There were a lot of bad days during the Cold War, but 54 years ago this weekend was one of the worst, at least for the United States. President John F. Kennedy sent an army of anti-Castro exiles backed by the CIA onto the beach at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs to suffer bloody, catastrophic defeat. It was “the beating of our lives,” the despondent Kennedy would say a few days later as he wondered aloud why nobody had talked him out of it.
One of the piquant questions of Cold War history is, could the Miami Herald have done that — talked him out of it? In a little-known collision of journalism and national security, the Herald, seven months before the Bay of Pigs, had prepared a news story saying that the United States was planning to launch a military operation against Cuba. But the paper’s top management killed the story after CIA Director Allen Dulles said publishing it would hurt national security.
“It’s hard to know these things,” says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, which has published several books on the Bay of Pigs. “But could a bold, dramatic story that the United States was planning an invasion have stopped the Bay of Pigs? I think the answer might be yes.”
The tale of the Herald’s Bay of Pigs scoop and its subsequent capitulation to the CIA has mostly been shrouded in mystery for the past five decades. It was explored briefly in Anything but the Truth, a book by Washington reporters William McGaffin and Erwin Knoll that was published in 1968 and quickly disappeared.
It all started with some kids throwing firecrackers over a fence in Homestead.