[Marxism] Media hate fest for Venezuela keeps on keepin' on

Louis Proyect 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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