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Con: Chavez gets far better treatment in U.S. media than he accords his opponents in Venezuela

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Peter Hannaford
January 14, 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez getting a bad rap from U.S. media?”

Hugo Chavez got where he is by identifying with the plight and grievances of Venezuela’s poorest citizens. To stay there, he regularly uses self-pity to play upon the sympathy of his supporters. He demonizes “Uncle Sam,” “the gringos,” and George W. Bush and tells his audiences they are all out to topple him, with the American news media as willing tools.


Chavez might be paranoid or these rants might be a cunning device. In either case, they keep his supporters fired up and his opponents gritting their teeth. His moves are regularly reported by U.S. news services, major newspapers, television and radio networks and the cable news channels.


Despite his efforts to bend all Venezuelan media to his will, U.S. media freely cover him, including the huge anti-Chavez demonstrations in the latter part of last year. One staple of coverage has been the clash between pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez supporters.


For the most part, U.S. media have played the Chavez story straight. The known facts are reported. So are statements by Chavez and his opponents and observations from interested third parties. Virtually all of it follows standard journalistic procedures.


There is, however, steady criticism of U.S. coverage, nearly all of it from blogs—most of them from the Left. They claim that “mainstream” U.S. media are biased.


For example, “Sam” on the blog Gdayworld (March 15, 2007) wrote that the media “promote a culture of negativity” about Chavez. Elizabeth Codo, a “media studies student” in Toronto, blogged that U.S. media routinely describe him as a “leftist” and “ex-coup leader” in order to influence the opinions of readers and viewers.


Chavez IS a leftist. His political views were formed in his undergraduate days at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas when he became enamored of the works of Marx and Lenin.


His autocratic streak was honed during his army years. He IS an ex-coup leader (1992). It failed, and he spent four years in prison. It is, after all, SOP in the news business to use descriptive facts about a person.


In 2003, a writer for the blog AlterNet complained that The San Francisco Chronicle one day ran a photo of a demonstration with the caption, “Tens of thousands of Venezuelans Opposed to Chavez Demonstrate.” There were approximately 100,000 demonstrators.


The writer complained that a later pro-Chavez demonstration of 200,000 received no comparable coverage. This writer assumes dark motives on the part of the Chronicle’s editors, ignoring the fact that news is that which is out of the ordinary and a large demonstration against the status quo anywhere is news.


After being elected president in December 1998, Chavez set out to confiscate land to distribute to the poor. He was going to improve their health care, education and incomes. Today, with inflation running high, poor Venezuelans don’t have much to show for the promises.


In his effort to turn Venezuela into a socialist land, Chavez has worked to bring its media to heel, pulling licenses of radio and television outlets that show signs of independence. He has given himself several hours of time on national television every Sunday to ramble at will.


Megalomania seems to drive his effort to become a larger-than-life figure throughout Latin America. As an autocrat, he sees the news media as an extension of government policy.


In short, propaganda distributors are meant to serve his larger purposes. Little wonder, then, that he thinks our media do the bidding of the U.S. government. Like many others who encounter bad news about themselves, Chavez mistakes headlines for opinions and editorials and columns for reporting.


As for homegrown critics of U.S. media, a review of their work shows us a group whose social agendas obscure their ability to understand the ordinary workings of the news business.


Peter Hannaford is the editorial pages editor of The Eureka (Calif.) Reporter (www.eurekareporter.com) and a member of the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide, (www.apcoworldwide.com), a communications and public affairs firm in Washington. Readers may write to him The Eureka Reporter, 215 Fourth St., Eureka, Calif. 95501 or e-mail him at editor@eurekareporter.com.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez getting a bad rap from U.S. media?”


By Peter Hannaford


EUREKA, CALIF.


Hugo Chavez got where he is by identifying with the plight and grievances of Venezuela’s poorest citizens. To stay there, he regularly uses self-pity to play upon the sympathy of his supporters. He demonizes “Uncle Sam,” “the gringos,” and George W. Bush and tells his audiences they are all out to topple him, with the American news media as willing tools.


Chavez might be paranoid or these rants might be a cunning device. In either case, they keep his supporters fired up and his opponents gritting their teeth. His moves are regularly reported by U.S. news services, major newspapers, television and radio networks and the cable news channels.


Despite his efforts to bend all Venezuelan media to his will, U.S. media freely cover him, including the huge anti-Chavez demonstrations in the latter part of last year. One staple of coverage has been the clash between pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez supporters.


For the most part, U.S. media have played the Chavez story straight. The known facts are reported. So are statements by Chavez and his opponents and observations from interested third parties. Virtually all of it follows standard journalistic procedures.


There is, however, steady criticism of U.S. coverage, nearly all of it from blogs—most of them from the Left. They claim that “mainstream” U.S. media are biased.


For example, “Sam” on the blog Gdayworld (March 15, 2007) wrote that the media “promote a culture of negativity” about Chavez. Elizabeth Codo, a “media studies student” in Toronto, blogged that U.S. media routinely describe him as a “leftist” and “ex-coup leader” in order to influence the opinions of readers and viewers.


Chavez IS a leftist. His political views were formed in his undergraduate days at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas when he became enamored of the works of Marx and Lenin.


His autocratic streak was honed during his army years. He IS an ex-coup leader (1992). It failed, and he spent four years in prison. It is, after all, SOP in the news business to use descriptive facts about a person.


In 2003, a writer for the blog AlterNet complained that The San Francisco Chronicle one day ran a photo of a demonstration with the caption, “Tens of thousands of Venezuelans Opposed to Chavez Demonstrate.” There were approximately 100,000 demonstrators.


The writer complained that a later pro-Chavez demonstration of 200,000 received no comparable coverage. This writer assumes dark motives on the part of the Chronicle’s editors, ignoring the fact that news is that which is out of the ordinary and a large demonstration against the status quo anywhere is news.


After being elected president in December 1998, Chavez set out to confiscate land to distribute to the poor. He was going to improve their health care, education and incomes. Today, with inflation running high, poor Venezuelans don’t have much to show for the promises.


In his effort to turn Venezuela into a socialist land, Chavez has worked to bring its media to heel, pulling licenses of radio and television outlets that show signs of independence. He has given himself several hours of time on national television every Sunday to ramble at will.


Megalomania seems to drive his effort to become a larger-than-life figure throughout Latin America. As an autocrat, he sees the news media as an extension of government policy.


In short, propaganda distributors are meant to serve his larger purposes. Little wonder, then, that he thinks our media do the bidding of the U.S. government. Like many others who encounter bad news about themselves, Chavez mistakes headlines for opinions and editorials and columns for reporting.


As for homegrown critics of U.S. media, a review of their work shows us a group whose social agendas obscure their ability to understand the ordinary workings of the news business.


Peter Hannaford is the editorial pages editor of The Eureka (Calif.) Reporter (www.eurekareporter.com) and a member of the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide, (www.apcoworldwide.com), a communications and public affairs firm in Washington. Readers may write to him The Eureka Reporter, 215 Fourth St., Eureka, Calif. 95501 or e-mail him at editor@eurekareporter.com.

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