- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2000

This country may have bid good-bye to little Elian Gonzalez, who, by the way, looks much less than happy to be back in the workers' paradise of Fidel Castro. However, the shock waves created by his case will continue here.

It should come as no surprise that the Department of Justice has released a 51-page report depicting the Elian Gonzalez raid on Easter Sunday as something between a cricket match and a quilting bee. After interviewing six key INS agents who stormed the Gonzalez home in Miami on April 22, the U.S. government after considerable reflection, no doubt concluded that no agent used physical force against any person during the raid. Nor, according to the report, did any agent brandish his gun in anyone's face. Nor did any agent release tear gas not even a spritz of pepper spray. As for curse words? The agents maintain they used nothing too strong for Mother Goose.

Tell that to Tony Zumbado, the NBC cameraman responsible for capturing the event for all television news organizations, but prevented from doing his job by overpowering federal force. He not only attests to having felt the blows of federal agents, but also claims to have been held at gunpoint, to have felt the sting of pepper spray, and to have heard the agents' blistering language "every bad word in the book," as he put it to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, the only news organization in the country to have interviewed him following the barely heralded release of the Justice Department.

Mr. Zumbado tells a story that shows how precarious press freedom can be. As agents moved in on the Gonzalez home, the 45-year-old veteran cameraman vaulted a fence and sprinted to the front door of the house. There, he says, one agent grabbed his camera cords, disconnected the audio, and tried to push him backwards. Managing to enter the house, Mr. Zumbado was then kicked in the lower back, knocked to the floor, and held at gunpoint as an agent yelled, "Don't move or we'll shoot." Meanwhile, Mr. Zumbado says that NBC sound man Gustavo Moller had been neatly incapacitated outside after an agent hit him on the forehead with the butt of a shotgun and dragged him to a fence. When the two men were finally able to rise, Elian Gonzalez was gone and there was no video record of his seizure. "I was left winded and in pain," Mr. Zumbado told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel this month.

Not so, says the Justice Department. "The video cameraman inside the Gonzalez home was not touched in any way by the entry team," the report says. "Contact with him was limited to one team member, who gave him a verbal command to remain seated as the team passed by the chair where the cameraman was seated." A verbal command to remain seated? The man was hospitalized for tests after the raid. No wonder Mr. Zumbado has characterized the report as "a pack of lies; a whitewash." In fact, it would seem that the whoppers in the report rankle Mr. Zumbado at least as much as the raid itself.

Mr. Zumbado, a disinterested party, tells a story that bolsters the testimonies of those inside the Gonzalez home during the raid, including family members, lawyers, and negotiators, as well as a story that's consistent with the record of an administration guided by the lawless belief that the ends justify the means. But he also tells a story that has been largely ignored. NBC, Mr. Zumbado's employer, gave it only the briefest airing almost two weeks after the incident took place. The network also filed an official complaint with the INS, but has to date failed to use its considerable might to press its case or even follow it.

As for the media in general, on whose behalf Mr. Zumbado was abused, there has been almost uninterrupted silence. That may not exactly be surprising given the extraordinary bias displayed by many news organizations against the rights of the Miami Gonzalez family and the Cuban-American community in general. It is nevertheless true that silence never serves a free press.

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