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

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 […]

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 […]

Nov 01 2006

Corrupt Data

Taking on the claim that Chávez is on the take

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 […]

Nov 01 2006

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 […]

Nov 01 2006

Gullibility Begins at Home

NYT accepted false reassurances on Ground Zero safety

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 […]