A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McCain Links Castro With Obama

Under-the-radar Web ad quotes the Cuban's praise but omits his criticism.


Summary

The McCain campaign has been running an under-the-radar Web ad that shows photos of Fidel Castro and Barack Obama, and says, "Fidel Castro thinks he is ‘the most advanced candidate.’ "

In fact, the quote comes from an article by Castro that was largely critical of Obama. Castro also complained that Obama views the Cuban revolution as "anti-democratic" and that Obama makes the "exact same" arguments used by U.S. administrations "to justify their crimes against our country."

Analysis

This ad ran for weeks before attracting notice in the news media on July 24.

John McCain’s campaign told FactCheck.org that it has been running the ad since late May on the Google Ad network. It’s simply a photo of Sen. Barack Obama alongside one of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, with the words “Fidel Castro thinks he is ‘the most advanced candidate.’ ” The ad has received greater distribution through stories about it on Politico.com, HuffingtonPost.com, National Public Radio Vox Politics blog and Fox News.

The words used in the ad, however, don’t represent Castro’s full remarks about Obama. They come from an opinion piece written by Castro that appeared in the state-run Granma newspaper and also in a translated version on the Granma Internacional Web site. Other media outlets, including Reuters, reported that Castro called Obama "from the social and human point, the most advanced candidate," but Granma translated those words as "the most progressive candidate."

Either way, the editorial is critical of the presumptive Democratic nominee and a speech that he gave to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami on May 23.Castro wrote that Obama "portrays the Cuban Revolution as anti-democratic and lacking in respect for freedom and human rights. It is the exact same argument which, almost without exception, U.S. administrations have used again and again to justify their crimes against our country." He also offered a summarization of Obama’s speech, saying: "Presidential candidate Obama’s speech may be formulated as follows: hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable hand-outs and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life behind it."

Castro had some nice things to say about Obama, too, referring to him as a "talented orator" and saying he had "great intelligence." The former Cuban president then added that he feels “sympathy for his wife and little girls, who accompany him and give him encouragement every Tuesday. It is indeed a touching human spectacle.” Castro said he had "no reservations about criticizing him," while noting that "[w]ere I to defend him, I would do his adversaries an enormous favor."

When we contacted the McCain campaign about the ad, campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said that the "purpose obviously is to highlight Sen. Obama’s pledge to meet ‘without precondition’ with the leaders of rogue nations like Cuba, Iran and North Korea in the first year of his administration." We’re not sure how obvious it would be for others, but it wasn’t obvious to us that that was the intent of the ad. It’s worth noting that Fidel Castro handed over the presidency of the country to his brother, Raul Castro, back in February.

Obama did address the prospect of meeting with Raul in his speech before the Cuban American National Foundation:

Obama, May 23: Now let me be clear. John McCain’s been going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raul Castro, as if I’m looking for a social gathering. That’s never what I’ve said, and John McCain knows it. After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions. There will be careful preparation. We will set a clear agenda. And as President, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.

Obama was also critical of the Cuban government, saying he would use the U.S. trade embargo to force Cuba to make changes. "I will maintain the embargo," he said. "It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations."

The McCain Web ad invites viewers to click on it to "Learn More." However, anyone who does so doesn’t learn anything about Fidel Castro’s views of Obama, or vice versa. Instead, viewers are taken to a page on McCain’s Web site that encourages them to sign a petition as a way to "Stand up to dictators like Hugo Chavez & Fidel Castro."

–-by D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Castro, Fidel. "Reflections of Fidel: The empire’s hypocritical politics."

Granma Internacional Web site, 25 May 2008. Reuters. "Castro calls Obama speech ‘formula for hunger,’ " 26 May 2008.

"Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Renewing U.S. Leadership in the Americas." Barackobama.com, 23 May 2008.

Stein, Sam. "McCain Campaign Running Obama-Castro Ad." Huffingtonpost.com, 24 July 2008.

Smith, Ben. "McCain links Obama, Castro." Politico.com, 24 July 2008.

Pierce, Thomas. "McCain, Obama… and Castro?" National Public Radio Vox Politics blog, 24 July 2008.