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A misbegotten get

In January, when Elián Gonzales said something as a plane flew overhead that sounded like a reluctance to return to Cuba, it quickly became national news and a headache that lasted weeks for the TV station that taped it, wplg Miami. What Elián said became a matter of interpretation, or maybe a matter of interpreter. No one could agree on what the boy actually said, and it didn' t take too long for warring factions to line up behind the interpretation that favored their political position on Elián's return.

Now ABC News' Diane Sawyer is taking some heat for her interview with the boy, and rightly so. TV journalists generally don't and shouldn't interview young children without the consent, even the presence, of a parent or guardian. But who is Elián's rightful parent or guardian? Isn't that the question? For all of ABC's care to put context to the boy's words and to avoid politicizing the so-called visit, the interview has itself been cited by the battling factions-including Fidel Castro himself. So, even if one accepts the notion that the interview was not itself exploitative, it has nonetheless fueled additional exploitation. If this 6-year-old boy has come to symbolize the quest for freedom or the importance of the nuclear family, he also symbolizes exploitation-by zealots, by politicians and by the media.