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Jeb Bush decries network's series of Elian interviews

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Calling 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez a "child of God," Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday said it is "inexcusable" for the little Cuban boy to be subjected to national television interviews.

"It breaks my heart to see a 6-year-old child on TV being interviewed about things that he has no idea what's going on," Bush said in an emotional, impromptu speech at a meeting of the Florida Cabinet.

Bush hasn't taken a public stand on whether Elian should stay in the United States or go back to Cuba, saying only that the matter should be decided by a court.

On Tuesday, Bush and the Cabinet voted unanimously to send a resolution to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for a full hearing on the case.

Elian was found floating in an inner tube off the Florida coast in November. His mother was among 11 people who died when their boat sank during a journey from Cuba.

Last week, a federal judge affirmed the INS decision to return Elian to his father in Cuba, a move Elian's Miami relatives are fighting.

This week, ABC's Good Morning America started broadcasting interview segments between anchor Diane Sawyer and Elian, subjecting the network to criticism that it is exploiting a little boy for publicity's sake.

"Here's a child who went with his mom and 12 other people seeking freedom. They left out of desperation," Bush said. "This child is a child of God in my opinion, to survive the Florida Straits as he did, and now, to be thrown into the international political realm ... it's inexcusable."

ABC president David Westin said the network is merely doing its journalistic duty by reporting what Elian has to say. Sawyer said Good Morning America even decided against airing part of the interview in which Elian says he doesn't want to return to Cuba. Westin said the network thought a film clip of the boy saying he didn't want to go back would be seized upon and used repeatedly by supporters of the effort to keep Elian in the United States.

At the Florida Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Attorney General Bob Butterworth was the first to bring up the Elian case, expressing outrage about the situation.

"It's been admitted by the INS that they had messed up this case from the beginning," Butterworth charged.

He said what's needed is a full legal hearing, so that all sides can make their arguments on the record.

"I think we're losing focus -- the entire country is -- on this issue," Butterworth said. "We need a due process hearing with one goal in mind: the healing of Elian Gonzalez, and to allow all persons who are affected to be heard."

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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