New Developments in Honduras–Same Old Bad Media

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras, though not to office.Unfortunately, press accounts still manage to mangle the story behind his ouster, relying on those who supported the coup to explain what happened. In today’s New York Times (9/22/09):

At the time of his removal, Mr. Zelaya was planning a nonbinding referendum that his opponents said would have been the first step toward allowing him to run for another term in office, which is forbidden under the Honduran constitution. Mr. Zelaya has denied any attempt to run for re-election.

An Associated Press report appearing in today’s USA Today (9/22/09) was much worse:

The legislature ousted Zelaya after he formed an alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and tried to alter the nation’s constitution. Zelaya was arrested on orders of the Supreme Court on charges of treason for ignoring court orders against holding a referendum to extend his term. The Honduran Constitution forbids a president from trying to obtain another term in office.

This is inaccurate, not to mention strange (ousted for a Chavez “alliance”?). As economist Mark Weisbrot put it shortly after the coup (7/8/09), these pro-coup arguments makes no sense–and the media should say so. By the way, the example he cites is also from the New York Times….

Unfortunately much of the major media’s reporting has aided this effort by reporting such statements as “Critics feared he intended to extend his rule past January, when he would have been required to step down.”

In fact, there was no way for Zelaya to “extend his rule” even if the referendum had been held and passed, and even if he had then gone on to win a binding referendum on the November ballot. The June 28 referendum was nothing more than a non-binding poll of the electorate, asking whether the voters wanted to place a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country’s constitution. If it had passed, and if the November referendum had been held (which was not very likely) and also passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January. So, the belief that Zelaya was fighting to extend his term in office has no factual basis — although most people who follow this story in the press seem to believe it. The most that could be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.