Remembering Sirota’s snide claim, in his 2013 article, that when socialist countries go belly-up, critics of socialism “laugh [it] off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics,” Tupy rejected this “glib” view, stating that his response to the Venezuelan crisis was not laughter:

I do not find dying children laughable. But then, I did not laugh when I read about starving Ukrainians eating their children during Stalin’s Holodomor. I did not laugh when I read of Khmer Rouge soldiers shooting infants off their bayonets in communist Cambodia. And I certainly did not laugh when I saw with my own two eyes children reduced to starvation by the Marxist dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. In fact, there is nothing laughable about the almost incomprehensible degree of suffering that socialism has heaped upon humanity wherever it’s been tried.

As much as I would like to enjoy rubbing Sirota’s nose in his own mind-bending stupidity, I cannot rejoice for I know that Venezuela’s descent into chaos – hyperinflation, empty shops, out-of-control violence and the collapse of basic public services – will not be the last time we hear of a collapsing socialist economy. Looking into the future, it is safe to predict that more countries will refuse to learn from history and give socialism “a go.” And, I am equally certain that there will be, to use Lenin’s words, “useful idiots,” like David Sirota, who will sing socialism’s praises until the moment when the last light goes out and time comes for them to move on and find something else to write about.


Holidays with Rahm

Lately we’ve been engaging in the pastime of cataloguing celebrities who travel to Cuba. Here’s another.

Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel is the kind of political professional whom even his own friends don’t particularly care for. A longtime fixture of that grubbiest of all American political machines, the Cook County Democrats, he’s brash, rude, obnoxious. (Pick your synonym.) And yet, thanks to his native wiliness and (increasingly) his high-level connections, he’s moved from triumph to triumph.

Born in Chicago, Emanuel attended Northwestern, worked on the 1992 Clinton campaign and then in the Clinton White House, made over $16 million for four years’ work at an investment bank (despite having no background whatsoever in banking), and was a director of Freddie Mac during a major scandal. (According to ABC News, he and his fellow board members “misreported profits by billions of dollars in order to deceive investors,” thereby helping to precipitate the world financial crisis of 2008.) After spending six years in Congress (where he was head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), he was appointed Obama’s first chief of staff, then ran successfully in 2010 for mayor of the Windy City – a position he now holds.

With Clinton

When Emanuel took over the reins of power in Chicago, the city was a nightmarish mess. He hasn’t helped. The toddlin’ town remains notorious around the country, in fact the world, for its high crime level – and, in particular, its gang killings. Its public education system is a scandal and an embarrassment. Its bond rating has sunk to near-junk bond level. Most recently, Emanuel has faced mounting criticism for his incompetent handling of the judicial aftermath of a police shooting that took place in October of last year. Incompetence, indeed, seems to have become a hallmark of his tenure. 

But he doesn’t seem fazed by any of it. After five years of spectacular failure in the job of mayor, he clearly hasn’t learned humility. On the contrary, one gets the distinct impression that he’s already working on his next step up the career ladder. A Senate seat? Perhaps even the presidency? “What you see in Rahm Emanuel is what you get, and what you get is raw ambition,” wrote Chicago author Joseph Epstein earlier this year in an acid profile of the mayor. Some public servants actually do think of themselves as servants of the public. Not Emanuel. This guy, observed Epstein, “is in business for himself.” Another pol in his current position might at least try to tamp down the insolence, lose the swagger; alas, the worse things get for Emanuel, the more often he seems to dial his legendary arrogance up to a 10. 

A word in Obama’s ear

Case in point: at a breakfast event in early December, Mike Allen of Politico spent almost an hour interviewing Emanuel in front of an audience. Then Allen happened to mention something that Emanuel had told him backstage: this year, the mayor and his family were planning to spend the holidays in Cuba. Why Cuba? Allen asked.

It seemed a relatively innocuous question. But instead of immediately answering it, Emanuel launched into Allen, expressing his irritation at the reporter’s disclosure. “Well, first of all, thanks for telling everybody what I’m going to do with my family,” Emanuel said. “You had a private conversation with me and now you decide to make that public. I really don’t appreciate that, for one, I really don’t.”

Emanuel and family

“I’m sorry,” Allen replied. “I didn’t know that wasn’t known.”

After upbraiding Allen a bit more, Emanuel got around to responding to Allen’s query. He wants, he said, to expose his kids “to other cultures, other parts of the world, and one of the things that we want is for our children to know that the world has people of different faiths, different backgrounds, with different ways of living and coping with similar situations.” He noted that he and his wife, Amy Rule, had previously taken their children to Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Aha! This list of Emanuel family vacation spots explained everything. Obviously, Emanuel likes to take his children to places that are even more horribly governed than the city of Chicago – places with even higher crime rates, lousier schools, crummier economies, more broken-down infrastructure, and more outrageous levels of government corruption, graft, malfeasance, and all-around venality. Get it? This way they’ll actually return home thinking that their father’s done a terrific job in Chicago. Kind of touching, isn’t it?