NYT Corrects Venezuela TV Falsehood

VenevisionOn February 21, a report in the New York Times by William Neuman about a supposed clampdown on dissent in Venezuela started out with this bold claim: 

The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.

This struck some observers, like Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic & Policy Research (2/24/14), as totally overblown, since opposition figures do in fact appear routinely on Venezuelan television. As he pointed out, the Carter Center studied media coverage during the country’s presidential election last year, and found that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles received much more coverage than President Nicolás Maduro, whose campaign enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in state-owned media. Overall, Weisbrot wrote, it might be reasonable to conclude that Maduro had a slight edge in TV time when public and private TV channels are considered together. 

globovisionAs for protest coverage, Weisbrot shows that opposition leaders appeared on television as the protests were underway, in particular on Venevision, a widely watched outlet. 

So it’s not clear why the Times would suggest that there was only one channel that featured opposition voices, and that it seemed less likely to do so now.

 Writer and activist Robert Naiman wondered too, so he wrote to the Times (2/25/14) to ask whether they would print a correction. 

They would not.  Louis Lucero II, the paper’s assistant to the senior editor for standards, who wrote this:

We remain confident in the factual accuracy of the central assertion of our sentence (that the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year), but you seems to take issue with the less clearly disprovable claim that the new owners have adopted a less critical tack when covering the government. Accordingly, I’m afraid a contrary assessment from the CEPR doesn’t quite rise to the level of the empirical counter-evidence we require to correct a claim made in our articles.

This is an odd response,  seeming to misunderstand the complaint. The paper was suggesting that there was only one TV station regularly featuring anti-government views in Venezuela last year, and that it would be less likely to do so now. That is, at best, totally misleading. 

Naiman’s group started a petition to get the Times to correct the story. Lo and behold, the Times corrected the story: 

Correction: February 26, 2014 

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Globovision. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than any other TV station, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.

As is often the case, the correction obscures the central problem with the piece: that it reported erroneously that Venezuelan TV is a place where voices critical of the government do not appear. 

Interestingly, Neuman wrote another piece (2/25/14) about protests in San Cristobal, an opposition stronghold in the western part of the country. It included this observation: 

Nearby, a neighbor, Teresa Contreras, 53, flipped through the channels on her television, showing that there was no coverage of the violence, a sign, she said, of the government control over the news media.

Is the idea that any protest anywhere that isn’t being covered in real time by television is evidence of state control of the media? That would be an interesting standard to apply to the US press. 

Meanwhile, the Times ran an op-ed by Francisco Toro (2/24/14), a Venezuelan expatriate whose blog post accusing international media of ignoring a “tropical pogrom” against demonstrators in Venezuela was hugely popular on social media–despite the fact that he later described it as an “overstatement in the heat of the moment” (Twitter, 2/24/14).

Screenshot from Venevision.

Venevisión covers the speech that wasn’t covered.

Toro’s op-ed declared that “to the Venezuelan government, all dissent is treason”–citing as an example a speech by opposition leader Henrique Capriles: “Few outside the rally heard him, however, because government pressure ensured that no broadcast media carried coverage of the event.”

According to NACLA (Manufacturing Contempt, 2/26/14), though, Capriles’ speech was covered by both Globovisión and Venevisión.

Asked about the discrepancy, Toro (Twitter, 2/26/14) responded: “There was no live coverage.” Can you imagine living in a state so repressive that  speeches by government opponents aren’t covered live?


The Times‘ print edition ran a more comprehensive correction (2/28/14)

An article last Friday about concerns by opponents of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela that they have fewer and fewer locations in which to demonstrate and express their discontent referred incorrectly to Globovision, a Venezuela TV station. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than other television stations, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.

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.