Orbitz: CFR’s Stealth Messenger

If the Council on Foreign Relations [CFR], a reliable policy group on the political left, came out against restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, no one would bat an eye, it’s a given. But what if they got someone else to do it and not mention the connection to CFR? That might be ‘news,’ or a sufficient fig-leaf for like-minded media to run with the story.

The decoy was Orbitz [OWW], an online travel agency, and the initial [or the earliest dateline I saw] media tool was The Chicago Tribune. The Tribune played their role dutifully, the article described Orbitz’s decision process as follows:

Orbitz created its Cuba campaign in Internet speed. Energized by a White House visit with the president in March, [CEO] Harford decided to rally his company behind a social cause and selected Cuba. His engineers built the Web site in just two weeks.

Orbitz is owned by The Blackstone Group, a private investment banking firm. No one whose bosses include institutional investors, especially one as powerful as Blackstone and Peterson, would ever pretend to take a company down such an overtly political path unless he had the blessings, if not outright specific instructions, to do so.

Peter G. Peterson is Senior Chairman and Co-Founder of The Blackstone Group. Mr Peterson is also Chairman Emeritus, at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr Peterson is a big supporter of people like Julia Sweig, the CFR’s woman in Havana and the journalist Matthew Cooper [note the number of Peterson and Cuba related topics in his recent columns] . In short, the politics of all the above are aligned with removing travel restrictions to Cuba. Orbitz was a most useful messenger [and least likely architect of the message], because it gave the story a business angle, instead of a typical position by a political think tank.

Whenever you see a mention of this story, make a note if they address why Orbitz would have taken such a political position and the CFR connection. That connection is critical, because it places it in the context of politics, the hook in the story is that a business is taking the lead in addressing a political issue [man bites dog].

Particularly interesting [i.e. displaying a 'Bambi-ish' innocence] is the attempt to ascribe the decision to the company’s ‘energetic’ 37 year-old president, Barney Harford, who “fell in love with Cuba in a trip to Cuba in 1997 .” Must have been one of those magical congressional delegation trips, the reviews of which are always through the roof.

But back to Orbitz. Their web site has a link to learn more about Cuba. Here is their Cuba Overview [the content of which they attribute to Frommers]:

Cuba is unlike any other place on earth. What draws people to this fascinating Caribbean island is much more than beaches, sun, and cheap drinks, though there are plenty of all three for those who want them. One of the last Communist-bloc nations left, it doesn’t suffer from the drab and desultory demeanor of its disappeared peers. Cuba’s rich culture, unique political history, and continued survival through ongoing economic hardship make it one of the most eye-opening countries that experienced travelers can still discover. Seeing the best of Cuba means grooving to its intoxicating music, marveling at how Cubans improvise on a daily basis to make ends meet, and visiting a land in which the past 50 years seem to have passed by in some odd sort of state of frozen animation.

So much for high-minded efforts at defeating a dictator with dollars. The message brought to you by the CFR, courtesy of various MSM outlets, via Orbitz and Frommers does not seem to be too concerned with the Cuban people or the need for change. Based on that last paragraph, if Orbitz were less politically correct, their travel brochure might say the following:

  • A warm-weather Communist-bloc failure on display just minutes from us. Ideal for you Snowbirds who vowed never to touch the white stuff again.
  • Forget Paris on $100 a night, these people survive on $17 a year. Seriously, you gotta see it up close. Make sure to ask about ‘La Cuchufleta.’
  • Love old movies? Wish you could have been in one? Orbitz has got the next best thing. We’ll arrange your trip to a country so locked in time, you’ll swear you just saw Hyman Roth walk past you.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s an actual teaser on the web site:

Any time now, the world’s last Communist stronghold will be open for adventure. But for an overzealous kayaker, that’s way too long to wait.

Bottom line, given the Peterson connection, for independent journalists to have kept Blackstone / Peterson / CFR out of the story, is an example of how bias is practiced in the media. Below are the list of sources I saw mention or link the story without addressing the CFR connection.

Just another day on the Cuba dilettantes watch.

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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