The Times David Adams Judges Dan Rather's Look at Cuba on HD Net Tonight
David writes: If you are one of the few who have access to HDNet, and are in the mood for an hour-long "in depth" look at what's going on in Cuba, you might tune in tonight at 8pm to Dan Rather Reports.
Rather was in Cuba in January to look at economic change under the new Raul Castro government. "We had access at the top levels of government," he tells me. But he didn't get the interview everyone wants with Fidel. Nor did he get to see Raul either.
Even so, it sounds as though he has put together an interesting show. He offers no exclusive revelations, and most of what he reports has been well covered in the major US newspapers, including the St Petersburg Times. Still, there's a lot you can show in one hour, and when it's on HD many viewers might find that more appealing that reading about Cuba in newspapers.
Rather says his aim is to provide the kind of nuanced look at Cuba that he says is sadly lacking in US policy towards the island. "What's lacking in Cuba debate is a recognition of the nuances and complexity of the situation," he says. "It tends to be black hats and white hats, and it's a much more complex picture there. In this country we tend to be fixated on Fidel and Raul. This is a transition period, and likely to remain that way from a long time."
Working for HDNet, Rather says, allows him to do the kind of foreign stories that the big news networks don't do any more, with the exception of CBS 60 Minutes, where Rather was a contributor.
Rather is well positioned to judge how Cuba has changed. He says he's been there more than a dozen times since the 1970s, and has interviewed Fidel maybe five times. He's also met Raul in the past. But it had been a decade since his last trip.
"When the Soviet Union dissolved Cuba was in as bad a shape as I have ever seen. They were hanging by their finger nails," he says. But things are looking a little bit better now. "Things have improved because they are getting oil and gas from Venezuela and selling nickel to the Chinese."
On this occasion he says he took his cameras to the countryside outside Havana to look at how change is coming to agriculture. This is a key area of reform proposed by Raul.
Rather's timing is good. Reuters reported yesterday that Cuba has begun decentralizing its state-dominated agriculture sector. Farmers are being told they can now make decisions about what crops to plant and where to sell them. Rather says he spoke to farmers precisely about these changes. He explains that unlike in the past they will now be able to opt to sell to private markets rather than directly to the state.
Rather will likely get hammered in some quarters for not dwelling more on Cuba's human rights situation as well as the lack of other freedoms. But that wouldn't be news either. And I don't suppose HDNet will mind it they attract some controversy.
Instead, it sounds to me like he has made a useful contribution to the better awareness of what is going on Cuba. Whether that makes for good TV we shall have to wait and find out. HDNet still has a small audience and is only available in 9 million homes. But it has been winning praise for some of its investigative and feature reporting.