Pat Robertson and Luis Posada Carriles have at least one thing in common: both reap the benefits of their work in favor of neo-conservative objectives that promote direct foreign intervention in the affairs of other countries. One works to disseminate and push ideas among the public considered beyond the pale and the other has a long history of terrorist acts employed to destabilize the Cuban government.
By the standards of the Bush administration’s pronouncements, both should be considered terrorists. Instead, one is given the verbal equivalent of a slap on the wrist and the other may very well receive U.S. residency this week.
Additionally, both cases illustrate the symbiotic relationship between mainstream media and the U.S. government. The media in this country serve to validate U.S. foreign policy through nominal critiques that rarely get at deeper underlying issues at hand.
Managing Pat Robertson
This past week, Pat Robertson ignited a media firestorm by bluntly calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. On the August 22 edition of The 700 Club, Robertson declared that “I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.” Public outrage immediately poured in almost across the board, from Evangelical leaders to Jesse Jackson to scores of us on the left. Within a matter of days, Robertson was forced to publicly apologize for his comments.
Throughout the entire episode, the Bush administration shrugged off Robertson’s comments as nothing more than a private citizen’s opinion. In fact, the Bush administration has a history of handling Robertson with kid gloves. In 2002, when Robertson asserted that Islam was a violent religion, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer refused to say under repeated questioning whether or not Bush disagreed with Robertson. Rather, he would only affirm the good opinion of Bush towards Islam, never direct comments about Robertson himself.
Pat Robertson obviously wields influence within the Republican Party due to his ability to deliver millions of voters through his Christian Broadcasting Network and the Christian Coalition. But the relationship goes both ways. He may have a lot of leeway in what he gets to say without rebuke, but he’s also a mouthpiece for ideas that Republicans don’t necessarily want to disseminate themselves. In this instance, they get to disavow any suggestion that assassination is in the cards while Robertson makes it a subject for debate among millions of Americans. That it’s even open for debate may seem shocking–but then we have to remind ourselves that the country we live in is anything but unified when it comes to the morality of killing people.
If the mainstream media were the critical outside force they claim to be, it would be reasonable to expect commentary about the overwhelming popular support that Chavez holds in Venezuela. But Robertson’s repeated referrals to Chavez as a dictator remained virtually unquestioned. Likewise, no observations have been made about our staunch support for anti-democratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Pakistan. There is certainly no acknowledgement at all about our own history of promoting assassinations and coups throughout Latin America, aside from quotes by Chavez claiming U.S. support of the unsuccessful 2002 coup intended to topple him.
A Bush crony, Robertson can’t be ignored because he speaks from a bully pulpit: as founder of the Christian Coalition and The 700 Club, his opinions reach millions of Americans every week. So, the media portray Robertson as so beyond the pale that one need not pay attention to him, all the while reaffirming some of his arguments.
Juggling Luis Posada Carriles
Now that Pat Robertson has apologized for his suggestion that Hugo Chavez be killed by the U.S. government, the mainstream media is quickly turning its short attention span elsewhere. It remains to be seen if Jesse Jackson can pressure a more explicit denouncement of Robertson from the Bush Administration. Regardless, nowhere will you find mention of Luis Posada Carriles, who is coming before immigration authorities in El Paso this week.
Carriles is a known international terrorist who snuck into the Unites States to avoid prosecution in Venezuela. Carriles, on the CIA payroll from 1961-1967 and a darling of the anti-Castro extremist Cubans in Florida, is a man who has spent most of his adult life plotting and carrying out violent acts to undermine the Cuban government. His most egregious act was the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight in 1976 that killed 73 people. During the seventies he worked as a Venezuelan intelligence officer, and also ran his own private “detective” agency in Caracas. In 1985, he was tried for the airline bombing in Venezuela but escaped the country before he could be convicted. Since that time, he has worked with El Salvador paramilitary forces, participated in hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997 that killed one person, and plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro in 2000 in Panama.
Carriles has been living without documents in the United States for most of 2005. Venezuela is seeking his extradition to stand trial once again for the airliner bombing, and he hopes that this country will be his safe haven. The United States has a long history of offering sanctuary to anti-Cuban terrorists in Miami, and it’s a rational expectation for Carriles to believe he will be allowed to stay within these borders.
But, as many commentators noted when it first became known that Carriles was here, his presence creates a sticky situation for the U.S. His status as an international terrorist is so well-known throughout the world that letting him stay here would be politically risky. At the same time, extraditing him to Venezuela would potentially alienate the strong Republican base of anti-Cuban supporters who live in Florida. The solution has been to move Carriles to a federal immigration detainment center in El Paso and to bring him before an immigration panel. In this way the administration seeks to defuse a potential political powder-keg through possible deportation rather than extradition.
The mainstream media plays its part by simply not covering the proceedings in El Paso. A google search shows virtually no current U.S. press on the Carriles hearings. His initial appearance in the United States created consternation and the usual hit and run media coverage. But now, despite his blatant credentials as a terrorist, Carriles may as well not exist as far as the media is concerned. Because his opponents have no bully pulpit, the media is free to largely ignoring a potentially embarrassing situation to the United States.
Mitigating Public Opinion
George W. Bush has made his “war on terror” the central bedrock mission of his two administrations. He is clearly hanging his entire legacy on this hook. For this reason, it is much easier to draw attention to the hypocrisy of these two cases, not mention the more egregious acts of terror we endorse throughout the world. At least, it’s easier from the outside. On the inside, the mastery of the Bush administration’s public relations team is on full display and our mainstream media functions like a well-oiled machine in their mitigating of public opinion.
Marjorie Childress works at the SouthWest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico.