This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
On May 9, 1961, just a few weeks after the CIA-led debacle at the Bay of Pigs, John F. Kennedy met with a group of newspaper editors at the White House to chastise them for exposing government secrets. A New York Times article headlined “U.S. Helps Train an Anti-Castro Force at Secret Guatemalan Air-Ground Base,” published three months before the invasion, was a case in point, the president argued.
“I noted that the information had previously appeared in The Nation,” Times managing editor Turner Catledge recalled saying to the president in protest.
“But it wasn’t news until it appeared in the Times,” Kennedy replied.
Of course, The Nation’s November 19, 1960, report on covert preparations to invade Cuba was news. More important, it was an act of responsible political journalism. Not only did The Nation scoop the rest of the American press; it issued a direct challenge to “all U.S. news media with correspondents in Guatemala” to further expose the CIA’s counterrevolutionary operations— a challenge that the Times couldn’t ignore. “Public pressure,” as The Nation’s editors declared with prescient clarity five months before the failed paramilitary assault, “should be brought to bear upon the Administration to abandon this dangerous and hare-brained project.”
The Nation’s pre-emptive effort to inform and mobilize public opinion before the Bay of Pigs is illustrative of its long history of coverage and editorial positions on Cuba. Again and again, the magazine has run groundbreaking stories and potent editorials to influence the public discourse over Cuba and US foreign policy. At the height of the Cold War, when the Cuban Revolution became a central concern, The Nation even played a key role in back-channel diplomacy to improve US-Cuba relations. Looking back over the course of a century and a half of reports, analysis and editorials on Cuba, it is clear that The Nation’s brand of responsible, progressive journalism not only helped to shape history; it has helped to make it as well.
Just two weeks after its inaugural issue, on July 20, 1865, The Nation published its first Cuba story. “Emancipation in Cuba” promoted a plan for “the important matter of the extinction of slavery in this island”—a moral, social and political issue that culminated with Spain decreeing the abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886.