The Op-Ed Assassination of Hugo Chávez
Commentary on Venezuela parrots U.S. propaganda themes
By Justin Delacour for FAIR - Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
After televangelist Pat Robertson publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias (700 Club, 8/22/05), the editors of several major newspapers were quick to denounce his outrageous incitement to violence. However, in criticizing the conservative televangelist, the prestige press overlooked its own highly antagonistic treatment of Venezuela’s president, which surely contributed to the heated political climate in which Robertson made his threat.
Even so-called “moderate” columnists have contributed to the deterioration of U.S.-Venezuela relations by distorting the Venezuelan government’s domestic and foreign policy record. Robertson may indeed be “just a garden-variety crackpot with friends in high places,” as the New York Times opined (8/25/05), but the televangelist’s erroneous characterization of Venezuela’s president as a “strong-arm dictator” is hardly distinguishable from, say, Thomas Friedman’s contention that Chávez is an “autocrat” (New York Times, 3/27/05).
In studying the opinion pages of the top 25 circulation newspapers in the United States during the first six months of 2005, Extra! found that 95 percent of the nearly 100 press commentaries that examined Venezuelan politics expressed clear hostility to the country’s democratically elected president.
Consistent with the U.S. media’s habit of personalizing international political disputes, commentaries frequently disparaged Chávez as a political “strongman,” treating him as if he were the country’s sole and all-powerful political actor. U.S. op-ed pages scarcely mentioned the existence of Venezuela’s democratically elected National Assembly, much less its independent legislative role. Commentaries almost invariably omitted the Venezuelan government’s extensive popular support, as evidenced by Chávez’s resounding victory in the August 2004 referendum on his presidency.
Mainstream newspapers rarely publish commentaries by political analysts who sympathize with the Chávez government’s policies of extending education, healthcare, subsidized food and micro-credits to the country’s poor. It’s nearly impossible to find a U.S. op-ed page with commentary like that of Julia Buxton, the British scholar of Venezuelan politics, who argues (Venezuelanalysis.com, 4/23/05) that the Chávez government “has brought marginalized and excluded people into the political process and democratized power.”
U.S. op-ed pages’ collective derision of the Chávez government reveals profound contradictions within the commercial press. While editorial boards parrot official U.S. rhetoric about “democracy promotion” abroad, they have refused to provide space for commentary representing popular opinion in Venezuela. In spite of the fact that recent polls indicate that Chávez’s domestic approval rating has surpassed 70 percent, almost all commentaries about Venezuela represent the views of a small minority of the country, led by a traditional economic elite that has repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government in clearly anti-democratic ways.
In presenting opinions that are almost exclusively hostile to the Chávez government, U.S. commentaries about Venezuela serve as little more than a campaign of indoctrination against a democratic political project that challenges U.S. political and economic domination of South America. The near-absence of alternative perspectives about Venezuela has prevented U.S. readers from weighing opposing arguments so as to form their own opinions about the Chávez government. Read the specifics