Scoop Link: Debunking The Elian Myth
DEBUNKING THE ELIAN MYTH: There's More at Stake than Just
Propagating Myths Can Lead to Disaster. Remember Waco?
Jeff Elliott is the editor of the Albion Monitor.
Sometime before dawn on November 20, thirteen adults and two children clambered aboard a boat hidden in a Cuban mangrove swamp. It was generous to call it a boat at all; it was a homemade job soldered together from aluminum pipes, and powered by an old fifty horse-power outboard. Almost immediately, the engine failed. After rowing the boat back to shore for repair, the mother of one child had second thoughts and took her little girl to stay with a relative. The mother of Elian Gonzalez decided to keep her five year-old with her as the boat was launched again two days later.
Even if you have closely followed the Elian story, there are almost certainly details in the above paragraph that you didn't know. Fewer than one percent of the newspaper reports even mentioned that his journey began on a boat, not an inner tube; only two lone stories have noted how the deathtrap was cobbled together from irrigation pipes.
According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs' Newswatch, 360 Elian stories aired on network evening news in five months. If this continues, his will be the first story to surpass the O.J. Simpson record (431 reports in a little over six months of 1994). But despite this massive news coverage, aspects of the story have been widely ignored. Some appeared in the Florida press only; others appeared in a single national paper or wire service, but weren't picked up by the media at large. As a result, distortions and untruths are added without challenge.
It is particularly important to have rigorous accuracy in this story because the tale has become a powerful myth, and myths can be dangerous things. Not so long ago, there was an overarching myth about the "New World Order." Parts of it had grains of truth; federal agents at places like Ruby Ridge and Waco made mistakes that killed innocents. Thrown into the mix were other elements that weren't true at all -- government plans to confiscate guns, hovering black helicopters, and the whole conspiratorial mess. The result was the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Timothy McVeigh didn't kill those innocent people because he was a Branch Davidian seeking revenge; he murdered because he was waging battle against a myth.
The Elian story has generated exactly that sort of emotion. Since authorities took the boy from his Miami relatives, death threats were received by a deputy police chief who was merely seen in a car with INS and border patrol agents. Cuban-American jurors told a Miami judge that they could not consider giving prosecutors a fair hearing. The impact zone extends far beyond the community of Cuban ex-pats to any conservatives that have made Elian a Cause. On San Francisco Bay Area hate-radio station KSFO, for example, there is rarely a Hispanic voice heard, but still non-stop howling about the actions of federal agents in Little Havana.
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