Are the Washington Post's editorial pages entitled to not just their own opinions, but also their own facts? This seems to be the case with the paper's commentary on Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, where editors and columnists have shown a disturbing pattern of inaccuracy and unaccountability.
In a November 24 column, Charles Krauthammer used a deceptively edited phrase in order to portray a Chávez speech as anti-Semitic. After chiding actor Sacha Baron Cohen for using his film Borat to go after small-time anti-Semitism in the United States, Krauthammer listed what he saw as more menacing instances of anti-Semitism, including:
The idea that Chávez was making an anti-Semitic slur was debunked when these quotes first circulated. (See FAIR Action Alert, "Editing Chávez to Manufacture a Slur," 1/23/06.) As FAIR pointed out, Chávez's speech referred collectively to "the descendents of those who crucified Christ, the descendents of those who expelled Bolivar from here" as one and the same, saying they represented the "less than 10 percent of the world population [who] own more than half of the riches of the world." Chávez was clearly referring generically to the wealthy and powerful; by Krauthammer's reading one would have to conclude that Chávez thinks Jews persecuted Simon Bolivar and account for more than 600 million of the world's population.
As American Rabbi Arthur Waskow told the Associated Press (1/5/06), "I know of no one who accuses the Jews of fighting against Bolivar." FAIR's alert noted that Jewish groups in Venezuela rejected the anti-Semitic reading of Chávez's speech. A letter sent by the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (AP, 1/14/06), a U.S. group promoting the deceptively edited quote, stated: "We believe the president was not talking about Jews," adding, "you have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don't know or understand." The American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress agreed with the Venezuelan group's view that Chávez was not referring to Jews in his speech (Inter Press Service, 1/13/06).
But is Krauthammer's smear part of a larger pattern at the Post? In April, Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wrote (4/10/06) that Chávez "has never enjoyed overwhelming support in Venezuela," adding, "his ratings have mostly fluctuated a few points above and below 50 percent."
As FAIR explained in a letter to Diehl asking for his documentation ("Ignoring Inaccuracy at the Washington Post," 5/2/06), Chávez has won three elections with totals ranging from 56 to 60 percent of the popular vote, and opinion polls registered support for Chávez from 68 to 71 percent—as reported in Diehl's own paper (12/5/05).
FAIR's reasoned letter never received a response, which raises a question about accountability at the Post's editorial pages.
ACTION: Please ask Washington Post ombud Deborah Howell to ensure that Post commentary measures up to minimal standards of accuracy. Please cc executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. on your correspondence.
Deborah Howell, Ombudsman
Phone: (202) 334-7582
Leonard Downie Jr., Executive Editor