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Innocents abroad: U.S. media and Venezuela

12 September 2009

If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.

– Mark Twain

Cowboy in Caracas (Charles Hardy) was a Catholic priest for 28 years. I think somewhere along the way he learned about the difference between faith and fact:

On August 5, Chávez held a special news conference with the international press that lasted several hours. He presented evidence that the rockets were among five that were stolen from the Venezuelan armed forces on February 25, 1995, when a military base was attacked by Colombian guerillas. This was four years before he became president.

In an Associated Press article with the byline of Christopher Toothaker published on the Internet on August 9, mention is made of Colombia’s accusation and that Sweden confirmed the sale of the weapons to Venezuela. (That happened in the late 80s). It also said that, “Chávez denies aiding the FARC.” But the article did not say anything about the weapons being among those taken in 1995.

So I called Mr. Toothaker to ask why he omitted that. He replied that he didn’t “believe” that they were the weapons that were stolen.

I, too, have beliefs and I often express them in my writing. But I write commentaries. The Associated Press is supposed to present facts in their news stories, not beliefs. Unless, that is, it is a religion and its readers are supposed to accept whatever it says as an act of faith.

Robert Morgenthau, the 90-year old Manhattan District Attorney, who doesn’t know anything about Latin America or Venezuela, wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal. Which Dr. Mark Weisbrot, an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, has written extensively on Venezuelan economics in particular and Latin American economics in general, has parsed (in boldface):

The diplomatic ties between Iran and Venezuela go back almost 50 years and until recently amounted to little more than the routine exchange of diplomats. With the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, the relationship dramatically changed. [1) In fact, the relationship deepened before this, during the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami. A meeting with Khatami and Chávez in 2004 saw the agreement for both the development bank, as well as the tractor production . With the election of Ahmadinejad, Chávez was worried the agreements might be threatened .]

A year later, during a visit by Mr. Chávez to Tehran, the two nations declared an “axis of unity” against the U.S. and Ecuador [4) Ecuador? This must be a typo, or else this is the strongest evidence that Morgenthau doesn’t know what he is talking about. This doesn’t say much for the WSJ editors, however, that they missed this]. And in June of this year, while protesters lined the streets of Tehran following the substantial allegations of fraud in the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Chávez publicly offered him support [5)As did others, notably President Lula da Silva of Brazil]. …

Meanwhile, Iranian investments in Venezuela have been rising. The two countries have signed various Memoranda of Understanding on technology development, cooperation on banking and finance, and oil and gas exploration and refining [7) Even the State Department acknowledges that each country has a sovereign right to have relations with any country it chooses]

Venezuela is an extreme case, but this is typical reportage from Latin America from sources like AP and WSJ. Reporters either don’t check the facts against published sources (like the Latin American press) or just make assumptions — or rely on editors who feed in their own biases.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 September 2009 8:47 am

    Didja know that the AP has its local office in the same building as the rabid-right El Universal? It’s true!

  2. 12 September 2009 8:48 am

    PS: I must steal that Mark Twain quote, it’s perfect.

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