W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Invasion’

Canada’s CBC invokes Bay of Pigs suppression myth

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times, Newspapers on April 17, 2011 at 2:38 am

CBC News in Canada invoked the hardy New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth this weekend in a lengthy online article recapping the failed invasion of Cuba, which was launched 50 years ago today.

The suppression myth has it that the Times, at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, spiked or emasculated its detailed report about invasion preparations.

But as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, neither Kennedy nor anyone in his administration asked or lobbied the Times to kill or tone down the pre-invasion report, which was published on the newspaper’s front page on April 7, 1961.

Moreover, the Times coverage of the pending invasion was not confined to that article.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong: “The suppression myth … ignores that several follow-up stories and commentaries appeared in the Times during the run-up to the invasion.”

The CBC, however, invoked the hoary suppression myth as if it were genuine. It declared, in reference to the Times report of April 7, 1961:

“The Times had actually played down their story at the direct request of Kennedy, something both he and The Times’ editors later regretted. Shortly after the invasion, Kennedy reportedly told a Times editor, ‘if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.'”

No call to the Times

While Kennedy did not call on Times editors before the invasion, he did say on separate occasions in the months afterward that had the newspaper printed more details about the pending invasion, it “would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

Of course, such comments were quite self-serving. I note in Getting It Wrong that they “represented an attempt to deflect blame for the debacle” at the Bay of Pigs, where the invasion force of CIA-trained exiles was rolled up within three days.

James (“Scotty”) Reston of the Times later characterized Kennedy’s comments as “a cop-out,” adding:

“It is ridiculous to think that publishing the fact that the invasion was imminent would have avoided this disaster. I am sure the operation would have gone forward” nonetheless.

I note in Getting It Wrong that the Times’ pre-invasion coverage cited no prospective date for the invasion. But the newspaper’s front-page reports in April 1961 unmistakably signaled that something was afoot, that an attempt to oust Castro by arms was forthcoming. And on April 17, 1961, at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba, the invasion force of some 1,400 exiles launched their ill-fated attack.

The Times wasn’t alone, either, in reporting about the pending invasion. Its competition on the pre-invasion story included the Miami Herald, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time magazine.

According to a critique published in May 1961 in The Reporter, a journalists’ trade publication, the pre-invasion story “was covered heavily if not always well” by the U.S. news media.

So what, then, accounts for the emergence and tenacity of the Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth?

I write in Getting It Wrong that the myth’s most likely derivation lies in confusion with a separate episode during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Kennedy did ask the Times to hold off publishing a report about the Soviets having deployed nuclear-tipped weapons in Cuba.

On that occasion, when the prospect of a nuclear exchange seemed in the balance, the Times complied, holding off publication 24 hours.

“What likely has happened is that, over the years, distinctions between the separate incidents surrounding the Times and Cuba became blurred,” I write. “That is, it was mistakenly thought that Kennedy had called the Times executives about the newspaper’s coverage in the days before the Bay of Pigs invasion when, in fact, his call came on an entirely different matter in 1962.”

WJC

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No one-off story: Reporting the run-up to Bay of Pigs

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times, Newspapers on April 7, 2011 at 7:46 am

The tenacious New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth centers around a single story that the Times supposedly bungled or censored in its issue 50 years ago today.

But reporting about the pending assault on Fidel Castro’s Cuba went beyond a single story. The Times and other U.S. news outlets reported frequently —  if not always accurately — about the run-up to the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was launched April 17, 1961, and was rolled up within three days.

The suppression myth has it that at President John F. Kennedy’s behest, the Times spiked or emasculated a story telling of preparations by U.S.-trained Cuban exiles to attack Cuba.

The suppression tale is untrue, however. The Times of April 7, 1961, was no artifact of censorship: It reported what it knew about the unfolding invasion preparations.

Szulc, undated photo (Courtesy Anthony Szulc)

Best testimony to that comes from reading what was published: Doing so reveals that the news report at heart of the myth appeared beneath the byline of a veteran correspondent named Tad Szulc; the article was displayed above the newspaper’s front-page fold.

The Times, didn’t thereafter drop the invasion-preparations story, either. Szulc’s report of 50 years ago was no one-off effort.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year:

“The suppression myth fails to recognize or acknowledge that the Times coverage was not confined to Szulc’s article ten days before the invasion. It ignores that several follow-up stories and commentaries appeared in the Times during the run-up to the invasion.”

Reporting by Szulc and others for the Times after April 7, 1961, “kept expanding the realm of what was publicly known about a coming assault against Castro,” I write.

For example, on April 8, 1961, the Times published a front-page article about the Cuban exiles and their eagerness to toppled Castro.

That report, which appeared beneath the headline, “Castro Foe Says Uprising Is Near,” quoted the president of the U.S.-based umbrella group of exiles, the Cuban Revolutionary Council, as saying that a revolt against the Castro regime was “imminent.”

The following day, the Times published two articles about Cuba on its front page. One of them was the lead story, which appeared beneath the headline, “Castro Foes Call Cubans To Arms; Predict Uprising,” and discussed the vow of the exiled Cuban Revolutionary Council to topple Castro.

“Duty calls us to the war against the executioners of our Cuban brethren,” the Revolutionary Council declared. “Cubans! To victory! For democracy! For the Constitution! For social justice! For liberty!”

The Times front page of April 9, 1961, also carried a report by Szulc, who described how the exile leaders were attempting to cover over rivalries and divisions in advance of what Szulc termed the coming “thrust against Premier Fidel Castro.”

The “first assumption” of the leaders’ plans, Szulc wrote, “is that an invasion by a ‘liberation army,’ now in the final stages of training in Central America and Louisiana, will succeed with the aid of internal uprising in Cuba. It is also assumed that a provisional ‘government in arms’ will be established promptly on the island.”

With those sentences, Szulc effectively summarized the strategic objectives of what became the Bay of Pigs invasion.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, none of the Times’ pre-invasion reports included a prospective date for the invasion. But they unmistakably signaled that something was afoot, that an attempt to oust Castro by arms was forthcoming.

Moreover, on April 11, 1961, James Reston, the Washington bureau chief, reported on the Times’ front page that Kennedy administration officials were divided “about how far to go in helping the Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro Government.”

Reston described in detail how the president had been receiving conflicting counsel from advisers at the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the State and Defense departments. Reston also identified the time pressures confronting the president, writing:

“It is feared that unless something is done fairly soon nothing short of direct military intervention by United States forces will be enough to shake the Castro Government’s hold over the Cuban people.”

Reston, I note in Getting It Wrong, “followed that report the next day with a commentary that addressed the moral dimensions of an armed attempt to topple Castro. His column noted that ‘while the papers have been full of reports of U.S. aid to overthrow Castro, the moral and legal aspects of the question have scarcely been mentioned.'”

Nor was the Times alone in reporting about invasion preparations. Its competition on the pre-invasion story included the Miami Herald, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time magazine.

According to a critique published in May 1961 in The Reporter, a journalists’ trade publication, the pre-invasion story “was covered heavily if not always well.” The Reporter added:

“Remarkably detailed reports were published and broadcast describing the stepped-up preparations” for the assault on Cuba.

Indeed, reporting and commentary about invasion plans reached such  intensity that according to Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, the president complained a week before the invasion, saying:

“I can’t believe what I’m reading! Castro doesn’t need agents over here. All he has to do is read our papers. It’s all laid out for him.”

The CIA’s planning for the Bay of Pigs invasion was cloaked in secrecy of the skimpiest kind. In the days and weeks before the assault, the Cuban exile community in Miami teemed with talk about an invasion.

“It was,” Szulc recalled about two months later, in testimony before a closed session of a Senate Foreign Relation subcommittee,  “the most open operation which you can imagine.”

WJC

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NYT-Bay of Pigs suppression myth: Check out new trailer

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times on April 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

Fifty years ago this week, the New York Times bowed to pressure from the White House of President John F. Kennedy and suppressed or emasculated a story offering details about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion.

Had the Times not censored itself, had it published it knew about the planned assault on Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the invasion likely would have been scuttled, and the United States would have been spared a humiliating foreign policy setback.

Or so the media myth has it.

What I call the New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth is a hardy, tenacious tale that is addressed and debunked in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

The suppression myth is the subject of a new video trailer, posted online last night by my graduate assistant, Jeremiah N. Patterson.

At the heart of the suppression myth is a report filed from Miami by veteran correspondent Tad Szulc and published on the Times front page April 7, 1961, 10 days before the ill-fated invasion.

Supposedly, editors at the Times so thoroughly watered down Szulc’s dispatch that when published, it was a mere wisp of what the correspondent had filed. Supposedly, the report was emasculated in New York.

But that’s just not so.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, Szulc’s dispatch received editing at the Times that was judicious, restrained, and well-considered — editing that had the effect of improving the story’s accuracy.

But it wasn’t spiked. It wasn’t suppressed.

It ran to 1,000 words and was published above the fold on the Times front page — prime real estate in American journalism.

Nor is there any evidence that Kennedy or officials in his administration knew about the Szulc report and asked, lobbied, or otherwise cajoled the Times to suppress the dispatch or water it down.

That notion, I write in Getting It Wrong, “is utter fancy.”

Indeed, I add, “the recollections of none of the principal figures in the Times-suppression episode say that Kennedy pressured the newspaper’s editors.

“These include the memoirs of Turner Catledge, then the managing editor of the Times; of James (Scotty) Reston, then the chief of the Times’ Washington bureau; of Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary, and of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an award-winning Harvard historian who was a White House adviser to Kennedy.”

Harrison Salisbury in his Without Fear or Favor, an insider’s look at the Times, offers a detailed account of the handling of the Szulc dispatch.

And Salisbury’s version is unequivocal. “The government in April 1961,” he wrote, “did not … know that The Times was going to public the Szulc story, although it was aware that The Times and other newsmen were probing in Miami. Nor did President Kennedy telephone [Times president Orvil] Dryfoos, Scotty Reston or Turner Catledge about the story.”

“Most important,” Salisbury added, “The Times had not killed Szulc’s story. … The Times believed it was more important to publish than to withhold. Publish it did.”

The trailer discussing the New York Times-Bay of Pigs media myth is the latest video Patterson has prepared on topics related to Getting It Wrong.

Early this year, he produced a trailer about the book and in Fall 2010 prepared a trailer about the media myths surrounding The War of the Worlds radio dramatization of 1938.

WJC

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