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A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage

World  (tags: Chavez, election, ethics, freedoms, government, humanrights, interesting, media, Venezuela )

- 2324 days ago -
Hugo Chávez, as a number of us expected, won the Venezuelan presidential election in yet another landslide: 55.1% to his opponent Henrique Capriles's 44.2%.


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Kit B (276)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 2:13 pm
(Photo: Miraflores Palace via The New York Times)

Hugo Chávez, as a number of us expected, won the Venezuelan presidential election in yet another landslide: 55.1% to his opponent Henrique Capriles’s 44.2%.

To understand why Chávez’s electoral victory would be apparent beforehand, consider that from 1980 to 1998, Venezuela’s per capita GDP declined by 14%, whereas since 2004, after the Chávez administration gained control over the nation’s oil revenues, the country’s GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5% each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of widely shared growth and government programs cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70%—and that’s before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.

However, the establishment media broadly anticipated that yesterday’s election would be a repudiation of the Chávez administration’s policies. Consider The Guardian headline, “Hugo Chávez: A Strongman's Last Stand,” for example. To be sure, if Chávez were to win, the press explained, it could be chalked up to a climate of fear and repression or voter suppression. Even with a tight victory, his now-anemic support would still augur the beginning of the end to a failed, 14-year experiment.

Inconveniently for this narrative, over 19 million people in a country of 29 million were registered to vote, and any supposed intimidation did not prevent a historic turnout of 81%. With 96% of the votes counted, the country’s National Electoral Council has shown that Chávez has thus far received 1.5 million more votes than Capriles. And the electoral system’s credentials are sterling—Jimmy Carter, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his democracy-promotion work with the Carter Center after his presidency, commended the record of Venezuela’s voting process a month before the elections:

Although some people have criticized the result—which is Hugo Chavez having won—there’s no doubt in our mind, having monitored very closely the election process, that he won fairly and squarely. As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world. They have a very wonderful voting system…

This, apparently, wasn’t as newsworthy as the inane question of whether Venezuela is a dictatorship. A LexisNexis search for all English-language news containing the terms “Jimmy Carter” and “Venezuela” between September 11, when Carter made those comments, and October 7, returned 45 results. In that same time period, 78 news items mentioning both the terms “Hugo Chavez” and “dictator” appeared. (To be fair, some of the 78 pieces refuted the notion that Chávez is a dictator, but even these articles are a reflection of the pervasiveness of the nonsensical topic.)

This contrast in the media’s priorities is symptomatic of the overwhelmingly disgraceful portrayal of Venezuela’s elections. The Hall of Shame that follows is a sampling of some of the most typical distortions, gratuitous slurs, and incorrect predictions that readers have been exposed to over the past few weeks:

• In a Saturday editorial, The Washington Post falsely attributed the question, “If Hugo Chavez is an autocrat, how could he be in danger of losing the Venezuelan presidency in an election on Sunday?” to economist Mark Weisbrot, “one of Mr. Chavez’s dwindling band of American supporters.” In fact, Weisbrot energetically argued, using statistical analysis of polling data, that there was virtually no chance that Chávez was in danger of losing. The editorial went on to compare Chávez to Putin and Ahmadinejad, incorrectly claiming that Chávez controls “most television channels.” In actuality, the BBC reported that “some 70% of Venezuela’s radio and TV stations are in private hands,” while “just under 5% are state-owned.” The Post misleadingly asserted that “many voters, too, are intimidated by high-tech polling machines that read their fingerprints; polls show that they suspect their votes will not be secret.” But whether these fears are well-founded was left unanswered. The editorial board ignored the Carter Center’s report on the technical features of Venezuela’s voting system, which concluded that “this concern has no basis…The software of the voting machines guarantees the secrecy of the vote.” Finally, the Post ended its editorial by conjuring up a menacing hypothetical scenario: “Venezuela’s neighbors, and the Obama administration, should be ready to react if [Chávez] attempts to remain in power by force.” Never mind that during the elections Chávez repeatedly said, “We will recognize the results, whatever they are,” and previously demonstrated this when, after losing a referendum vote in 2007, he publicly stated, “I congratulate my adversaries for this victory.”

• Jon Lee Anderson, writing for The New Yorker’s News Desk, erroneously declared that “Venezuela leads Latin America in homicides.” That distinction actually goes to Honduras, which leads the world in per capita homicides. But a mention of this would have been off message, as Honduras’s illegitimate post-coup regime receives $50 million a year in arms and training from the United States for its repressive security forces. And unlike in Venezuela, being an opposition activist in Honduras carries a significant chance of being disappeared or killed. Anderson continues by predicting that, irrespective of the election’s outcome, “this will probably represent the final eclipse of the long, heady reality show that his leadership has become.” Capriles “or someone else like him,” says Anderson, can “carry on with the task of making Venezuela a fairer and safer society.” His piece (originally titled, “The End of Chavez?,” but quietly revised to “Chavez The Survivor”) concludes with a quote from a journalist who ponders the prospect of a defeat for Chávez, while also using the term “autocrat” in reference to him—somehow, a ruler who by definition has absolute power can also be defeated in a competitive election. This is not the first time that Anderson has obscured the differences between democratically elected leaders and actual autocrats: he once lumped Haiti’s ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with the country’s Duvalier dictators—in Anderson’s rendering, they were all “despots and cheats.”

• The New York Times, a day before the election, ran an op-ed with the instantly dated headline, “How Hugo Chávez Became Irrelevant.” Its author, Francisco Toro, offers a confused attempt to separate Latin America’s left into “radical revolutionary regimes”—Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba—and a “more moderate set of leaders”: Brazil, Uruguay, and Guatemala. In Toro’s account, apparently, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, a School of the Americas-trained special forces officer once in charge of counterinsurgency operations under military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, is now one of the left-leaning Latin American leaders who do not turn “their backs on democratic institutions.” Toro also contends, without providing evidence, that “behind closed doors,” Brazilians “sneer” at Chávez. While it is impossible to refute such a claim, it is worth noting the effusiveness with which, at least publicly, former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva endorsed Chávez’s reelection bid in July. In a video statement, Da Silva said: “Chavez, count on me…Your victory will be ours… and thanks, comrade, for everything you have done for Latin America.”

• The Times also ran an October 5 news article by William Neuman, reporting that a young law student intended to vote for Chávez for fear that voting on a secret ballot for her preferred candidate, Capriles, would expose her to professional retribution. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research found, however, a quick search on Twitter showed that the law student had no qualms about publicly uploading a photo of herself kissing a poster of Capriles. (William Neuman might be remembered as the author of a Times piece on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which bizarrely claimed that Assange “had refused to flush the toilet during his entire stay” at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The sentence was later erased on the Times' website with no explanation.)

• And as a final example (even though there are countless more articles to criticize), one of the most glaring acts of journalistic misconduct within the mainstream press appeared in U.S. News & World Report. Other prominent media outlets have taken some small steps to veil their denunciations against Chávez. U.S. News & World Report was much more brazen: it published a news, not opinion, article by Seth Cline on October 1 that put Venezuela’s “fair and free elections” in quotation marks but offered no scare-quotes in its very first sentence, which introduces the reader to “President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan dictator.”
*** For more information on the article and the election view on Visit Site and check out the links***

By Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America | News Analysis | Truthout |

Gene J (290)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 4:18 pm
One has to wonder what the vote might have been had the UN done the counting, not Hugo. Okay I wonder. His opponent dare not question the outcome, not if he values his freedom such as it is. Well. One more argument for term limits everywhere.

JL A (281)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 5:36 pm
What has happened to journalism? Once upon a time when political science terms with recognized and accepted definitions were used, the definition was included in the article and thus the writer had a chance to avoid such an error in factual accuracy. Is it that those assigned to political beats have become so accustomed to inappropriate use of such terms, lies, distortions and other inaccuracies among the politicians they cover that they have lowered their standards from normal journalistic integrity and striving to be unbiased to become more like the politicians they associate with?

Kit B (276)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 5:49 pm

I liked this man Capriles, mostly because it's clear that Chavez is ill with cancer, and the country needs to try a new face. It was a legal election, and the people made their voice clear.

I think J L, that it has more to do (I hope) with the transition in the media from newspapers to Internet coverage. I hope there are still many that hold journalism as a voice of information, real information for the people. The media from Venezuela was much better then the American media for reporting what they saw and what people said. Chavez has done many good things for the country, not the least of which is to improve education and get people working again.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 6:11 pm

JL A (281)
Wednesday October 10, 2012, 8:53 pm
Thanks for such a thoughtful response Kit. Some stories I've read on Venezuela suggested that Capriles had backing from US corporations, which historically sometimes was used as a euphemism for 'spies' so I also wondered whether some of the sources or journalists might have another allegiance (than journalism).

Bianca D (87)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 8:48 am
If you read the Latin American media / papers it's easy to understand why Chávez won, in spite of many of his controversial decisions the general populace *loves* him because he won't sell their country to the superpowers (superconsumers, ahem), and the wealthy hate him because he won't do their bidding and wants them to pay more in taxes to build up the infrastructure of social services (schools, hospitals, training programs).

When you see the kind of poverty that exists in countries like Venezuela (and Mexico, and...), and how it has increased dramatically with the implementation of World Bank "guidelines" (i.e. do this or kiss external cash funding goodbye), you can start to understandwhy not all countries welcome such changes with open arms. Venezuela is 96th in the world for GDP (the US is 11th, Canada 20th), but has the largest oil reserves *in *the *world. Starting to see a pattern here? Imagine that, a sovereign country with a strong-minded leader of a resource rich country and who has a vision for bringing education, peace and prosperity to a country that others would have stay under colonial-style rule. Still surprised about the outcome of the vote?

Terrie Williams (798)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 8:52 am
Viva Chavez! Because of him and his SOCIALIST policies, his people (the ones who were not of the Oligarchy--you know the little people like US) are no longer asleep and know that a vote against Chavez is a vote against their OWN interests.

That said, I DO believe in term limits and not in dictatorships or presidentcy-for-life. That is something that ALL countires should employ.

Kit B (276)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 9:39 am

I think many of want to see the countries of Central and South America be more independent, address the issues and the needs of their people and not be held to choking laws of debt that are an extension of colonial practices.

That said, I have a letter from a Care2 friend that lived in Venezuela in the not so distant past and has a different point of view from being there and living under the government of Chavez. That again brings us to the point J L made about our lack of definitive information from not just Venezuela, but all countries to the south of our border.

Past Member (0)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 1:31 pm
It is about time we got a detailed true account of Chavez. Great article. Viva Chavez!

mar l ene dinkins (264)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 1:55 pm
my dearest robert i hope you are not here. and if you are here, please go back!!!!!! noted thnx

Yvonne White (229)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 3:17 pm
Viva Chavez! The poor Here were helped by his selling of heating oil at cost during the Bu$h League price gouging years! RepubliCONs (and Oil-backed Democrats) hate Hugo - but he has done more for the poor in both countries than any American President since FDR!

Joanne Dixon (37)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 3:30 pm
Living in a place doesn't always mean you can see clearly what is happening politically, let alone what is the best way to help the most people (assuming that is even what you want to do). Look at some of the posts we see here. Look at Faux News.

Aletta Kraan (146)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 4:58 pm
Noted !

Alejandra Contreras (13)
Thursday October 11, 2012, 7:05 pm
thanks for this excellent article

Herbert E (10)
Friday October 12, 2012, 10:30 am
I'm glad Hugo Chávez made it again and with a good margin at that. All the best to him and his Bolivarian Revolution.

Craig Pittman (52)
Friday October 12, 2012, 8:56 pm
Good for Hugo Chaves. We could use a man of his ilk in this country. At least there is a voice for the people rather than the corporations in some countries.

Lois Jordan (63)
Saturday October 13, 2012, 6:20 pm
Noted. Chavez got my attention when he complained at the UN that the podium smelled like sulfur after Dumbya had been there. But, I've read many articles of contradictory nature since then. I finally noticed they were written from a Trans-Global viewpoint and not from within the country.
Bianca, above, stated it very did Terrie & Yvonne. He seems to be a man of his word, and genuinely cares for the majority of the people in his country.

Jo Ellen H (3)
Sunday October 14, 2012, 8:58 am
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