TASTE COMMENTARY
Mum's the Word
Hollywood celebs may not quite be pro-Saddam, but there's one tyrant they love.

BY ANDREW BREITBART
Friday, April 11, 2003 12:01 a.m.
http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110003325

Thousands of jubilant Iraqis, ready for a brand-new beat, dance in the street to celebrate the toppling of a brutal dictator whose tyranny has lasted 24 years but not 24 hours more. Preoccupied with the dramatic image of a noose around Saddam's neck as he is dragged to the ground in Baghdad's al-Fardous square (a 20-foot metal statue of Saddam, that is), the world largely overlooks the news of another dictator, Cuba's Fidel Castro, so far besting the Iraqi tyrant's run by 20 years and counting.

This week Castro continued his crackdown on dissidents with the speedy conviction of at least 74 nonviolent government opponents in nonpublic kangaroo-court proceedings. Rounded up last month, the jailed independent journalists and pro-democracy activists, including reporter-photographer Omar Rodriguez Saludes, writer Raul Rivero and magazine editor Ricardo Gonzalez, received sentences of up to 27 years each.

The U.S. State Department called the actions "the most egregious act of political repression in Cuba in the last decade." Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa said that Castro's draconian crackdown was the "natural progression of a dictatorship that has been oppressing human rights for years." The House passed a condemning resolution, 414-0, and Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and International PEN, among others, joined the chorus of condemnation.

Not, though, the Castro Faithful--the media moguls, celebrity journalists, filmmakers and Hollywood glitterati who continue to break bread with the Cuban dictator and idolize him as "one hell of a guy," in Ted Turner's words. No, they were silent. And given protest-happy Hollywood's long love affair with the unelected "President" Fidel--"one of the most mysterious leaders in the world," cooed Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20" in October, as she puffed up his "personal magnetism" and supposed social triumphs--it's unlikely that there will be any expression of disapproval from these quarters soon.

As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote this week, Castro can rely on "the unswerving na´vetÚ and obtuseness of the American left, which consistently has managed to overlook what a goon he is." The list of those willing to keep Castro's good company, and remain silent when his actions revert to type, includes rich and famous celebrities who troop to Havana to pay their respects to the rich and famous dictator.

 

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Perhaps they don't know any better, as they return with Cuban cigars and fawning praise: "It was an experience of a lifetime" (Kevin Costner); "he is a genius" (Jack Nicholson); a "source of inspiration to the world" (Naomi Campbell). But people who should know better make the pilgrimage too. Director Steven Spielberg, founder of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and winner of an Academy Award for illuminating the horrors of the Holocaust, described his meeting with Castro in November as "the eight most important hours of my life." Never forget, indeed.

This week, as reported in Newsweek International's Global Buzz column, a pack of New York media VIPs, each willing to pony up $6,500 for travel costs, are set to jet to Cuba with Yoko Ono to meet with the Bearded One, just as his crackdown hits overdrive. Slate's blogger Mickey Kaus shrewdly comments: "It's especially ironic that press and publishing executives are paying an enormous premium to meet with a man who is busy jailing journalists and writers for being journalists and writers."

Yoko and Co.'s trek is not the first such jaunt to the land of the Buena Vista Social Club. Remember the February 2001 excursion of CBS President and CEO Les Moonves and his fellow travelers, MTV Networks Chairman Tom "Rock the Vote" Freston, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and other well-heeled media executives? Their four-day trip to Cuba, which naturally included a private dinner with Fidel, became the subject of a New York Post article and of quips from CBS employee David Letterman: "On the one hand, you have the ruthless dictator surrounded by sniveling 'yes' men, and then on the other hand, of course, you have Fidel Castro."

What were they thinking? And what are their thoughts now that the totalitarian communist dictator they so politely respected is acting so strikingly dictatorial? Requests to Ms. Walters, Mr. Carter and Mr. Turner for an explanation were left unresponded to, while Mr. Moonves's and Mr. Freston's offices went on record not to go on the record. Andy Spahn, a Spielberg rep at Dreamworks, said that the director was in pre-production and could not be reached for comment. Mr. Spahn went on to say, though, that the recent crackdown had been "provoked" by James Cason, a U.S. diplomat in Havana, who is reported to have met with Cuban dissidents in their homes in February.

Talk about "shock and awe"! It is indeed shocking to note the ease with which the Castro Faithful shy away from protesting his actions or correcting their sycophantic statements--or, in Mr. Spahn's case, put forward a blame-the-victim theory. Shocking too are the products of fawning tribute that continue to materialize, such as Estela Bravo's adoring documentary "Fidel" and the documentary "Comandante," directed by Oliver Stone and Fidel Castro himself, who was given the power to stop filming at will.

The Stone film, set to be broadcast on HBO in May, will supposedly show the human side of Castro, a man who is "one of the Earth's wisest people," as Mr. Stone said at a press conference in February. In "Comandante," we are told, Castro finally reveals his true views about shaving, his love of recent films such as "Titanic" and "Gladiator" (just don't ask how he got a hold of copies of the films under the U.S. economic embargo), and his great appreciation for Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren. Shocking indeed. Given the harshness of the recent dissident crackdown, the release date of the film seems awkward at best. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.

 

 

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Why is this thug still the darling of the media elite? Why is it so unwilling to protest his dictatorial moves? As Marxist ideologue Groucho would say, a child of five would understand this; send someone to fetch a child of five.

Perhaps Castro represents a wish-fulfillment fantasy. A romantic, intellectual revolutionary achieves iconic status, absolute power, great wealth and a 40-year-plus reign--quite an appealing vision to ambitious people in industries with high career mortality rates. But who knows? The Faithful aren't talking.
Mr. Breitbart, with journalist Mark Ebner, is the author of the forthcoming "Hollywood, Interrupted" (Wiley).