Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Letter to "journalist" Gary Marx - UPDATED

Mr. Marx,

Is it typically a journalist's job to repeat a totalitarian regime's propaganda without any fact checking of his/her own? I was wondering that as I read your piece about Cuba's Museum of the Revolution. Your headline, "Cuba shows that history lies in eyes of beholder" (which I know you don't write, so perhaps you should also forward this message to your headline editor) implies that there is no fundamental truth to any historical events, that it's all a matter of perspective. That's quite a convenient way to hide the sins of the only unelected leader in the Western Hemisphere. You sir, are just as complicit in the Cuban tragedy as your predecessors like Herbert Matthews and Dan Rather. Instead of seeking truth, you choose sides and give aid and comfort to one of the worst human rights abusers of the last 50 years because of a misplaced sense of idealism. You sir, are what Vladimir Lenin is alleged to have described as a "useful idiot" ready to endorse Cuba and its policies.

No worries though, when castro dies the system he set up cannot live on without him. Then real journalists will go to Cuba and be unafraid to report what happened during 47 years of totalitarian rule and expose the shoddy job you and your colleagues did.

Good day,

Henry L. Gomez

In response to Alex whose comment can be read in the comments section for this post:

I can't judge Mr. Marx for previous articles he's written because I can't remember any. But that's part of the problem, each article needs to stand on its own. I don't know if he's even handed or not and this article doesn't do anything to convince me that he's objective. Let's deconstruct the article. What's the purpose, what does it really communicate?

The headline, which I admit probably wasn't written by the reporter, makes a statement that depending on which side you are on you believe a different "truth." Well certainly most events can be interpreted differently depending on which side you are on. But certain events or actions are historically true, period. For example we all know that JFK was assasinated. The who and why is somewhat of a mystery and the source of speculation and conjecture. A theory is a theory and a fact is a fact. So what's the Chicago Tribune telling us, that people have different opinions based on their politics and personal circumstances? Is that really newsworthy?

The piece goes on to discuss several historical events and figures through the words of the tour guide at the Museo de la Revolución. The author makes no attempt either confirm or disprove the statements made by the guide. Was Batista a Nazi? Did that US sailor really relieve himself on a statue of Marti? If he did, is that a reflection of relations between the two countries at the time? Is it true that Spain did nothing good?

Mr. Marx is very sly in his approach. He himself doesn't make any remarks that would lead you to believe he's biased but instead quotes the words of others. Like newspapers themselves he decides what to include and what to omit. If he really wanted to prove the point that "History is in the eye of the beholder" then perhaps he could have interviewed some people with a different point of view. Perhaps he could have interviewed Marta Beatriz Roque or asked the government for access to Oscar Elias Biscet who is rotting in prison. Even if he was denied he could have mentioned that fact.

As the reporter, Mr. Marx is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the reader. Since we can't be there he has to put people's statements into context. But Mr. Marx doesn't do that. In the vaccuum of context the reader is left to assume that all Cubans feel the way the tour guide does and the headline reinforces that. Without context we are left to assume that all Americans would feel the way the student who was quoted in the piece feels, if we only we went on this tour and listened to this man.

It's this unchallenged idea that Cubans are, almost to a man, behind fidel and his revolution and hate the United States that many Americans believe. So they are left with only one response "well if they are happy to live in a totalitarian dictatorship then who are we to stop them?"

There's no mention in the article about how central propaganda is to life in Cuba. How the tour guide was indoctrinated throughout his life. How the man can't make his living unless he sticks to the script, especially when talking to a reporter.

I only need to remind our readers that "myself" who is a contributor to and now has his own site was just one year ago a tour guide like the man quoted in the piece. I urge everyone to read the letter he sent a couple of tourists he met on the job after he was safely in the U.S. (The Letter is about 2/3 of the way down the page)

To me it's obvious that Mr. Marx either sympathizes with the official Cuban government view of not only history but current policy or that he cannot present a more balanced view because of the implicit threat of expulsion from the country. Either way, no article, would have been better than this article.


Val Prieto said...

I read that idiot's article and was about to blog about it, when I realized that every other word would have been the f bomb.

Great job on nailing his ass to the wall, dude.

alex said...

I don't get what's so upsetting about this particular article. Apart from the questionable headline, he's just reporting what he saw at the museum and what the people who he talked to told him. There's no "choosing sides and giving aid and comfort". It specifically says "...all from the perspective of the government" and that the museum is "...the official view of history" - which it's an indictment, if you ask me.

Nowhere it says that the museum's portrayal of history's is the "truth". What's there to "fact check"? "The spaniards didn't do anything good" "Columbus was an invader" "Cuba's government were puppets" - all those are quotes from some guide at the museum, his opinions. If anything, he confronts him twice.

There's no way the author of the article is going to read your email and not fell like "here's another Cuban overreacting". You guys complain about the "MSM" being sympathetic to Castro, well, this is certainly not the way to change that.

BTW, Gary Marx apparently is the Chicago Tribune journalists assigned to Cuba. Google him and Cuba. There are several articles and in the ones I read (about AIDS, the wet-foot dry-foot policy, etc) he presents both views matter-of-factly. That's what journalists are trained to do. What you want is an opinion piece, but that's not his job.

alex said...

- You can't judge Marx for his previous articles, but you can make a generalizing pronouncement that he's aiding and comforting Castro because of a misplaced sense of idealism and that he's a useful idiot ready to endorse Cuban politics, based on one article?

- Which one of the historical events he talks about in the article is not true or didn't happen? I'm not talking about the interpretation of those events by the museum or the guide. Those you have to agree that are subjective. That's the difference. You can't fact-check beliefs. You can challenge them

- Not everything a paper publishes is necessarily newsworthy in the sense of reporting news. This is just a slice of life article. I'd say that for non-Cubans it's interesting.

- Actually, he does say that Batista doesn't seem to be making the Nazi salute, but caught midair on a gesture - one of two or three times he casts doubts on what the guide is saying. And the American sailor did pee on Marti's statue. That's a historical fact and at the time it prompted a formal protest to the US from the Cuban government (Prio Socarras if I remember correctly). It was the individual act of a drunken idiot, but it did provoke a rift when the Cubans at the scene tried to beat him up and the other sailors intervened to protect him and later on the Navy refused to discipline him.

- If any time a journalist quotes from his interviewees you are going to assume he's slyly expressing his views, imagínate tú. Yes, maybe he could have interviewed people opposed to the government (which he does on the other articles about AIDS for example, which are a short Google search away). But let's say that "each article has to stand on its own" what purpose would that serve in this case? To say that the Cuban government doesn't include exhibits about Castro's crimes? Isn't that obvious? Or maybe a dissident would say that the museum is just the official version of history? Wait, that's already in the article. The point is that this is exactly the premise of the article. Many people in Cuba (more than you and I would like) believe this is the truth.

- Any smart, unbiased person can read the article and realize the guide is, if not indoctrinated, at least completely aligned with the government. Maybe he's just protecting his job or maybe he really believes, but for Marx to say "he's saying this because he has been indoctrinated" that'll be just guessing.

Yes, journalists that antagonize openly the government are expelled. That benefits nobody but Castro. I'd rather have these articles than no article - I guess that's where you and I differ.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

Sorry not convinced. I could write an article in which I quote a guy (and it doesn't have to be something crazy like a nazi or something) and have you believe that everyone in that town or area of the country feels the same way. He presented a very one sided view of the revolution and Cuban/American relations. He could have presented a differing opinion but he didn't. A slice of life story. OK whatever. It's cleverly disguised propaganda in my opinion. The objective is as I said in my update to get the American people to throw their hands up in the air and say "I don't understand it but to each his own". I have an agenda. I'm up front about my agenda. I write from a point of view and Mr. Marx does as well except that he's a lying sack of shit because he doesn't come out and say it. And I think having puff pieces about fidel and the revoultion is certainly more damaging to the cause of Cuban freedom than having no news come out at all. If Journalists have to submit to censorship from the host country it's not journalism. No rational person can say it is. This is isn't about inferences and what a person is supposed to assume. Slice of life, why doesn't he interview people that are standing line to get their miserable rations? Why doesn't he interview people that were interdicted at sea by the coast guard and sent back? Why doesn't he interview the families of the political prisoners? Why doesn't he do a piece on the independent librarians that risk everything to disseminate uncensored information? Where's that slice of life? He's the work for the Fucking chicago tribune for pete's sake.

Fuck man, I don't how else to say it.

alex said...

Well, maybe then you want to read this article by your much maligned Gary Marx. In Cubanet, in case you doubt the source.

here's a little excerpt, if you are interested to know what he really thinks:

"And there was the retiree from a state-run company who said simply, "People don't talk openly because they are afraid to go to prison. And you never know when the government will crack down."

I remember that conversation clearly. But I also remember not quite believing him.

Now I do."