Thursday, May 3, 2007

From the Tellechea Archives: David Letterman Does Cuba

David Letterman's Feeble-Minded Fixation on Cuba's Dictator
By Manuel A. Tellechea
The New York Tribune
Commentary Section, p. 7
August 18, 1987

The pope and David Letterman are hoping to visit Cuba this summer. The sublime and the ridiculous, it is not often that they coincide, and when they do, it is usually on the plane of the pathetic. I have written about the pope's projected trip to Cuba in this paper and The Wall Street Journal (and I will have more to say in September). But for now, I turn my attention to the ridiculous.

For the benefit of those of you who have experienced no bout of insomnia over the last five years, David Letterman hosts a talk show that airs immediately after Johnny Carson's on NBC. Even more than Carson, Letterman owns his allotted time span (12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.), perhaps because he is the only living thing on television at that hour who isn't trying to convert us or sell us real estate. The ineffable Letterman — "Dave" to the initiate — has made a career of his bad temper and worse taste. When he does not insult his guests, he offends them. It is difficult to discern how much of this is real and how much studied viciousness. Whichever, it suits him, and, apparently, his audience as well. Anyone who stays up after midnight has either too much life or too little. Letterman supplies the deficiency or caps the excess. In that sense, he's become a substitute for milk of magnesia or the "hair off the dog that bit you."

I stumbled into Letterman by accident one night (a universal excuse, I suppose), while I was waiting for a delayed edition of Nightline. I missed Ted Koppel that night. Letterman hooked me, and with the only bait that could — Cuba.

Would you believe that he was phoning Cuba to "chat" with Castro about baseball and cigars, and to entice the Cuban dictator to appear on Late Night in person or allow Letterman to take the show to him? I kid you not. So far he has succeeded in "chatting" with half the Politburo, but not the elusive and reclusive Fidel, who never sleeps in the same house twice, and, consequently, never has the same phone number.

Calling Cuba is not an easy thing even in the best of circumstances. Castro only allows a fixed number of emergency calls through from the United States each day, and these must be re-routed via Spain, because there are no direct telephone links between our two countries. For Letterman, a call to Cuba may be a harmless prank. But it is no joke to Cuban-Americans who must sometimes wait for days to learn that the mother or father they haven't seen in 30 years has died in Cuba. Each time Letterman dials Cuba, I wonder what additional trauma his whimsical calls will wreak on innocent families separated by the very man with whom he wishes to confabulate. But perhaps I am being unfair. Why should David Letterman burden himself with our troubles? It is not as if he were a compassionate man.

Persons in his position have the objects of their sympathy dictated to them. Presumably, he wouldn't call Pinochet or Botha, even to remonstrate with them. And he would certainly not try to fandangle an invitation to Sun City or the Chilean Alps. If he dared to pull such a stunt, he would be immediately blacklisted by every liberal organization in the world (including the U.N.). Unfortunately, there are no reprimands for those who line their pockets at the expense of the suffering of the Cuban people. In fact, Letterman will probably be hailed as a trailblazer if he succeeds in taking his show to Castro's gulag (or, rather, everywhere but). He is just what the liberal establishment hungers for — a more precious and less precocious Samantha Smith.

I must confess that the prospect of Late Night from Cuba is as intriguing to me as it is repulsive. There is a regular feature on Letterman — "Stupid Human Tricks" — wherein Castro could be shown to (dis)advantage. In Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, Hugh Thomas writes that the adolescent Fidel would prove his superior manhood to his schoolfellows by driving his bicycle at full speed into a concrete wall. He is said to have performed this feat many times. Now it would have to be modified, since it is no longer in keeping with his "dignity" or girth. He could, perhaps, drive a tank into the Grand Canyon or off Morro Castle in Havana. Only then would I be content to see Castro turned into "a good sport, a regular guy." One "Uncle Joe" Stalin is enough for any century, though the detestation of Fidel, general among most Americans, would make the lionizing of him a dangerous stunt for David Letterman. Perhaps therein lies allure.

Letterman has been courting Castro for some time, but he is by no means his only American suitor. The mayor of Indianapolis — where the X Pan-American Games are currently being held — wanted to fly to Cuba to bring Castro back as his "honored guest." Secretary "Cap" Weinberger had to threaten to shut down the Games to dissuade the (Republican) mayor. We live in strange times indeed when to guarantee the success of peaceful games a symbolic Nero is desired.

To secure the "ultimate guest" for his show, Letterman has become an unregistered agent of influence for the Castro regime; he can do so because no executive looms over his head with a threat of cancellation. To give but one example of his "lobbying:"

Letterman recently showed a video of a dog swinging in circles over a pond while holding on with its teeth to a rope suspended from a tree limb. From a distance it appears as if the dog is not hanging from a rope, but is being hung by it. David, who was very much amused, commented that "this looked like something one might have seen in Cuba before the Revolution." For the record, the Cuba SPCA was founded not long after its U.S. counterpart. In fact, Cuba was the second country in the world to have an SPCA. It was abolished by Castro in 1961. Of course, it is not animal rights that concern Letterman. The dog in the video is a metaphor lifted from Coppola's Godfather II, where a grotesque act of bestiality takes place in a seedy nightclub in pre-revolutionary Havana, the kind of thing that is still very common in the farmlands of Dave's native Indiana. Letterman is obviously aware of, and given his willingness to publicize it, may also be assumed heartily to concur in, the racist and hypocritical conceit that Cuba was a den of iniquity before the Revolution and incorruptible thereafter.

But who is the "Ugly(ier) American?" The apocryphal tourist who buys sex, or the ideologue who buys into the lie of Castro's Cuba, and goes there today to witness and applaud the violation by Castro of the entire Cuban people?

Not surprisingly, David Letterman's pro-Castro propaganda has found favor with Fidel, who has pronounced Letterman his "favorite American entertainer" and rewards him with periodic consignments of Cuban cigars. How do we know that Letterman is Castro's favorite? We have it on the authority of his henchmen at the Cuban Mission to the U.N. Late Night producer Barry Sands has met with them on several occasions to discuss Letterman's itinerary in Cuba. They have assured Sand that "Castro is crazy about Dave" and never misses a show. Castro could watch Letterman on the satellite dish given him by his other great media pal Ted Turner, but prefers to receive videotapes of Late Night, which Sands is more than happy to provide. It must be the watermelons flung from water towers that appeal to Castro. Castro even might try that trick himself some day. In fact, he probably has already, but not with watermelons.


A Thought.... said...

Yet another reason that I can't stand (nor watch) David Letterman. The man is not the comedic genius so many claim he is. He's just another moron enamored of Castro. I wonder if the day Castro dies, Letterman would want to report live from there? I also wonder if he'll be wanting to chat with Raul next.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

a thought:

The article on Letterman was written 20 years ago. He has since (apparently) changed his opinion on Castro. He recently dedicated one of his "Top Ten" lists to the Cuban dictator: Top Ten Signs Fidel Castro Is Fully Recovered. Sign #10: "45 minutes of torture, followed by 45 minutes of cardio."