The Financial Times reports from Venezuela

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Feb 23 08:53:37 MST 2002

[This Financial Times report is instructive in how the bourgeois media lie.
Comments are interspersed throughout. I'm including the entire story rather
than given the URL because the FT has now mixed the original story below
with material drawn from the wires, to make it seem as if they have their
own fresh "today" reporting from Venezuela when actually what they have is a
story done yesterday.]

Chávez launches hunt for military dissidents
By Andy Webb-Vidal in Caracas
Published: February 21 2002 19:35 | Last Updated: February 21 2002 22:06

President Hugo Chávez has instructed loyal military commanders to embark on
what analysts said on Thursday appeared to be a witch-hunt within the
Venezuelan armed forces to identify and clamp down on potential dissident

[This is what is known in the news racket as the "lead"; it is supposed to
capture the most important FACT in the story.

[Note, however, that this one is actually mostly an OPINION, moreover, a
guarded one: "on what analysts said on Thursday *appeared* to be a
witch-hunt...". As to what is the *substance* of the presidential order
that's been anonymously *interpreted* as apearing to be a witch hunt, there
is no hint in this paragraph. Nor, I will say at the risk of getting ahead
of myself, in the following paragraph, nor the one after that.

[Astoundingly, as will  be seen in the rest of the story, no evidence is
presented or facts adduced to show that Chávez "instructed" the military to
do anything AT ALL. Not a single phrase from the President, not a single
statement from the army, not even a quote from any analysts or other
sources --named or unnamed-- that substantiates the statement in the lead AT

[This is NOT a case where something that Chávez did or said is being
reported, or even manipulated and distorted. As far as can be told, this one
is a work of pure fiction.]

During the past two weeks Mr Chávez has faced a series of highly
embarrassing public demands for his resignation and impeachment from a
lengthening list of progressively higher ranking military officers.

[More opinion: "highly embarrassing"? Says who? As for the "lengthening
list," I guess one could say that it has "lengthened" from one ... to

The latest outburst came on Monday, when Rear-Admiral Carlos Molina
criticised the president, who led a failed coup attempt a decade ago this
month, for "repeatedly violating the constitution . . . and for abusing the
national assembly and supreme court".

[Notice the clever sleight of hand to associate Chávez's presidency with a
"coup." Also, notice the even-handedness of the treatment: all of the
insubordinate, active-duty military officer's insults against his commander
in chief are reported; what Chávez and his supporters have to say about a
supposedly professional soldier, a general officer no less, who abuses his
military rank to meddle in partisan politics, is NOT reported.]

Mr Chávez held a five-hour unscheduled meeting on Wednesday with the armed
forces high command, sparking intense speculation that the military top
brass had called directly for the president to step down.

[Here is the only thing that is presumably a REAL fact: on Wed. Chávez met
with the armed forces high command. But how a meeting between such very busy
people who work at different places could be "unscheduled" and just happen
spontaneously is something the FT scribbler doesn't bother to explain. The
truth is it may have been hastily scheduled  but it didn't just happen

[So what is "uncheduled" doing in there? The word is there to add a sense or
urgency and crisis, and just to show that this scribbler can't write one
sentence of straight, unvarnished, unspun reporting. Moreover, no source is
given for the information. I'm sure Mr. Webb-Vidal wasn't there inside the
meeting. He does not know if the meeting lasted 5 hours or 5 minutes
followed by a long birthday celebration for one of the generals. He is, in a
word, bullshitting his readers. He problably does not even KNOW, of his own
PERSONAL knowledge, that this meeting actually happened at all.

[Most likely, what he knows is what he was TOLD. He should report THAT: "The
president's office said Mr. Chávez met for five hours" etc. That is what
Webb Vidal KNOWS actually happened, that such information was spoon fed to
the press. It is true that in some circumstances involving routine matters
of public figures, insisting that every detail be explicitly attributed
would just be pedantic, everyone understands the person's office was the
source. BUT NOT IN A STORY LIKE THIS, where unnamed sources with
extraofficial accounts show up every other paragraph. Especially when a big
point is being made about there having been something unusual about the

[The fact of the meeting is immediately followed by what in the norms of
bourgeois journalism is considered a fundamental break with the norms of
responsibility: "reporting" on unfounded, or as Webb-Vidal has it, "intense"
speculation. It is, of course, perferctly legitimate to report, with
attribution, *reactions*  to the meeting. But even then, going on about what
persons who weren't at a private meeting fantasize might/could/would/should
have happened ought not to be done. That's because it becomes very difficult
for your readers to understand that what you're reporting is the reaction of
some third party, not what transpired in the closed room. That is why it is
an unlaterable rule of good journalism not to report such
speculations. Or rather, it used to be an almost unalterable rule in a few
outlets; nowadays, of course, saying good journalism is an oxymoron.]

Diosdado Cabello, the vice-president, denied that Mr Chávez had been asked
to resign.

However, secrecy continued to shroud the discussions. Military sources said
the commanders might have presented Mr Chávez with an ultimatum to tone down
his belligerent rhetoric and open dialogue with the opposition. In turn, Mr
Chávez appealed to the senior officers to seek out potential dissenters,
analysts said.

[The "secrecy" of the President's meeting with the general staff is, to
Mr.Webb-Vidal, HUGE news. It rebuts the vice-president's statement that
there was no request from the military chiefs that Mr. Chávez resign. Mr.
Webb Vidal wants readers to come away with this sentiment: How can the vide
president  claim there was no demand that Chávez resign? Why then is the
meeting still "shrouded" in "secrecy"?

[One suspects that Mr. Webb-Vidal thinks that everywhere else, all other
commanders-in-chief have their discussions with their military subordinates
in PUBLIC. He probably imagines that President Bush insists on having TV
cameras at ALL his meetings with the joint chiefs so they can be transmitted
live to the news networks!

[Webb-Vidal's reporting would be an embarrasment in a journalism 101 class.
That private discussions are, well, private, IS NOT NEWS. That's why
Webb-Vidal is driven to trite cliches like, "Secrecy continued to

[Then there are the unnamed "military sources" who say ... what? That the
commanders "might" have presented Chávez with an "ultimatum." But "might"
ALSO means they might not.

[Thus, this speculation of the "military sources" is worthless. It is simply
a statement that they don't know what happened at the meeting, putting them
in the company of some 20-odd-million Venezuelans who weren't there either,
as well as the REST of the human race.

[On its face, the speculation of the "military sources" is not credible. A
moment's reflection should convince ANYONE that it is almost certainly not
true. *Subordinates*  in a military chain of command do not present their
*superiors* with "ultimatums" unless they are prepared to immediately back
up the demand by toppling that superior. So *whatever* the joint chiefs had
to say to Chávez, it was NOT an "ultimatum." This is just part of the
campaign by the bourgeois imperialist press for a military coup.

[The speculation from "military sources" on what  "might" have happened  is
immediately followed by what would appear to be --finally!-- some backing to
the LEAD of the story, which, as you'll remember, was the "witch-hunt."
Webb-Vidal reports: "In turn, Mr Chávez appealed to the senior officers to
seek out potential dissenters, analysts said."

[Notice, first, the attribution: "analysts." It is no longer "military
sources." But why would two or more "analysts" be in a position to know what
happened in a private meeting when the "military sources" didn't? Moreover,
this is presented as a narratiuve. First this, then that. But the "this"
part is presented as something that "might" have happened according to
"military sources"; whereas the "that" part is presented as something that
DID, in fact, take place, according to "analysts." Make sense of this those
who can!

"The situation is becoming unmanageable for the president," said Mario
Carratú, a retired vice-admiral. "He is probably looking at how to prevent
other officers from coming out publicly in uniform and seeing what legal
action can be taken".

[Finally! A named source. But this source doesn't support the lead of the
story about what "appeared" to be a "with hunt." He doesn't say Chávez has
ordered anything, he says, fairly innocously, that Chávez is "probably"
looking at how to prevent other active-duty officers from meddling in
partisan politics.

[This speculation about what Chávez is "probably" looking at is *entirely*
unnecessary. He is not just looking, he is acting. Based on the
recommendation of a military inquiry, he's cashiered the colonel who was the
first to speak out against the duly constitued Constitutional authorities.
The colonel, in turn, has refused to accept teh order to placing him in
retirement, saying he refuses to recognize the validity of military orders
issued by the constituional commander in chief. He is trying to make the
most of his 15 minutes of fame. The government has responded that if he goes
around impersonating an officer, he WILL be arrested.]

The growing calls for Mr. Chávez's resignation come as an opinion survey
released on Thursday by Consultores 21 polling company suggested 53 per cent
of the population wanted Mr Chávez, elected three years ago, to leave

[Notice that to the "lengthening list" of three officers we now add
"growing calls" for Mr. Chávez's resignation. Notice also that the reader
has been given absolutely NO concrete, FACTUAL information with which to
make their own judgement about these lengthenings and growings.

[Now for the poll. I tried to chase down this poll. It was not on the
Consultores21 web site.

[Instead I found a page on myths about opinion polls, explaining that these
polls are done for clients, it is they who release them and attach any
specific interpretation to them.

[So I went searching for news stories on the poll itself, and finally found
Reuters wire in Spanish headlined "Majority of Venezuelans want Chávez to
leave post."

["A survey released Thursday shows that the majority of Venezuelans want
Hugo Chávez, who is confronting military insubordination and growing
opposition, to leave the presidency.

["53 percent of the 1500 people polled believe that the retired military
man, who became president three years ago, should leave the post. 38 percent
of the sample want him to stay."

[That's just part of the report by Reuters.

[The curious part is that this isn't how Venezuelan newspapers reported the
poll -- and for good reason. The question that Reuters claims was
answered --whether Chávez should stay or go-- wasn't the one that was asked.
Instead, the survey asked, supposing a referendum were held on whether or
not Chávez should remain as president, would you vote yes or no.

[The formulation of the question is very important: it cloaks Chávez's
ouster in legality. The poll didn't ask whether Chávez should resign;
whether he should be removed from office through impeachment; or whether he
should be overthrown by a military coup, which are the options being
mooted by the bourgeois forces, nor does it ask in general about whether
Chávez should remain as president or not. The question that was actually
asked was about the fictitious plebiscite.

[That formulation says that the removal of the president has ALREADY been
put on the agenda. Thus it signals to those being polled that THIS poll is
being done by enemies of the revolution  to attack it. Even without that
kind of question the bourgeois press has by now come out quite
openly --rabidly-- against Chávez, wielding public opinion polls as so many
more weapons in the political fight. The bourgeois press, including its
polls, are the target of constant demonstrations by Chávez supporters.
They've even gone to the OAS to complain that the use by these protesters of
their hard-won right to freedom of expression constitutes censorship. In
today's conditions in Venezuela, a pollster is quite likely to be seen as an
enemy agent by many among Chávez's more conscious supporters, and treated

[But even with all that, the poll and the Venezuelan press cannot hide a
reality. Chávez remains more popular than any other political figure:
according to the Venezuelan newspaper accounts on the poll, he would WIN a
new presidential election if it were held today, albeit with a smaller
plurality than in the past. Figures showing the results of one-to-one
contests between President Chávez and a couple of his more prominent
opponents were not published, if the question was asked at all.

[You can see NOW why the FT scribbler in his account says that the poll
"suggested" 53% want Chávez to leave office. He knew the poll didn't ask
THAT question AT ALL. But he didn't want to cite the ACTUAL question. It
is a rather transparent attempt to manipulate the polling to obtain the
highest possible anti-Chávez results, and by its very phrasing, undercuts
any pretense of impartiality or objectivity this polling outfit might put on
. So the FT scribe fudged it -- "suggested" -- hoping this would cover him
in case someone called him on it.

[What such polls tell you in a situation of intense political strife like
the one in Venezuela is anyone's guess. The polling is done face-to-face;
you lack the anonymity and distance brought by the telephone. We do know in
sharply polarized situations polls are unreliable in predicting electoral
outcomes (such as in Nicaragua in 1990). At any rate, the fate of the
Bolivarian Revolution is likely to have been settled by the class struggle
throughout Venezuelan society long before the next presidential elections
nearly five years from now.]

[The Venezuelan reports on the poll are here, btw:

[Back to the FT.]

Respondents said Mr Chávez's government had been ineffective in tackling
corruption and translating windfall oil revenues into better living

Meanwhile, speculation was intensifying on Thursday over who might be the
next military officer to come out with the latest display of defiance and
add to what critics have described as a "bloodless military coup by

[You can tell Mr. Webb-Vidal has the hots for the officers.
"Speculation," says he breathlessly, was "intensifying"! Now THAT'S
hard-hitting, investigative journalism!

[As for a "bloodless military coup by installments," the stupidity of the
phrase speaks for itself. The POINT of a military coup is that is is quite
sudden and --if necessary-- not at all bloodless.

[What's going on is the *opposite* of a coup. It is a PURGE of the most
reactionary members of the officer corps -- who are having the kindness to
do it to themselves. If for a moment these disloyal officers thought a coup
was POSSIBLE, they'd be staying inside to organize it, rather than walking
out. The MORE treacherous officers that wash out into the fragmented,
ineffective civilian "opposition," the better, as far as I'm concerned.]

The most prominent shows of dissidence have so far come from the air force
and navy, the branches of the military traditionally seen as the most
conservative, where opposition to Mr Chávez is said to have been most

[Remember, Webb-Vidal is talking about a grand total of THREE --count 'em--
little gorilas that have spoken out. ]

Dissidence would be seen as far more serious should fresh calls for the
president to step down emerge from within the army, the branch of the
military where it is claimed Mr Chávez retains strongest support, analysts

However, observers have ruled out suggestions that a full-scale military
rebellion is being planned.

["Oberver" = foreign correspondent lingo for me & my journalist drinking
buddies sitting around shooting the shit last night at the bar after stories
were filed.]

"What we are seeing is not a coup in the works or a well-organised
conspiracy," said Aníbal Romero, a political analyst. "These are individual
actions by officers who have had the courage to express what the majority
feels, that they would like Chávez out, but by peaceful means."

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