W. Joseph Campbell

Canada’s CBC invokes Bay of Pigs suppression myth

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times, Newspapers on April 17, 2011 at 2:38 am

CBC News in Canada invoked the hardy New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth this weekend in a lengthy online article recapping the failed invasion of Cuba, which was launched 50 years ago today.

The suppression myth has it that the Times, at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, spiked or emasculated its detailed report about invasion preparations.

But as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, neither Kennedy nor anyone in his administration asked or lobbied the Times to kill or tone down the pre-invasion report, which was published on the newspaper’s front page on April 7, 1961.

Moreover, the Times coverage of the pending invasion was not confined to that article.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong: “The suppression myth … ignores that several follow-up stories and commentaries appeared in the Times during the run-up to the invasion.”

The CBC, however, invoked the hoary suppression myth as if it were genuine. It declared, in reference to the Times report of April 7, 1961:

“The Times had actually played down their story at the direct request of Kennedy, something both he and The Times’ editors later regretted. Shortly after the invasion, Kennedy reportedly told a Times editor, ‘if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.'”

No call to the Times

While Kennedy did not call on Times editors before the invasion, he did say on separate occasions in the months afterward that had the newspaper printed more details about the pending invasion, it “would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

Of course, such comments were quite self-serving. I note in Getting It Wrong that they “represented an attempt to deflect blame for the debacle” at the Bay of Pigs, where the invasion force of CIA-trained exiles was rolled up within three days.

James (“Scotty”) Reston of the Times later characterized Kennedy’s comments as “a cop-out,” adding:

“It is ridiculous to think that publishing the fact that the invasion was imminent would have avoided this disaster. I am sure the operation would have gone forward” nonetheless.

I note in Getting It Wrong that the Times’ pre-invasion coverage cited no prospective date for the invasion. But the newspaper’s front-page reports in April 1961 unmistakably signaled that something was afoot, that an attempt to oust Castro by arms was forthcoming. And on April 17, 1961, at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba, the invasion force of some 1,400 exiles launched their ill-fated attack.

The Times wasn’t alone, either, in reporting about the pending invasion. Its competition on the pre-invasion story included the Miami Herald, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time magazine.

According to a critique published in May 1961 in The Reporter, a journalists’ trade publication, the pre-invasion story “was covered heavily if not always well” by the U.S. news media.

So what, then, accounts for the emergence and tenacity of the Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth?

I write in Getting It Wrong that the myth’s most likely derivation lies in confusion with a separate episode during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Kennedy did ask the Times to hold off publishing a report about the Soviets having deployed nuclear-tipped weapons in Cuba.

On that occasion, when the prospect of a nuclear exchange seemed in the balance, the Times complied, holding off publication 24 hours.

“What likely has happened is that, over the years, distinctions between the separate incidents surrounding the Times and Cuba became blurred,” I write. “That is, it was mistakenly thought that Kennedy had called the Times executives about the newspaper’s coverage in the days before the Bay of Pigs invasion when, in fact, his call came on an entirely different matter in 1962.”

WJC

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