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Press Reaction to
Castro Kidnap of 50 People

[Reference: News Tribune June 24, 1958 page 5]

Press reaction to kidnap varied

The press' presence was both a picnic and problematical for many during the 1958 Castro kidnap venture.  Point of view and objective - rather than objective point of view - made the difference.
Possibly the lightest-hearted among the press gang who never left the Navy base was Associated Press photographer Bill Smith.  He had little to do, except to try unsuccessfully to solicit film from the newsmen straggling in from the hills.

He otherwise occupied much of his time needling the homesick or reluctant such as a more mature William Warner's oft-repeated "a pox on both their houses," Batista and Castro condemned equally, would bring from Smith a statement he hoped to spend the entire summer at Guantanamo. The Navy was hospitable to the point of forbidding newsmen on board taking to the hills.  It also offered amenities such as the officers mess and clubs, and provided the some 250 newsmen present at various times with special quarters.

Naturally the newsmen's billet, Bachelor Officers Quarters 90, was christened "Playhouse 90," a then-current television production title.  The christening probably was with Heineken's beer, the most popular potable found, and in plentiful supply.

Possibly the most-harassed individual, even more so than Warner, was Navy Lt. (jg) Ralph Blanchard Jr., who would have preferred to have been in his home duty station of Washington D.C.

Blanchard was press liaison officer for the event.  All the newsmen's problems were his responsibility.  Lack of worthwhile facts, other than the hostages still were in the hills, and animosity toward the Navy for its enforced hospitality annoyed the visitors, many of whom vented frustration on Blanchard with repeated requests for useful information.

Blanchard's most vexatious problem, temporarily, was a telegram from Washington, presumably, directing him to acquire and dispatch a one-page biography and photograph of each of the more than 250 newsmen in his command.

Blanchard was so relieved that even he was amused when he found the order to be hoax by  Jay Mallin, Time magazine and Miami News correspondent based in Havana. Mallin had time for pranks.  he had been among the first into the hills and had brought out the first film on hostages, which was an exclusive in LIFE magazine.  --Tom Dunkin

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