Nov
01
2007

Imperial Mythology

Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and U.S. media

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 […]

Dec
01
2006

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 […]

Dec
01
2006

The Repeatedly Re-Elected Autocrat

Painting Chávez as a 'would-be dictator'

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 […]

Dec
01
2006

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 […]

Dec
01
2006

The Smell of Success

After 10 years of 'welfare reform,' ignoring the human impact

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 […]

Nov
01
2006

Career Women, Go Home

Media return to a favorite obsession

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 […]

Nov
01
2006

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 […]

Nov
01
2006

Wrong Numbers

Distorting Venezuela’s record on poverty

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 […]