How News Media Shape American History

Mass media have always been a powerful source of shaping public opinion. Governmental and corporate media publications depend on the particular interests of authorities and enlighten the facts accordingly. Usually, the influence of authorities or governmental institutions forces the reporters to distort authentic information. When it comes to revolutions or military operations, journalists also do not have enough freedom to provide objective information to the publicity. Armed forces also consider the power of mass media in their strategic operational planning. Prevailing control over journalists puts a burden on censorship and destroys the objectivity of the information. Being influenced by the government, news reports tend to form public opinion and create history either during peacetime or wartime, which is evidenced in Teel’s book about the Cuban Revolution.

Famous political figures used to benefit from the power of news media and create images favorable for them. After Fidel Castro’s death, the book Reporting the Cuban Revolution: How Castro Manipulated American Journalists was published. In general, it describes the events during the revolution and how they were viewed by thirteen American journalists. Those stories are different, but the major focus is put on Fidel Castro, his revolutionary activity, his principles, and his vision of the future of Cuba. The book does not provide the detailed history of the US-Cuban relationship and its dynamics, it rather informs the readers about the powerful influence of news media on the perception of events and the image of politicians.

During the time of the Cuban Revolution, the Batista dictatorship was associated with severe censorship, so the press was not able to provide full and objective coverage of both civilian and military actions. Cooke (2008) concludes that the struggle between a free press and censorious officialdom is unbeatable, correspondents often need to comply with governmental directives, otherwise, their coverage will never be noticed by publicity. Batista’s reign was characterized by repressive policies, and news media could never report about that. In 1957 and 1958, given that the Cuban press was under the influence of a dictator, Castro could not utilize them to meet his objectives and gain popularity. These events drove Teel to write a book, which tells the story of journalists that reported from the Cuban Revolution and created the image of Castro as a great young fighter who confronts Batista’s dictatorship and corrupt tyranny.

Teel’s book comprises ten engaging chapters that show the reader the period of the Cuban Revolution and provide an explicit explanation of events. By 1957, four correspondents – Herbert Matthews, Jules Dubois, Robert Taber, and Wendell Hoffman, believed in their significance, providing the objective reports covering the events of the Cuban Revolution. They rushed into the camp of revolution in Sierra Maestra to meet with its leader Castro. While American journalists were convinced that they bring true and correct information to the world, the revolutionary leader took advantage out of the situation and created the needed image. The journalists projected Castro as the freedom-loving young attorney fighting against the dictatorship of Batista, sacrificing the comforts for the sake of democracy and free elections, which helped to eulogize him.

By focusing on the stories of thirteen journalists, Teel (2015) gives a deeper insight into the historical period when the power of correspondents was used to shape the historic image of Castro as a hero and a leader who fulfills the interests of the Cuban people. Streitmatter (2015) emphasizes that journalism does not only record the nation’s history but also actively shapes it. That way, Castro drew in the resources and competencies of American journalists to create his image the way he wanted to spread it internationally. Teel (2015) assures that “ideal objectivity evidently applied to American journalists only within the geographic limits of the United States” (p. 5). Owing to them, the reports in The New York Times made Castro an international celebrity.

Everything started with the striking report of Herbert Matthews in The New York Times newspaper. As previously, the press in the US reported Castro’s death on the local Cuban beach, the information of him safe and sound was shocking. Further coverage appraised Castro by creating the image of a strong revolutionary leader who wanted to save his people from dictator Batista’s influence. Undoubtedly, the international media also influenced Cuban national opinion and attitudes of people towards Castro. The power of the international press was harnessed by Cuban revolutionaries to craft and disseminate the image of Castro and the whole movement as a powerful force.

Taking a closer look at the historical events that occurred prior to and after the Cuban Revolution, it is evident that Castro harnessed the power of American news media to come to power. The major gains that occurred afterward include enhanced access to medical services and education decreased levels of unemployment, and corruption. At the same time, the national land reform had its implications on the US-Cuban relationship as most of the arable lands, owned by American citizens, was used to create agricultural cooperatives. The responsive actions of the United States resulted in the abolishment of the oil supply and sugar purchase. America initiated the economic blockade of the island, which deteriorated the US-Cuban relationship.

Critical examination of historical events together with book analyses promote comprehension of the news media’s role in shaping history. The author, Teel, encourages readers to think beyond the events of the 1950s. The facts provided by Streitmatter and Cooke (2008) in their books allow obtaining a deeper understanding of the interdependence of press and governmental influence. Taking advantage of the past and its lessons, a projection of the present and future must be assessed. While the previous decades are characterized by the centralized power of mass media means and their strong ability to shape public opinion, the twenty-first century offers alternative sources of news and information. People are more likely to pursue their interests by setting the preferences in the information flow. While national news media provide coverage of events, people in social networks represent their reports. Thus, anyone can investigate and analyze the issue by comparing the facts from traditional and social media means, and make the appropriate conclusions.

Traditional news media tend to shape public opinion during peacetime and wartime. Governments and authorities usually harness the power of mass media for their benefit. Teel’s book reveals the story of Fidel Castro who engaged thirteen journalists from the US to create a favorable international image as Batista’s dictatorship imposed censorship on the local press during the Cuban Revolution. In The New York Times reports, Castro was described as a freedom-loving attorney fighting against Batista’s regime, which made him an international celebrity. When in power, the revolutionary leader implemented major improvements in the healthcare and educational sphere, however, the land reform negatively influenced the US-Cuban relationship. While traditional news media tend to shape history, social media may offer alternatives.

References

Cooke, J. B. (2008). Reporting the War: Freedom of the press from the American Revolution to the war on terrorism. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Streitmatter, R. (2015). Mightier than the Sword: How the news media have shaped American history. London, UK: Routledge.

Teel, L. R. (2015). Reporting the Cuban Revolution: How Castro manipulated American journalists. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press.

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