While most of the media have focused on the Jackie Kennedy tapes as they pertain to such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson, there are fascinating parts of the conversations that demonstrate the anti-communism of President John F. Kennedy. In this context, Jackie singles out The New York Times for criticism for helping bring Castro to power.
One reason for the lack of attention to these excerpts may be that they shed light on one of the worst performances of the liberal media in the history of journalism. Partly as a result of the coverage of the Castro revolution by Herbert Matthews, the Times correspondent in Cuba, the Cuban people have been saddled with the Castro regime, which once hosted Soviet nuclear missiles targeting the U.S., for over 50 years.
National Review had published a caricature of Castro over the caption, “I got my job through the New York Times,” alluding to how the paper tried to promote classified advertising to job-seekers.
A book by Anthony DePalma, described as the dramatic story of “how a New York Times reporter helped Castro come to power,” referred to Matthews as “The man who invented Fidel.”
Humberto Fontova’s book Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant explains how Matthews’ coverage helped Castro. “This is not a Communist revolution in any sense of the word,” Matthews wrote in 1959. “In Cuba there are no Communists in positions of control.” Matthews added, “Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he’s decidedly anti-Communist.”
Jackie indicates that the Kennedys accepted the view of one of their family friends, Ambassador Earl E.T. Smith, that The New York Times and the State Department were largely responsible for Castro’s rise to power and the fall of Fulgencio Batista.
Smith said that the U.S. government facilitated Batista’s downfall by withdrawing support for his government. But Smith also said that “Until certain portions of the American press began to write derogatory articles against the Batista government, the Castro revolution never got off first base.”
Smith said that Matthews’ columns “eulogized Fidel Castro, portrayed him as a political Robin Hood, and compared him to Abraham Lincoln.”
While JFK had no sympathy for Batista, he thought it was “awful” that President Eisenhower, a Republican, had permitted Castro to visit the U.S. after his seizure of power in Havana, said Jackie, going on to cite Smith’s book, The Fourth Floor, on how the U.S. State Department had paved the way for Castro’s takeover. The title is a reference to the officials responsible for Cuba policy who were on the fourth floor of the State Department.
Smith wrote that the Fourth Floor had a “close association” with the Times’ Matthews, “who gave the impression by his editorial conduct of advocating Batista’s downfall.”
Smith, ambassador to Cuba when Castro took over, spoke at an Accuracy in Media conference in 1979 when Castro’s communist comrades in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, were threatening a takeover of that country. Nicaragua was Cuba all over again, Smith said.
He signed a copy of his book to this columnist by saying, “To Cliff Kincaid in memory of ‘Accuracy in Media.’” It was a commentary on the failure of the Times to accurately depict Castro as the communist he was and the continuing failure by the media to factually describe the nature of communism and its adherents.
“We knew Earl Smith then, who’d been Eisenhower’s ambassador at the time,” said Jackie in the tapes featured in the book Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. “When we were in Florida—that’s all Earl could talk about. Yeah, then Jack was really sort of sick that the Eisenhower administration had let him [Castro] come in and then The New York Times—what was his name, Herbert Matthews?” Jackie adds, “I can remember a lot of talk about it and wasn’t—didn’t even Norman Mailer write something?”
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was interviewing Jackie, interjects, “Norman Mailer was very pro-Castro, yeah.”
When Schlesinger noted that Smith had written a book about Castro being a communist and working with the communists, Jackie replied, “Yeah—The Fourth Floor? Well, he was always saying his troubles with the State Department—I remember there was a man named Mr. Rubottom he kept talking about. And how hard it was—warning against Castro and how just it was like, I don’t know, dropping pennies down an endless well. He just never could get through to the State Department. So, I suppose he thought he was a Communist, yeah.”
Roy Rubottom was the Assistant Secretary of State at the time of Castro’s seizure of power.
Smith wrote in his book, “It cannot be maintained that the government of the United States was unaware that Raul Castro and Che Guevara, the top men of the 26th of July movement, are Communists, affiliated with international communism. There was ample evidence to that effect. I have shown in this book that it was impossible for Assistant Secretary of State Roy Rubottom, his associate William Wieland, and the Fourth Floor not to be aware of Fidel Castro’s communist affiliations.”
Wieland, the State Department’s chief of Caribbean affairs and a friend of Herbert Matthews, was accused of being a communist agent. Citing Nathaniel Weyl’s book, Red Star Over Cuba, Fontova says Wieland, who had partly grown up in Cuba, had been active in the Cuban Communist Party in the 1930s and had used the name “Guillermo Arturo Montenegro,” an alias he kept secret when he filled out a national security disclosure form. Wieland resigned in disgrace.
Analyzing U.S. policy, Smith wrote, “To make my point clear, let me say that we helped to overthrow the Batista dictatorship, which was pro-American and anti-communist, only to install the Castro dictatorship which was Communist and anti-American.”
Smith noted that, in a national broadcast on December 2, 1962, Castro declared, “I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the day I die.”
Although JFK authorized an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, Jackie alludes to the failure to follow through with adequate military force. “I mean,” she said, “the invasion in the beginning and then no air strike—half doing it and not doing it all the way…” The result was a slaughter of anti-communist Cubans in the invasion force and a victory for the Castro regime.