Longform

Rick Sanchez Godless Communist

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Sanchez [on tape]: I'm sure you can understand how, Lucia, so many people here in South Florida and in fact many in the country… [believe] it's not really Mr. Gonzalez speaking. It's Fidel Castro that's speaking for Mr. Gonzalez. And now we have this National Council of Churches speaking for Mr. Gonzalez as well. And a lot of people are wondering why all of a sudden the National Council of Churches is allowed to go to Havana on a moment's notice, an organization which is very well tied to the Cuban Council of Churches in Havana, which as you know is tied to the Cuban government. Are they beholden to the Cuban government?

Newman [on tape]: Well, I don't know if one can say the largest U.S. religious organization, the one with the most… I think there's something like 56 million orthodox and Protestant churches that belong to the National Council of Churches… that is in any way an organization that is linked to a communist ideology. I think that would be going too far.

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 Elián 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?

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.

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Robert Andrew Powell