pandemonium press watch
Reporting on Venezuela:
The Associated Press (AP) -- Newspeak -- at its best!
Since decades, even centuries, as downtrodden peoples
and revolutionaries of Africa, Asia, South America, Oceania, the Caribbean,
and elsewhere, we are used to the distortions, lies, half-truths, character
assassination, racism, discrimination, plots; to the body, mind and thought
control mechanisms, to the inculcation of a master-slave mentality, of inferiority
complexes, to our wonderful "education" and "socialization", to the "freedom
of thought", to the "freedom of expression", to the magnificent "freedom
of the press", to the "family" of Venevision, Globovision; of
the fantastic "news" of "El Nacional", "El Universal", of the "Voice
of Russia", the "Voice of America", UPI, Reuters, ARD, ZDF, CNN, BBC, dpa, New York Times, FAZ, Der Spiegel,
BILD, etc., etc.
In fact, we are used to the cruel, racist fairy
tales, nursery rhymes, legends,
myths, etc., etc. We read, heard and swallowed
hook, bait, sinker and shark, all about the dangerous, uncivilized, bloodthirsty
"communists", "terrorists", "niggers", "coolies", "kaffirs", "latinos" "slit
eyes", "camel drivers", "blacks", "natives", "indigenas", "aborigines", etc.,
Infowarfare, the mental holocaust, mass media terror,
psychological manipulation and indoctrination did not begin yesterday; today
are just more technologically refined, more perverse,
more sadistic. We all, across our lives, have received a full dose of this
religious, cultural, traditional and ideological strychnine, disseminated
by the ruling classes across their mass media, newspapers, radio, TV, books,
stories, novelas, poems, songs, proverbs, psalms, credos, prayers, morals,
In fact, the other day, pondering over this issue,
I came to the conclusion
that since yore, the "absolute" majority of mankind already lived and
are still living in a world of virtual reality. What are coming now
are the Platonic Virtual Ideas of the Virtual Idea, of Big Brother,
of Global Fascism.
Orwellian Virtual Reality!
Most of us do not have the foggiest idea what really is happening around
us on earth. Surely, if most of the reporters of the international press
agencies should be our only sources about world events, then, long ago already,
we have been taken for a long ride. If we would only depend on our newspapers,
TV, radio, opera, films and shows for "information", well, then any donkey
could become an excellent teacher, a superb university professor.
Well, one day we have to learn what is ideology,
what is manipulation, indoctrination and lies. Better late than never. Enjoy
the article below!
AP's One-Sided Venezuela
On Desk Reporters
By Dan Feder
Special to the Narco News Bulletin
December 18, 2002
The statement seemed clear enough. After a total of 25 hours of negotiations
that framed this past weekend, the Organization of American States - representing
34 governments - released a much-awaited declaration on the crisis in Venezuela.
The OAS rejected any solution that is not consistent with the Venezuelan
constitution - which went into law with the support of President Hugo Chávez
in 1999 only after the entire nation approved the text in a referendum -
and "fully support(s) the democratic and constitutional order of the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela, whose government is headed by Hugo Chávez
But the Associated Press (AP)'s Nestor Ikeda, who until yesterday had not
written on Venezuela since the coup last April, doesn't seem to get it.
And looking at the coverage AP has provided on Venezuela for the last two
weeks, this is hardly surprising; the reports, especially those of a certain
writer we will get to in a moment, have been a steady stream of dishonest
Despite a short, uncomplicated, essentially unambiguous declaration (making
it something of an anomaly in diplomatic literature), Ikeda apparently felt
the need to bend over backwards trying to prove that the OAS had, in fact,
"given no direct support to Chavez." What could have been more direct than
the above statement? A photo of the 34 ambassadors wearing red berets shouting
"viva la revolución bolivariana?" An international force sent in
to squash the opposition? How long can people like Ikeda deny that the opposition
has lost the bulk of the international support that it once had?
Ikeda goes on to quote the US Ambassador to the OAS, Roger Noriega, who
says "this resolution supports the secretary general's efforts, unequivocally
and energetically," giving the impression that Noriega was quite pleased
with the resolution. Here may lie the key to Ikeda's bizarre slanting of
this important story. Noriega recently served on the Senate Foreign Affairs
committee. While in that post, he became notorious for his skill at manipulating
reporters. Once, he was overheard bragging that New York Times' Larry Rohter
never made a move without consulting him. It seems that, rather than seek
out independent analysis of the resolution, or do his own (did he even read
it? one has to wonder), Ikeda has let a veteran Washington spin-doctor tell
the story for him.
In fact, the actual text of the resolution is far less "energetic" about
free-expression-suppressing Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, requesting
the OAS Secretary General to continue to report to the Permanent Council
on his facilitation efforts concerning the situation in the Bolivarian Republic
of Venezuela and bearing in mind the existence of other mechanisms in the
inter-American system, such as the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers
of Foreign Affairs.
It appears, to me at least, that the OAS has used this language to distance
itself from Gaviria, and to diminish his role in mediating the crisis. If
they were so happy with the work, why would they ask him so publicly to
bring in two outside parties - the Carter Center and the United Nations
- to help?
Ikeda neglects to tell his readers that the same Roger Noriega spent last
Friday at the OAS fighting for a very different resolution -- one that would
have called for "early elections." In the two days of marathon and tense
debate that followed, Noriega was forced to concede this major point to
Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero, who had support from many Caribbean
nations. The resulting language is much closer to the resolution Valero
wanted than to language pursued by Noriega and the White House. Fortunately
for Noriega, long a foe of Venezuelan democracy and one of the leading now-embarrassed
US politicians who initially backed the April 11 coup, the AP is around
to cover up his latest failure. In all likelihood, Noriega told Ikeda much
more "off the record" to reshape the story into a victory for his camp.
This sort of journalistic spinelessness is hardly limited to Washington;
as we'll see, it is typical of the AP's correspondents in Latin America.
The problem with the Associated Press
Some of AP's other reporters have been producing simply awful journalism
since long before Ikeda joined this round of the Venezuelan tug-of-war.
AP stories are picked up by thousands of newspapers large and small across
the country every day, and are often read by newscasters on the radio and
television. So the tone they set and messages they break to the public are
no small matter; they lie at the heart of the media-created reality through
which most of us through which most United States citizens and many English-speaking
people in other countries experience the larger world.
Associated Press is technically a "non-profit" corporation owned by a cooperative
of for-profit United States newspapers and media companies, and governed
by the AP Managing Editors Association. No radio news show or daily newspaper
editor has the resources to send a reporter to every part of the world she
or he wants. So editors use the AP to cut costs; why pay twenty-five different
journalists to write on an issue when you can pool your resources and just
pay one? According to their website,
the AP is the backbone of the world's information system. In the United
States alone, AP serves 5,000 radio and television stations and 1,700 newspapers.
Add to that the 8,500 newspaper, radio and television subscribers in 121
countries overseas, and you'll have some idea of AP's reach.
This role obviously gives the AP an unbelievable amount of power over the
discussion of global events, especially in the English-speaking world. Yet
AP correspondents write under much lower standards and with much less supervision
than their counterparts at specific media organizations. In other words,
they are largely unaccountable to their editors. At the same time, at a
corporate level, the AP is unaccountable to its millions of readers. Unlike
many newspapers, there is no AP ombudsman who "speaks for the readers."
There is no letters page for the AP, and individual newspapers rarely print
letters responding to wire stories.
The very structure of the AP -- the impersonal bureaucracy through which
this huge volume of information is filtered -- encourages "desk reporting"
from foreign correspondents. This means gleaning stories from the local
commercial newspapers and taking phone calls from Embassy, political, and
corporate spin-doctors rather than going outside and talking to the real
people their stories concern. According to many familiar with the organization,
AP correspondents are typically wined and dined by the English-speaking
elites in the Third World outposts where they are assigned.
A perfect example of what this leads to is the case of Peter McFarren, AP's
18 year bureau chief in Bolivia. McFarren was exposed by this publication
as having moonlighted as a lobbyist for an $80 million dollar water pipeline
project. After two weeks of stonewalling, AP finally announced McFarren's
resignation after Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and Washington
Post media critic Howard Kurtz inquired about the conflict. By the time
he resigned, McFarren had become a regular figure among elite circles of
Bolivian politicians and businessmen, completely alienated from and hostile
towards the masses of people he was responsible for reporting on.
In sum, the typical AP report on a major event in a foreign country is first
filtered through a friendly English-speaking establishment spin-doctor before
reaching the writer, then filtered through a giant bureaucracy of AP editors
with no relationship to either the writer or the ultimate reader, and finally
chosen, not chosen or tampered with by news editors at the commercial media
outlets who buy the story. There are a few exceptions - such as AP's Mexican
and Caribbean correspondent Mark Stevenson. In Venezuela, Niko Price has
occasionally reported outside of the box constructed by pro-coup elites
that the rest of the reporter's peers have fallen for hook, line and sinker
- but still offers very little insight. Venezuela, a country with such a
wide gap between a wealthy elite and a poor majority, seems tailor-made
for the trap that most AP Latin American correspondents have fallen into:
the administration, rather than the reporting, of the news.
Olson: A Journalist On Strike?
Take AP Venezuela correspondent Alexandra Olson for example: She has proven
herself an expert over the past week in the use of AP-style writing to produce
an illusion of objectivity in what actually turns out to be a very one-sided,
dishonest story. Let's try a little exercise in deconstruction here with
what may have been the most read English-language print articles from Venezuela
these last seven days.
In all but one of the eleven stories that Olson has written since Dec. 9th
for the AP, the word "strike" appears in the first paragraph. Anyone who
has been keeping track of the news from Venezuela via her stories, via whatever
medium, has heard reference to a "strike" every single day before any other
facts of the story are presented. In more than half of her stories, she
also uses the full term "general strike" to describe the opposition, but
without quote marks around either.
Is "strike" - or better yet, "general strike" - the best term to describe
what is going on in Venezuela right now? As Narco News has consistently
pointed since the latest incarnation of the anti-Chavez crowd started making
its latest round of trouble in late November, some people may not be working
but this campaign hardly resembles the conventional definition of a general
A strike happens when workers refuse to work in order to pressure their
employer to concede to some demand. A general strike happens when a united
working class stops all work in a country to pressure - or remove from power
- the owning class and the politicians with whom they're in bed.
Rather than the heroic working-class resistance suggested by the term "general
strike" --chosen no doubt to inspire sympathy from working people in Venezuela
and around the world -- it is Venezuela's business class that has conspired
to shut out its workers and close down its shops. And as a conspiracy, it's
failed miserably - most of the owners and white-collar workers who participated
went back to work after only a few days. Only the participation of the oil
industry gave the opposition the power to really threaten the government.
But does Olson interview a single blue-collar worker from the oil company,
or any other "striking" company for that matter, for her string of reports?
Of course not: Why interview actual workers who are "on strike" when you
can repeat sound bytes from the managers who ordered them to stop working?
What Olson has done is give the opposition leaders the power to set the
terms of the conflict. If they say it's a general strike, then it must be
a general strike.
Additionally, Olson has not followed up the results of various "escalations"
of the strike she has reported. She tells the reader that stores close,
but never reports when, days later, they re-open. She tells the reader that
each opposition march is larger than the next, when they've been essentially
conducted by the same size and sector of Venezuelan upper-class society
as has occurred all year long.
The constant "ratcheting up" of the conflict - the "strike" is always portrayed
as bigger, better, growing, escalating, getting more tense, etcetera - is
a tired technique of yellow journalism, and has historic motives in the goal
of selling newspapers. But specific to the Venezuela conflict, this spin
has a dangerous echo in the remarks of one side of the conflict: the Venezuelan
opposition, United States officials, and "mediator" Cesar Gaviria, who also
keep shouting that the situation is "escalating" when the only thing that
escalates about these "strikers" is their own rhetoric.
Announcements that the opposition is "growing" - whether made by its own
leaders or foreign interests, usually correspond to increasing desperation
among the leaders rather than any increase in public support for the strike:
While the opposition movement doubles in size and strength every day in
the fantasy world created for AP correspondents, in the real world stores
are now open again, the government has removed the disruptive management
of the state oil company, and other Latin American nations have now put
the brakes on U.S. efforts to make the Organization of American States the
mechanism for foreign intervention.
Compare this to how Olson discusses Chávez. In an article on the opposition's
highway blockage - forcing regular people commuting to work to "strike"
whether they want to or not - Olson says of Chávez:
Late Sunday, his leftist government sent thousands of "Chavistas" - fervent
believers in his "social revolution"- in a horn-honking parade of cars and
trucks that clogged the capital's streets.
Again and again, Olson puts the terms of Chavez and his camp in quote marks,
to distance herself from them. This is a standard tactic by journalists
to separate themselves from rhetorical labels given by institutions, but
in Olson's case it's been strictly one-sided. The opposition's economic
sabotage is no more objectively a genuine "general strike" than Chavez's
democratic institutions and programs objectively represent a "social revolution."
So why are repetitions of the rhetoric of the Chavez administration placed
in quotes while opposition rhetoric is repeated as if it were undeniable?
Prose like this reveals a contempt for the lower classes, who Olson seems
to think are incapable of independent thought or action. In her version
of the events, demonstrators from the other side are "sent" by the "leftist
government" to "clog" streets with a car and truck parade. Obviously, she
seems to think, any "leftist" poor person must be a government peon - only
the rich demonstrators count.
In just one article out of eleven does she acknowledge that Chavez has questioned
the legitimacy of the strike, referring to "the strike that Chavez says
doesn't exist." She feels no need to go further than this, no need to cite
even one of the well-documented reasons to suspect the rhetoric of the "strike."
Olson has in fact never presented the "Chavista" side seriously, and speaks
often speaks quite condescendingly about it. In one of her Dec. 16th stories,
Olson almost looks like she's going to acknowledge the lack of public support
for the work stoppage. "Some Venezuelans were tiring of the strike," she
writes, towards the end of the article. And why is that? The only reason
Olson gives is that a strike through the holidays would mess up the baseball
season. Apparently, the hundreds of thousands who demonstrate against the
strike every weekend (they don't have time to play revolution every day
of the week like the rich strikers who suddenly find themselves on vacation)
aren't really against a ruling-class coup, they're just baseball fanatics!
Throughout her articles, Olson's only quotes from the hundreds of thousands
in Caracas and around the country resisting the opposition have been the
slogans shouted at rallies, which naturally come off as simplistic and just
a bit silly. Often, she repeats the same quotes from a rally days before
in article after article. At the same time, she presents the well-crafted
statements of opposition leaders each day.
Again and again, she repeats that opposition leaders accuse Chavez of "driving
the country toward communism" without explaining what that means.
Again and again, she talks about the strike "gathering force" when in fact
every day more people have been going back to work. The only thing that has
worked more and more in the opposition's favor over the past week has been
the further impoverishment of the economy by the shutdown of oil exports.
Real general strikes are measured in numbers and in the resolve of the strikers,
not just in how much damage a smaller but more powerful group of strikers
can force on the rest of the country.
AP Losing Credibility Daily in Venezuela
Several other AP reporters should be taken to task for their distortions
of the last two weeks. Here is a short list of important developments in
Venezuela over the last few weeks that have been nowhere to be found in
any AP report:
the discovery by a former "dissident" army officer that opposition forces
had weapons hidden in the buildings around their former stronghold of Plaza
the leaked email in which opposition members declare they have no intention
of following the law or the constitution.
virtually any relevant details about Joao Gouveia, the Portugese man who
seems to have been the gunman that killed three people in Plaza Altamira:
the evidence that he arrived in the country just twenty-four hours before
the shootings, the credible theory that the opposition had something to
do with it, and how the opposition certainly tried to cynically capitalize
on the tragedy, or the similarity between this event and the opposition-triggered
gun battle last April which provided the pretext for a coup.
witness reports that there were no Chavistas at the vandalized Zulia TV
station, supporting Chavista claims that this was actually the work of the
the constant harassment of the public television station and the independent
Community Media, which has continued since April (despite plentiful coverage
of Dec. 7 Chavista/Bolivarian protests outside commercial TV stations and
the accompanying dishonest statements by "press freedom" groups).
"mediator" Cesar Gaviria's disturbing call for Chávez to suppress
peaceful demonstration outside commercial media outlets.
James Anderson has filed six AP stories from Caracas since the "strike"
began. In his first, filed Dec. 2, the day the strike began, (with the requisite
unchallenged reference to a "general strike" in paragraph 1) he reports
of one of the "strike leaders:"
Ortega on Monday denounced anonymous threats against strike leaders and
the arrests of a handful of strike activists. He demanded immediate elections
and a demilitarization of Caracas' police department.
Anderson's is one of several AP articles to making a passing reference to
the "military takeover" of the Metropolitan Police (PM). AP's Bill Cormier,
on Dec. 13th, explores the issue for a full article and deplores the allegedly
dangerous situation Chavez has left the city in with no real police force.
What's more, reports Cormier,
Armed "Chavista" radicals, responsible for past attacks on police and demonstrators,
have yet to take advantage of the situation. But opponents say no one is
in the streets to stop them if they do so.
Throwaway sentences like this do a great service to the opposition but represent
no real reporting. The implicit assumption here, with language like "take
advantage," indicate that the Chavistas would naturally attack anything
that moved, that the only reason they don't go on murderous rampages is
the presence of the PM. What does "attacks on police and demonstrators"
mean? That's a pretty important charge; one would think it deserved at least
one specific example. Does Cormier mean April 11, when Chavistas fired back
after opposition thugs shot at pro-democracy counter-demonstrators?
As this publication reported when the military takeover of the PM first
happened in November, that department was partly responsible for the vastly
under-reported murders of 50 Bolivarian activists immediately following
the coup. Their reign of terror continued, and the harassment, beating and
often murder of pro-Chavez activists in Caracas's poor neighborhoods became
common. Olson and others repeat incessantly the (justified) horror over
the three suspicious deaths at Plaza Altamira, and disgraced OAS chief Cesar
Gaviria's whining that he feared escalating violence.
After 16 days of repeating its tired claims, the reader of AP Venezuela
coverage has no better understanding of the conflict than she or he had
prior to December. The screaming lack of context for any discussion of violence
in Venezuela, as always, serves the Big Lie of a principled, noble strike
and an irrational, "authoritarian" government. The AP has produced a flood
of stories since the latest opposition push broke out, all of which run
the spectrum from forgettable to outright coup propaganda. The reporters
at the AP need to take a step back and look at the side missing from their
stories, to serve their enormous audience with something much more closely
resembling the truth. If genuine reporting from their stories is being filtered
out by editors in favor of PR sound bytes - unlikely but not impossible
- they need to find a way to force the truth into the end product.
More importantly, the AP Managing Editors Association must, to regain lost
credibility, reform the way foreign news is "reported" - with a particular
eye on Latin America - with a series of checks and balances that provide
greater accountability, a mechanism to receive and act on complaints by
readers and subjects alike, and an insistence that AP correspondents get
up from their desks and interview real people to counter the triumph of
the spin-doctors over AP's foreign bureaus.
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