[Marxism] Media hate fest for Venezuela keeps on keepin' on
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 29 13:20:06 MST 2013
Media hate fest for Venezuela keeps on keepin' on
Although Chavez isn't perfect, his villainisation in Western media is
by Mark Weisbrot
Last week there was a real media hate-fest for Venezuelan president Hugo
Chavez, with some of the more influential publications on both sides of
the Atlantic really hating on the guy. Even by the hate-filled standards
to which we have become accustomed, it was impressive.
It's interesting, since this is one of the only countries in the world
where the reporting of the more liberal media - NPR or even the New
Yorker - is hardly different from that of Fox News or other right-wing
media (more on that below).
The funniest episode came from El País, which on Thursday ran a front
page picture of a man that they claimed was Chavez, lying on his back in
a hospital bed, looking pretty messed-up with tubes in his mouth. The
picture was soon revealed as completely fake. Oops! The paper, which is
Spain's most influential publication (and with a lot of clout in Latin
America, too), had to pull its newspapers off the stands and issue a
public apology. Although, as the Venezuelans complained, there was no
apology to Chavez or his family. Not surprisingly, since El Pais really
hates Chavez. For a really funny pictorial response to El Pais, click here.
The New York Times, for its part, ran yet another hate piece on its
op-ed page. Dog bites man. Nothing new here, they have doing this for
almost 14 years - most recently just three months ago. This one was
remarkably unoriginal, comparing the Chavez government to a Latin
American magical realist novel. It contained very little information -
but being fact-free allowed the authors to claim that the country had
"dwindling productivity" and "an enormous foreign debt load".
Productivity has not "dwindled" under Chavez; in fact real GDP per
capita, which is mostly driven by productivity growth, expanded by 24
percent since 2004 (for an explanation of why 2004 is a reasonable
starting point, see here). In the 20 years prior to Chavez, real GDP per
person actually fell. As for the "enormous foreign debt load",
Venezuela's foreign public debt is about 28 percent of GDP, and the
interest on it is about 2 percent of GDP. If this is enormous - well
let's just say these people don't have a good sense of quantity.
Chavez painted upon streets of Caracas
The authors were probably just following a general rule, which is that
you can say almost anything you want about Venezuela, so long as it is
bad - and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for
very little when the media is presenting its ugly picture.
This is especially true for Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the January 28
issue of the New Yorker ("Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in
Venezuela?"). He mentions in passing that "the poorest Venezuelans are
marginally better off these days". Marginally? From 2004-2011, extreme
poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about
one-half. And this measures only cash income. It does not count the
access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college
enrollment - with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions
tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chavez took office.
I shouldn't have to emphasise that Venezuela's poverty reduction, real
(inflation-adjusted) income growth, and other basic data in the Chavez
era are not in dispute among experts, including international
statistical agencies such as the World Bank or UN. Even opposition
economists use the same data in making their case against the
government. It is only journalists like Anderson who avoid letting
commonly agreed upon facts and numbers get in the way of their story.
Anderson devotes many thousands of words, in one of America's leading
literary magazines, to portraying the dark underside of life in
Venezuela - ex-cons and squatters, horrible prisons: "A thick black line
of human excrement ran down an exterior wall, and in the yard below was
a sea of sludge and garbage several feet deep." He draws on more than a
decade of visits to Venezuela to shower the reader with his most foul
memories of the society and the government. The article is accompanied
by a series of grim, depressing black-and-white photos of
unhappy-looking people in ugly surroundings (I couldn't help thinking of
all those international surveys that keep finding Venezuelans to be
among the happiest people in Latin America and the world - did Anderson
never meet even one of these Venezuelans?).
I am all in favour of journalism that exposes the worst aspects of any
society. But what makes this piece just another cheap political hack job
is the conclusions that the author draws from his narrow, intentionally
chosen slice of Venezuelan reality. For example:
They [Venezuelans] are the victims of their affection for a
charismatic man... After nearly a generation, Chavez leaves his
countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the
revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It
began with Chavez, and with him, most likely it will end.
Really? It sure doesn't look that way. Even Chavez's opponent in the
October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, had to promise voters
[SP] that he would preserve and actually expand the Chavez-era social
programmes that had increased Venezuelans' access to health care and
education. And after Chavez beat him by a wide margin of eleven
percentage points, Chavez's party increased its share of governorships
from 15 to 20 of 23 states, in the December elections that followed. In
those elections, Chavez was not even in the country.
Inside Story Americas
Are Venezuelans better off under Chavez?
But it's the one-sidedness of the New Yorker's reporting that is most
overwhelming. Imagine, for example, writing an article about the United
States at the end of President Clinton's eight years - interviewing the
homeless and the destitute, the people tortured in our prisons, the
unemployed and the poor single mothers struggling to feed their
children. Could you get away with pretending that this is all of "What
Clinton has wrought in America?" Without mentioning that unemployment
hit record lows not seen since the 1960s, that poverty was sharply
reduced, that it was the longest-running business cycle expansion in US
This is an imperfect analogy, since many people outside the US know
something about the country, and wouldn't buy such a one-sided story
line. And also because the improvements of the Clinton years didn't last
that long: the stock market bubble burst and caused a recession in 2001;
the gains from the recovery that followed went mostly to the richest one
percent of the population; and then the housing bubble burst, causing
the worst recession since the Great Depression - from which we are still
recovering. Unemployment today is considerably above the level of
Clinton's first year in office, and poverty has rebounded dramatically;
and we could take another decade to get back to full employment. Whereas
in Venezuela, progress has not been reversed; there really is no going
back now that the majority of the country has gotten used to sharing in
the country's oil wealth - not just through government programmes but
primarily through a higher level of employment and income in the private
sector. Maybe that's not "revolutionary" enough for Anderson, but it's
enough for Venezuelans to keep re-electing their president and his party.
As for the media, it is a remarkable phenomenon, this outpouring of
animosity towards Chavez and his government, from across the western
media spectrum. How is it that this democratically elected president who
hasn't killed anyone or invaded any countries gets more bad press than
Saddam Hussein did (aside from the months immediately preceding
invasions of Iraq)? Even when he is fighting for his own life?
The western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most
people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of
dictatorship that has ruined it. Fortunately for Venezuelans, they have
access to more information about their country than the foreigners who
are relying on one-sided and often inaccurate media. So they keep
re-electing the president and the party that has improved their lives -
much to the annoyance of the major media and its friends.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research, in Washington, DC. He is also President of Just Foreign Policy.
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