The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, February 04, 2005
 

Objectivity, the New York Times and the Bay of Pigs


I'm just wading through a Spanish thesis [1] Distensión, Retórica y Propaganda en la Política Exterior Norteamericana 1962-1980 by the equally snappily named María de los Desamparados Guerra Gómez - which looks at the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and SALT II.

There seems - I'm no expert in the topic, and my Spanish is proving rustier than expected - to be a fair amount of unnecessary theorising for the lay reader; and, most unhelpfully, the American quotes are translated into Spanish [2]; but I'm persevering.

I get to a section (starting at p196a of the first file) dealing with news management in the run-up to the Bay of Pigs fiasco (emphasis in the original):
Claro que las maniobras planeadas y ejercidas desde la Casa Blanca hubieran carecido de efectividad de no contar con la valiosa ayuda de los propios media; una ejecución en la que los periódicos más importantes del país, el New York Times principalmente, jugaron un papel decisivo.

Only on January 30 was I looking at the Orville Dryfoos/Tad Szulc business.

The thesis (p198a) mentions the military preparations made for an assault on Cuba under fag-end Eisenhower - the flotilla despatched to the Caribbean and the base established at Retalhuleu in Guatemala for training the invasion 'force'.

An editorial in Nation appeared on November 19 1960 commenting on a piece by one R Hilton in Hispanic American Report reporting on the Retalhuleu camp; the Nation editors apparently passed the documentation they had onto the Times, AP and UPI. The agencies did nothing with it (both participated in the USG media campaign in Latin America - p203a).

A Bay of Pigs Chronology says that a piece by Paul Kennedy appeared in the Times (front page!) on January 10 1961 on the subject under hed U.S. Helps Train an Anti-Castro Force at Secret Guatemalan Air-Ground Base.

The same chronology says that La Hora newspaper in Guatemala had reported the existence and purpose of the base at Retalhuleu on October 30 1960.

Apparently (p200a), journos reporting for the US press (the Times [3] and Time are namechecked) in Guatemala sought and obtained a denial from President Ydígoras - choosing stenography over actual journalism - hardly a shock!

The Democrats' Shining Martyr carried where Ike left off: the thesis quotes John Kennedy at his April 12 1961 press conference, saying nothing in particular and saying it very well (in para 20 [4]):
Q. Mr. President, in that same question, you said that--you pointed out that this Government has indicted a pro-Batista Cuban. But I am not clear from your answer, sir, whether this Government will oppose any attempt to mount an offensive against Castro from this country. Could you clarify that?

THE PRESIDENT. If your phrase "to mount an offensive" is as I understand it, I would be opposed to mounting an offensive.


So successful was USG's campaign that, despite plans for the invasion being well known outside the US, the invasion was, according to the New York Herald Tribune of May 2 [5]
a surprise for the vast majority of the American public

It's the August 6 PDB title ('hidden' on the front page of the Post) writ large.

  1. It's a 60 MB PDF - in four pieces, starting here. For the other three pieces, change the filename (final element of the URL), S3012501, to S3012502, -3 and -4 - is that teaching grandmothers to suck eggs?

  2. The last two files contain copies of paperwork in the original language - sometimes photocopies of the original documents.

  3. Redeemed to some extent by the Paul Kennedy piece. Definitive condemnation would require more details of Times coverage than that given in the thesis.

    The chronology notes that, on March 17 1961,

    The New York Times reports that in the coming weeks simultaneous invasions will take place at different points in Cuba.
    On April 5, Edward Murrow (head of USIA) is told by a Times reporter that
    the Times has a very full story which, however, they do not intend to print
    On April 7, it prints the Tad Szulc article (as doctored following the intervention of Orville Dryfoos) under hed Anti-Castro Units Trained to Fight at Florida Bases. According to the chronology,
    The article overestimates the Brigade to number five to six thousand men but discloses that training has been discontinued because the forces have reached the stage of adequate preparation. Near the end of the story, Szulc cites CBS as reporting unmistakable signs that invasion plans are in their final stages. Following discussions between President Kennedy and Times publisher Orvil E. Dryfoos, editors shrink the story from a four-column lead article on the front page to a one-column headline near the middle of page one. Even so, when Kennedy reads the story he exclaims that Castro doesn't need spies in the United States; all he has to do is read the newspaper.
    On April 11, the Times
    runs a lead article by James Reston on a sharp policy dispute in the administration about how far to go in helping the Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro government.
    On April 14, Reston's column
    asks how far the administration is prepared to go to help the Cuban exiles.
  4. The third question in para 20 was
    Are we barred by our own neutrality acts or by the OAS treaty from giving any aid or arms to anti-Castro elements in the country?
    Kennedy's answer, to judge from the transcript, was an unashamed shuffle, perhaps with one or two Rummy smirks thrown in:
    Well, there are, of course, as I stated--there is a revolutionary committee here which is, of course, extremely anxious to see a change in government in that country. I am sure that they have-that they are very interested in associating with all those who feel the same way. Mr. Castro enjoyed some support here in the United States and received some assistance when he was attempting to carry out his revolution. In fact, some Americans were involved in the military actions with him. That latter is what we are particularly anxious to--
    At this point, one of the hacks seems to have jumped in to save any more embarrassment (if that's what it was) with a question on the West New Guinea dispute!

    There is (Q.22) a neat coda in the form of a question about the then upcoming special election in Texas for a replacement for Lyndon Johnson. The exceedingly odd William Blakley is namechecked: Blakley, it seems, was appointed in 1957 to fill Price Daniels' seat, declined to run in the special election (which was won by Ralph Yarborough); was beaten by Yarborough in the 1958 primary; was appointed to fill LBJ's seat in January 1961; fought John Tower in the 1961 special, won through to the run-off on May 27 - and lost, of course. He apparently neither sought nor held any other public office.

  5. I back-translate from the Spanish.


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