Jun 6 2003

Financial Times Reporter ‘Can’t Possibly Be Neutral’

Francisco Toro

Francisco Toro

In January, New York Times Venezuela correspondent Francisco Toro resigned his post after acknowledging that he “can’t possibly be neutral” about the political situation in that country (Narco News Bulletin, 1/14/03). Now the same reporter is covering Venezuela for another prestigious paper, the Financial Times, contributing reports on May 29 and June 3.

The Financial Times is a London-based, business-oriented daily; most of its circulation is outside of Britain, with a quarter of its sales in the United States.

Toro is a fierce partisan in Venezuela’s heated political environment, a participant in anti-government protests who posts name-calling attacks on President Hugo Chavez on his website. He describes himself as a “Venezuelan journalist opposed to Hugo Chavez” (Mother Jones, 3/1/03), and has written frankly about what he perceives as his own inability to impartially report the news from Venezuela.

While all journalists have political opinions, Toro described himself as unable to put aside his strong feelings about Chavez and cover the Venezuelan controversy without prejudice. After a Times editor indicated that his anti-government weblog was unacceptable, Toro responded:

I’ve decided I can’t continue reporting for the New York Times…. I realize it would take much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict-of-interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don’t think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands…. My country’s democracy is in peril now, and I can’t possibly be neutral about that.

A look at his Toro’s weblog (http://caracaschronicles.blogspot.com) reveals a deep personal antipathy toward Chavez. “As his face contorts and the bombastic nonsense spews out in thicker and thicker densities, it’s impossible not to wonder about the man’s mental health,” he wrote in a January 11 post. In a January 28 entry Chavez was called Venezuela’s “Narcissist-in-Chief,” and Toro insisted that the president’s behavior matched the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (Toro also has strong criticisms of Venezuela’s opposition movement, calling it “shrill and vacuous” in a May 4 post that also called Chavez a “two-bit tropical despot wannabe” with a “mind-numbingly incompetent” government.)

Toro has declared the international press soft on Chavez, saying that “he’s obviously getting off way too easy at present” (1/7/03).

ACTION: Please write to the editors of the Financial Times and ask if Francisco Toro’s statement that he “can’t possibly be neutral” about Venezuelan politics is consistent with the Financial Times‘ journalistic standards.

Financial Times