Up front, I'm going to tell you, this is a long story, and the pay-off doesn't come until the end, but it's worth telling, and I think it's worth reading, so give it a shot.
Back in 1980, when we were starting CNN, on our very first day, I sent Mike Boettcher, and our one and only mobile satellite truck, the only one in existence in those primitive days, down to Key West, Florida, in the hope that we could maybe get some hot live pictures of Cubans fleeing Castro for Florida, the promised land.
On April 15, Jimmy Carter had opened the American borders to all Cuban refugees, and Fidel Castro, in a colossal misjudgment, had agreed to let them go. Thousands and thousands of them, in small boats and fishing boats, took immediate advantage and by June 1st, tens of thousands of Cuba's most gifted citizens had arrived.
The three networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, had covered the story extensively--it was no longer news. But there I was, in Atlanta, with our "portable" five meter satellite dish mounted on a flatbed, behind a semi, all gassed up and no place to go. I considered two stories, Mount St. Helen's had just erupted, and maybe there'd be some aftermath, and the Cuban refugees. I was leaning toward St. Helen's, but the truck driver told me his rig wouldn't make it over the Rockies, so we went south to Key West in what I figured was a vain attempt to show something live and establish CNN as the place to go for news as it happened.
We launched on Sunday, June 1st, and we did cut to Boettcher telling the story while standing on the shore, searching the sea for refugees. Nobody showed up, but somebody, Fidel Castro, was watching from Havana. For weeks, Fidel, realizing that he was losing some of the best and brightest of his young Cubans, and looking for a way to end the exodus, was sending his worst and his craziest to America, to see what Jimmy Carter would do about it. But nobody had paid attention. Some miscreants were rounded up and shipped to Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, but most just blended into the general refugee population.
Thanks to us, Fidel saw a new opportunity. And on Monday, Mike called in from the Key West shore shouting, "Come to me! Come to me!" As the director switches to the satellite truck feed, we discover Mike, standing on the beach, and a great big Cuban steamship behind him, lowering lifeboats into the water. When the lifeboats near the shore, dozens of thuggish Cubans clamber over their sides, and wade right into our camera. Boatload after boatload they come and Americans' get a live glimpse of what our new immigrants look like.
ABC, NBC and CBS immediately chartered Learjets, flew crews and reporters down from Miami, and by seven o'clock that night, everyone in America discovered that his worst fears had been confirmed -- that Jimmy Carter was allowing murderers and crazies to mingle among us. The refugee flood ebbed, and on October 15th, three weeks before the Presidential election, the program was ended.
But what about the bad guys at Ft. Chaffee? Well, by coincidence, they had launched a riot at the Army stockade their on June 1, 1980. The folks in Arkansas didn't feel very good about it, and even though Bill Clinton raced to the scene, and the military ended the uprising quickly, the voters did not forgive Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, for imposing upon them a bunch of murderers and nut-jobs. In the 1980 elections, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both defeated.
And what does this all have to do with the price of tea in China? Well, why you do you think 90 U.S. Senators voted against providing the funds to close down Guantanamo? Because you, just like the folks in Arkansas, don't want a bunch of terrorists in your neighborhood, and no Senator wants to lose his job because he didn't vote against putting them there. Jimmy Carter probably would've lost his job anyway, because he couldn't get the hostages out of Iran, but Bill Clinton claims to this very day that the only reason that he's still not the Governor of Arkansas is that Jimmy Carter dumped the Mariel mess in his lap.