Rick ... or Red?

Could Rick Sanchez, Miami's most notorious journalistic windbag, actually be an agent of Fidel Castro?

Cafiero (voice-over): Simple hype? Hardly. Rick is very cannily baiting the most paranoid elements of the exile community into taking on the 50-million-member NCC, a battle the exiles can't possibly win. For maximum effect Rick keeps the heat on the church group: Nearly two months after talking to Newman, on January 25, Sanchez interviewed CNN's Martin Savidge in advance of the second scheduled meeting between Elian and his grandmothers.

Savidge (on tape): Cuban officials here have actually been quite strongly saying they are not in charge of this meeting at all.... [The meeting is] totally in the hands of the church group, the National Council of Churches. So they don't believe in any way the Cuban government is sort of articulating what is taking place in Florida or in the U.S. with the two grandmothers.

Sanchez (on tape): I have a document here in front of me, Martin, that seems to refute that. It says that this group, the National Council of Churches, is in such strict financial straits that it's something like five million in the red. That being so, who's paying them for these Lear jet trips all over the country?

New Times photo illustration

Savidge (on tape): Well, I can't respond to that. I don't obviously have access to the articles you do. It's quite clear that this church group represents quite a few parishes. It's estimated that the number of parishioners that belong in some way to the National Council of Churches is about 50 million people in the U.S. There is a lot of money that could be generated by these people and could explain how the trip is being funded.

Cafiero (voice-over): Here Rick is paying homage to another brilliant manipulator, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, with his "I have a document in front of me"-style bullying. Again, the exchange presents the exile community as being at war against millions of churchgoing Americans. Exile isolation can be the only possible outcome here. Diabolical. But it doesn't stop there. Like old Rocky Balboa, Rick keeps on fighting, sometimes with his own staff. Prior to the first scheduled meeting with the grandmothers, he duked it out with his own Patrick Fraser, who was at the Tamiami airport.

Sanchez (on tape): You say the grandmothers have been in a closed meeting. Could they possibly have gotten a phone call from Havana telling them it wouldn't be a good idea to show up there?

Fraser (on tape): Rick, it could be anything. Speculation here is that they are afraid to go over to Little Havana because --

Sanchez (on tape): Afraid of people with flowers?

Fraser (on tape, somewhat annoyed): Rick, I am not analyzing this. I am just telling you what the speculation is here. The word coming from inside here is that they have some concerns --

Jennings (on tape): It does raise a lot of questions. Questions about a call from Havana. Questions about whether they want to defect --

Cafiero (voice-over): Rick's speculation that Castro is controlling the grandmothers is totally unfounded; he simply made it up. Yet its mere broadcast supported conspiracy theories championed by paranoid elements of the exile community. While feeding this frenzy, Rick managed to convince his viewers -- and the family themselves -- that he was a benevolent friend. In this segment, taped just a few days later, he assures the audience and the Miami relatives that their futile campaign has been endorsed by no less an authority than God himself.

Sanchez (on tape): [Elian is] wearing a crucifix around his neck, something I'm sure Marisleysis recently purchased for him. The last time I spoke to her, to Marisleysis, she talked very much about how she felt there was a spiritual force guiding her through this. She's a very spiritual woman, [with] a very strong Christian faith. I think since she's been with Elian, I think she's talked with Elian a lot about that, something Elian probably will not get a lot of if he returns to Cuba.

Cafiero (voice-over): A few days before the raid, when it appeared that Juan Miguel Gonzalez would be coming to America after all, Juan Miguel's attorney applied for visas for the Cuban Gonzalezes as well as for several of Elian's Cuban classmates. Rick discussed the visa applications in another interview with CNN's Lucia Newman.

Sanchez (on tape): Lucia, as you might imagine there are some people here in South Florida who are being critical of Fidel Castro. What they are saying is if the Cuban government is really interested in the welfare of children, why would they take schoolchildren away from their parents and send them to another country to live with strangers, as the Castro government seems willing to do in this case. Has there been any comment on that at all?

Newman (on tape): Most Cubans think it's a great idea, really. The plan is to send roughly half the classroom with the schoolteacher to accompany Elian, who as you know is a cause célèbre.... They would consider it an honor, I think, to go there.

Cafiero (voice-over): A major blunder for the purported Cuban operative! Clearly Rick lets his own latent anti-American prejudices leak through. He thinks it is a bad thing for Cuban children to come to America? And why would this be? Possibly because he's ... a communist? He's afraid these little soldiers for Castro will be corrupted by America's rampant materialism? And of course any analysis of Rick's performance would be incomplete without the raid itself. This was his pièce de résistance. No broadcaster was more unambiguously angry. We join him early on in his marathon coverage as he analyzes the famous Associated Press photo.

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