Chavez Defeat Prompts Media Scuffle

December 06, 2007 07:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The narrow defeat of Chavez’s referendum to change Venezuela's constitution is applauded by much of the press; but at least one journalist detects a North American media bias.

30-Second Summary

On Dec. 2, 2007, the citizens of Venezuela handed Hugo Chavez his first defeat at the polls since he was elected president nine years ago. The constitutional revisions put forward in the referendum would have eliminated presidential term limits, broadened social security benefits and increased state control over the economy.

While Chavez’s critics in Venezuela and abroad cheered the results, author and BBC journalist Greg Palast lambasted the U.S. media for presenting what he depicted as a skewed representation of the issues involved.

“We were not told this weekend’s referendum was a vote on term limits, rather, we were told … that the referendum was to make Chavez ‘President for Life’ … But ending term limits does not mean winning the term,” Palast wrote.

Certainly, it is true that The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times used that turn of phrase (though it was qualified by the words "de facto" and "in effect" in two publications). Also, Palast’s allegations are framed by similar claims made at the time of the attempted Venezuelan coup in 2002.

On April 11 that year, a short-lived insurrection managed to unseat the democratically elected Chavez for 48 hours. The failed ouster triggered a press battle in the United States in which media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting denounced several major newspapers for their “enthusiastic” response to the news.

However, FAIR itself came under fire from Salon writer Ben Fritz. He argued that the organization had revealed more about its own political prejudices than it did about the U.S. press.

Whatever the accuracy of Palast’s piece, it opens a window on the pervasiveness of political spin and the difficulty of identifying accurate coverage, even in the reports of a media watchdog.

Headline Links: Chavez in the press

The U.S. press reports

During the days surrounding the Venezuelan vote, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times all published articles characterizing the referendum as a way for Chavez to become “president for life.”

Background: Charges of media bias from the 2002 coup onward

The 2002 coup

On April 11, 2002, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was temporarily removed from office during a coup. Chavez’s ouster lasted only 48 hours, but had long-lasting implications for U.S.-Venezuelan relations. It was followed by allegations of U.S. involvement, increasing the mistrust between Washington and Caracas.
‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’
FAIR again charges NYT with bias

Historical Context: The rise of Chavez

Opinion & Analysis: Newspapers respond to Chavez’s referendum

Reference Material: Venezuela at a glance

Related Links: Human rights abuses in Venezuela


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