Knocking Down Big Media’s Hugo Chavez ‘Caricature’

NACLA has Latin America writer Daniel Denvir’s review (5/11/09) of a new Bart Jones biography of Hugo Chavez. In it, Denvir’s reasons for having “never been a big reader of biographies”–“the product of our most unfortunate and idol-indulging tendencies”–give way to the fact that some leaders’ “images become proxies for larger ideological, social and cultural debates–often to the point of caricature.” Denvir’s contention that “a good biography can take on this echo chamber residuum and tell a more reality-based story” becomes that much more urgent when, “in the case of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, this is a politically necessary task”:

The New York Times editorial board claims Chavez aids guerrillas. Ethically challenged televangelist Pat Robertson called for his assassination. And when talking heads aren’t calling him a terrorist, they take up the Venezuelan right wing’s cartoonish image of Chavez as hyperbolic and verbose buffoon. Admittedly, recent conservative attempts to provoke hysteria over the Chavez-Obama handshake at the Summit of the Americas seem to have fallen flat.

The Jones book crucially “takes on mainstream media coverage of Chavez and explains the Bolivarian Revolution’s victories–and thus its high level of public support” while it also “acknowledges that Chavez is a leader with serious faults… but methodically knocks down the charge that he is a dictator.” Denvir further notes that “conservative talk radio and mainstream media have eagerly spilled copious ink cataloguing Chavez’s sins. Meanwhile, far less attention is given to President Alvaro Uribe and the Colombian political establishment’s ties to right-wing paramilitaries, who actually kill their political opponents,” and suggests that “a comparative Lexis-Nexis study on the subject would be enlightening.” Well… see Extra!: “FAIR Study: Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington’s Needs: FAIR Finds Editors Downplaying Colombia’s Abuses, Amplifying Venezuela’s” (2/09) by Steve Rendall, Daniel Ward & Tess Hall