The huge, Earth-shattering Castro handshake

On Tuesday morning, the news headlines on the radio that I listen to while having breakfast mentioned that president Obama had shaken hands with Cuban president Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. I immediately said to myself that this would be treated as a huge story in our shallow media and I was not disappointed.

There was breathless discussion all that day about the handshake. Should Obama have shaken hands with Castro at all? Was it planned or spontaneous? What did it mean? Was it some form of subtle diplomatic overture, presaging a thaw in relations between the two countries? The fascination with the handshake only let up to allow for discussions about the president and two other leaders taking a selfie.

The fuss was even more bizarre considering that president Bill Clinton shook hands with president Fidel Castro back in 2000, so this was not even unprecedented.

The increased media obsession with this kind of triviality reminds me of nothing less than the kinds of things that adolescents fret about during that stage of life when romantic relationships are fraught with anxiety and every look or gesture is analyzed to detect clues about the other person’s intentions.

Jon Stewart shares my sense that our media is hopeless.

(This clip aired on December 10, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. says

    I had this discussion with someone the other day, before Mandela’s funeral.

    When most former leaders die, the foreign attendees are usually political allies of the country and the funerals end up as a “show of unity”, more stupid flag waving and political showmanship. Some leaders transcend such divisiveness and lead to strange (death)bed fellows.

    It wasn’t just the UN meeting in 2000 where Clinton and Castro met and shook hands. When former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau died, his collection of “dignitaries” were like Mandela’s a mixed bag rather than shows of “left” or “right” politics.

    The fact that such events are considered “newsworthy” shows how narrow the political range is in the US. In most countries, such meetings of differing parties and views are de rigueur and necessary.

  2. colnago80 says

    Re Gregory in Seattle @ #2

    Ole Gregory just doesn’t understand, King Abdullah is an SOB but, unlike Castro, he’s our SOB (President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Yes, I saw that. I am a big fan of the serial/Oxford comma for avoiding that kind of thing.

  4. DrewN says

    I’m much more outraged about the fake sign language interpreter they had who was randomly waving his hands around during the eulogies.

  5. mnb0 says

    “The increased media obsession with this kind of triviality reminds me”
    of the good old times of Kremlin watching during the Cold War. When googling Kremlinwatcer I learned to my amazement that this profession still exists.
    Since about 30 years it has become clear to me that Kremlinwatchers provide exactly zero relevant information. The same for Vaticanwatchers btw.

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