Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Watching a Man Drown

There was a time when I could say I liked Christopher Hitchens. My father gave me a copy of Letters to a Young Contrarian, which I enjoyed a great deal. I particularly admired his skewering of Mother Teresa. But as many have noted, the slide had already begun by then, and he continues to spiral downward. Slate, perhaps for the same mysterious reasons they employ Mickey Kaus, keeps handing him more rope. His latest is an analysis of what's happening in Cuba right now. Cuba is my research field, so with some trepidation I took a gander. It's not that his analysis is insane - in simplest form, he asserts that Raul's ascension to the top slot, be it temporary or not, signals the culmination of a long build up of the political power of the military in Cuba. All well and good. But this, this is nonsense:

If there had been a military coup in any other Latin American or Caribbean country, even a fairly small or obscure one, I think it safe to say that it would have made the front page of the newspapers. But the military coup in Cuba—a nation linked to ours in many vital and historic ways—has not been reported at all.

The reason it hasn't been reported is because, to the best of anyone's knowledge, it hasn't happened yet. Is Fidel dead? Nobody knows. Was he pushed aside in palace coup and his illness has been staged? Nobody knows. Is Raul right now in a mad scramble to take advantage of Fidel's illness so as to pull off a palace coup? Nobody knows.

All of these things are possible of course. But Hitchens takes it for granted that the U.S. press is refusing to accept the obvious, when nothing, in fact, is obvious at all. I suppose picking on Hitchens is far too easy. But most American know nothing about Cuba, and so his uninformed declarations can shape a lot of people's thinking, at a moment when we need to be better informed about Cuba, not less. I have long said we need to be more creative in how we deal with Cuba, but not to the point of writing fiction.


lcreekmo said...

Hey, c'mon. Give him some credit. It was interesting fiction.

He used to drive me nuts in The Nation, back when he wrote there and back when I read that. Same reason: he'd be talking, talking, talking, and you'd get halfway through the column and go, "What the HECK???"

Della said...

It's unfortunate that the standard of journalism and even opinion journalism has slipped so far as to make avoiding fact and research totally acceptable.

News fiction definitely isn't a healthy thing (not to mention the sheer laziness of it), and splicing facts with opinion and spin is equally not good.

Great blog yourself, too, by the way :)