Extra! November/December 2006

    Imperial Mythology

    When it comes to U.S. press coverage of Venezuela, anything goes if it puts President Hugo Chávez and the movement that brought him to power in a bad light. But among the tangle of misinformation that passes for Venezuela coverage, journalists often tip their hand, telling readers something true: Chávez and the political movement that has gained several electoral victories in Venezuela are a threat to U.S. interests in Latin America. This is the real reason why Venezuela must be treated harshly, even if it means twisting facts: “Chavismo represents a major threat to American interests in the region, which ...


    The Myth of the Muzzled Media

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to "The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat."] Following Hugo Chávez’s September 20 speech at the U.N., which included a mocking reference to George W. Bush as “the devil,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton told reporters “the real issue” was that Chávez was not “giving the same freedom of speech” to Venezuelans (Daily News, 9/21/06). Editorials condemning Chávez and approvingly citing Bolton’s accusation appeared in several newspapers (e.g., Augusta Chronicle, 9/22/06; Omaha World-Herald, 9/22/06), but one pundit, John McLaughlin of television’s McLaughlin Group (9/22/06), challenged Bolton’s claim, responding on air, “Well, Ambassador Bolton, maybe they ...


    Unseparate and Unequal?

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to "The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat."] “Hugo Chávez is practicing a new style of authoritarianism,” Javier Corrales wrote in Foreign Policy (1-2/06). “Chávez has updated tyranny for today.” While conceding that Venezuela is formally democratic, Corrales went on to list some of the most common accusations against Chávez, emphasizing the supposed lack of separation of powers: “Chávez has achieved absolute control of all state institutions that might check his power.... If democracy requires checks on the power of incumbents, Venezuela doesn’t come close.” This is a common accusation against Chávez; he’s “eliminating all checks on ...


    The Smell of Success

    In August, the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program—popularly known as “welfare reform”—turned 10 years old, sparking a rash of articles looking back on how the new law’s emphasis on time limits and “work activities” requirements has fared. But even with recent figures showing poverty on the rise, by and large news media treated the program as an unquestioned success. Defining what exactly constitutes “success” when it comes to welfare policy has long thrown reporters. TANF was originally sold as a program that would get people off welfare and into jobs, thus lifting them out of poverty. Yet journalists ...


    The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat

    Hugo Chávez never had a chance with the U.S. press. Shortly after his first electoral victory in 1998, New York Times Latin America reporter Larry Rohter (12/20/98) summed up his victory thusly: All across Latin America, presidents and party leaders are looking over their shoulders. With his landslide victory in Venezuela’s presidential election on December 6, Hugo Chávez has revived an all-too-familiar specter that the region’s ruling elite thought they had safely interred: that of the populist demagogue, the authoritarian man on horseback known as the caudillo. Notwithstanding that interring caudillos has not been a consuming passion of Latin America’s ...


    The Propaganda of Silence

    The situation in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dire for both Afghan citizens and the more than 20,000 foreign troops occupying the country. Violent attacks continue to rise. Suicide bombings, unheard of before late 2005, are more and more common, with the resistance in Afghanistan literally importing tactics from Iraq. In fact, the first stop in the “Global War on Terror” is now proportionately more dangerous for U.S. forces than the more often discussed second stop: For the period January to September 2006, U.S. troops suffered a casualty rate of 0.4 percent in Afghanistan, compared with 0.38 percent in Iraq. The ...


    Wrong Numbers

    One charge that U.S. media have hurled at Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that poverty has worsened under his administration—seems tailored to alienate the populist leader from his natural supporters. Isn’t Chávez a leftist? Aren’t his policies pro-poor? progressives may wonder. What about all that oil wealth? Is this really true? No, it’s not. But that doesn’t stop the media from printing misinformation about poverty in Venezuela. It isn’t that opinion writers and editorial editors used false statistics or made errors in their calculations—in most cases, they used the Venezuelan government’s own statistics, as many editorials pointed out. Instead, they used old ...


    The Myth of the Muzzled Media

    Following Hugo Chávez’s September 20 speech at the U.N., which included a mocking reference to George W. Bush as “the devil,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton told reporters “the real issue” was that Chávez was not “giving the same freedom of speech” to Venezuelans (Daily News, 9/21/06). Editorials condemning Chávez and approvingly citing Bolton’s accusation appeared in several newspapers (e.g., Augusta Chronicle, 9/22/06; Omaha World-Herald, 9/22/06), but one pundit, John McLaughlin of television’s McLaughlin Group (9/22/06), challenged Bolton’s claim, responding on air, “Well, Ambassador Bolton, maybe they already have freedom of speech.” Seconding McLaughlin’s point, columnist Mark Weisbrot, ...


    Stay Obedient, of Course

    Interviewed about Iraq on the October 22 edition of ABC’s This Week, George W. Bush declared, “Listen, we’ve never been ‘stay the course.’” This was not a slip of the tongue but a White House line, as evidenced by Bush advisor Dan Bartlett’s assertion that “it’s never been a ‘stay the course’ strategy” on CBS’s Early Show the next day. The trouble is that Bush and his spokespeople had constantly insisted that their Iraq strategy was “stay the course.” Just one example, from a December 15, 2003 press conference: “We will stay the course until the job is done. . ...


    Letters to the Editor

    The Mideast Is Not Pinball I am a great admirer of your organization and publication, but I must comment on your August 2006 Update with regard to the front-page story on Israel [“Mideast Blame Game: Leading Papers Ignore Israeli Contribution to Conflict”]. Bias in reporting the news is always fair game and your criticism is generally on the mark. However, different standards apply to editorials. Your article treats the editorials as if they were news stories. You are entitled to disagree with the conclusions of the editorial writers, in particular their opinion that the recent conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon ...


    Gullibility Begins at Home

    The collapse of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 spewed an estimated 1.2 million tons of toxic and caustic dust into the air, enveloping thousands in a billowing cloud containing asbestos, fiberglass, lead and highly alkaline concrete, among other toxins; the dust settled thickly in the area around Ground Zero and seeped into apartments and offices. The fires at Ground Zero burned through December, releasing a constant stream of toxins into the air and into the lungs of thousands of rescue and cleanup workers. Nearly five years later, on September 6, 2006, the New York ...


    Myth: Chávez is Anti-American

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to "The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat."] New York Times Latin American reporter Larry Rohter (5/20/05) called Hugo Chávez “stridently anti-American,” one of hundreds of instances of U.S. news reporters branding the Venezuelan president with that epithet. Chávez says it’s not true; he says such reporters are confusing his distaste for the Bush administration with anti-Americanism. “The country is one thing—we have lovely relations with the people,” Chávez told the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth (9/25/05). “We have many ties between Venezuela and the United States—economic and social,” said Chávez, clarifying his views on the Bush administration: ...


    Ground Zero's Undocumented Victims

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to Gullibility Begins at Home.] On January 11, 2002, the New York Daily News reported that immigrants and labor rights groups charged that hundreds of undocumented workers were hired to clean toxic World Trade Center dust out of buildings near Ground Zero with no training in hazardous waste disposal and no warning of the potential health effects. “Most were not given respirators or other safety equipment,” reported the Daily News’ Albor Ruiz and Greg Gittrich, “and some who brought their own said bosses would snatch them away for themselves.” Some were never even paid ...


    Career Women, Go Home

    Can women have jobs and still be good wives and mothers? Mainstream media have been picking at that scab ever since women began breaking out of their culturally circumscribed role as wives and homemakers and taking on professional careers. But with his August 22, 2006 article on Forbes.com, “Don’t Marry Career Women,” Michael Noer made a particularly pointed stab at it, using discredited, dubious and downright bogus research to bolster his paleolithic perception that working and wiving don’t mix. He stated his thesis in the first paragraph: “Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones ...


    SoundBites

    Ignorance or Bad Faith? “I have a rule, which has never failed me, that when a writer uses quotations from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and the Left Behind series to capture the religious and political currents in modern America, then I know I can put that piece of writing down because the author either doesn’t know what he is talking about or is arguing in bad faith.” —David Brooks, New York Times (10/22/06) “We in the coastal metro Blue areas read more books and attend more plays than the people in the Red heartland. . . . But don’t ask ...


    Imperial Projection

    The horror with which U.S. television personalities and newspaper columnists have responded to the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s skewering of George W. Bush at the United Nations is just the latest in a long series of media portrayals of Chávez as a destabilizing force in the hemisphere. While op-ed pages scarcely mention the Bush administration’s continued interference in the internal affairs of Latin American countries, they regularly proffer unsubstantiated claims of meddling by Chávez, failing to recognize the hypocrisy of their selective indignation. Ironically, the op-ed pages’ accusations of international meddling by the Chávez government are often inconsistent with the ...


    Corrupt Data

    Accusing Latin American politicians of corruption is one of the most common ways to discredit them. President Hugo Chávez himself came into office accusing the entire political class in Venezuela of corruption, which made him very popular with many voters, who were tired of seeing their country slipping into poverty despite its enormous oil wealth. It should thus come as no surprise, now that Chávez has been in office for nearly eight years, that Chávez’s opponents at home and abroad should use this charge against him. A recent Newsweek article (7/31/06), for example, stated that Chávez has “fanned the same ...