April 24, 2000

The Goon with the Gun

Is it possible that the pre-dawn raid overplayed the Clinton/Castro hand?

By Richard Brookhiser, senior editor of National Review . 4/24/00 1:05 p.m.

Elian Gonzalez's Miami relatives are lucky in one respect: none of them are dead. That puts them a step aside of the Branch Davidians, the last conspicuous recipients of one of Janet Reno's calling cards. It is a pity she could not have been Attorney General in the presidency of Franklin Pierce or James Buchanan, when federal fugitive slave laws were in force.

Is it possible that the pre-dawn raid overplayed the Clinton/Castro hand? There are signs in the New York Times that this may be so. The Times's news coverage of Elian's seizure has been astonishing. On Sunday they front-paged the happy shot of Elian and his Dad; a photo of a crying Elian being spirited from the house ran below it, straddling the fold. What about the AP picture of the goon with the gun, that gave a somnolent nation a jolt of recognition of the realities of this misunderstood case? That was nestled on p. A16, bordered by an analysis by Caryn James ("Images Are Everything in Media War") clucking at the Miami family for upstaging Janet Reno with a press conference. Those wascally welatives—masters of spin.

Today brought more earnest damage control: a hit job — p. A22 — on the Miami Herald ("Miami Herald Swims in a Sea of Outrage," Felicity Barringer). Their offense? Splashing the goon with the gun on p. 1, and being anti-Castro generally.

But there were second thoughts on the editorial pages. William Safire, who has been in favor of sending Elian home, found the AP photo troubling. He has a fondness for on-the-scene pix, having snapped Nixon and Krushchev holding their "kitchen debate" back in the fifties. The lead editorial ("Strength Through Restraint") was also disturbed. "In a society governed by the rule of law, the government has a duty not only to follow the law faithfully but to also to apply it judiciously against citizens who are not behaving violently." Well said. Now when the Times figures out that hustling Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba at Castro's bidding was not "follow[ing] the law," we may get somewhere.

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