PANDEMONIUM  VENEZUELAN MISDEEDS  WATCH

No. 501

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NY Times Reporter Quits Over Conflict of Interest
Venezuela Misdeeds Adding Up on 43rd Street

"Toro's obsessive anti-Chavez position in Venezuela."

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
January 14, 2003


The New York Times' Venezuela problem continued to snowball
yesterday as its Caracas correspondent Francisco Toro resigned.

Toro acknowledged, in a letter to Times editor Patrick J. Lyons, "conflicts
of interest concerns" regarding his participation in protest marches and
his "lifestyle bound up with opposition activism."

Toro's obsessive anti-Chavez position in Venezuela was publicly known after
last April's coup when he began sending emails to Narco News and other
journalists who he placed on his own mailing list attacking Venezuelan
President Hugo Chávez. That the Times hired him in the first place was a
violation of the Times' own claims to objective and disinterested
reporting. But regarding Venezuela, it was not the first.

Toro's resignation - the text of his letter sent to the Times management
last night appears below - is the latest in a long series of missteps and
misdeeds by the New York Times and its reporters regarding the New York
newspaper's one-sided and inaccurate Venezuela coverage:



Last April, the Times editorial board had to issue a public apology - sent
to journalist Jules Siegel (a professor at the Narco News School of
Authentic Journalism) by editorial board member Gail Collins. She said,
"Nobody should ever cheer the overthrow of a democratically elected
government. You're right, we dropped the ball on our first Venezuela
editorial."


Also last April, New York Times reporter Juan Forero reported that
President Chávez had "resigned" when, in fact, Chávez had been kidnapped at
gunpoint. Forero did not source his knowingly false claim. Forero, on April
13, wrote a puff piece on dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona - installed by a
military coup - as Carmona disbanded Congress, the Supreme Court, the
Constitution and sent his shocktroops house to house in a round-up of
political leaders in which sixty supporters of Chávez were assassinated.
Later that day, after the Venezuelan masses took back their country block
by block, Carmona fled the national palace and Chávez, the elected
president, was restored to office.


Forero - who, Narco News reported in 2001, allowed US Embassy officials to
monitor his interviews with mercenary pilots in Colombia, without
disclosing that fact in his article - was caught again last month in his
unethical pro-coup activities in Venezuela. Narco News Associate Publisher
Dan Feder revealed that Forero and LA Times reporter T. Christian Miller
had written essentially the same story, interviewing the same two
shopkeepers in a wealthy suburb of Caracas, and the same academic "expert"
in a story meant to convince readers that a "general strike" was occurring
in Venezuela. The LA Times Readers Representative later revealed that
Forero and Miller interviewed the shopkeepers together. Neither disclosed
that fact.


In many ways, it has been the credibility problem posed by Forero that led
to Toro's hiring last November by the Times, and the importation of Times
Mexico Bureau Chief Ginger Thompson to Venezuela last month.


But Thompson's reporting has also been laden with distortions. Last week
she reported that there had been a "strike" by "bank workers" when, in
fact, it was a lockout by bank owners supported only by the executives
"union" - which represents only one percent of bank workers in the country.
(That the bank lockout of its customers - conducted by 60 percent of bank
branches over two days - constituted a theft of people's access to their
own money was not raised by Thompson's article.)


Thompson, again yesterday, continued to embarrass herself and the Times
with a report that "strike" leaders in Venezuela - now completely defeated
on every front - are "discussing new strategies to ease the hardship on
Venezuelans, including partly lifting the strike to allow businesses and
factories to reopen." This turn of phrase is dishonest on Thompson's part,
transparently an attempt to spin the collapse of the upper-class lock-out
as an intentional "evolution" in strategy.


On December 13, Times columnist Nick Kristof quoted Toro as "a Venezuela
journalist" without disclosing that he was, at that time, a New York Times
reporter; hardly on the scale of the other violations of the Times' own
stated ethical practices by Forero, but still an interesting revelation of
how confused the Times' coverage of Venezuela has been in recent years.
When was the last time a Times columnist quoted a Times reporter without
identifying him as such?


As "strike" leaders Carlos Fernandez (the Spain-born president of
Venezuela's chamber of big business) and Carlos Ortega (a union boss whose
election as head of the Venezuela Workers Federation was marred by evidence
of fraud and undisclosed financial support from United States taxpayer
funds) head to New York for a dog-and-pony show hosted by David
Rockefeller's Council of the Americas on Wednesday morning, the "Strike
That Wasn't" has already lost even the illusion of a "strike" made possible
by the reporting of Timespersons Forero, Thompson, Toro and others.

But sometimes even the New York Times must stand naked, and the tale of the
rise and fall of Francisco Toro as "Timesman-for-a-month" reveals a
documented intention by Times editors to hire, in Toro, a pro-coup
spin-meister.


Francisco Toro: Timesman-for-a-Month


Toro first appeared on the pages of the Times last September 24, when he
was quoted by Forero and identified as "an editor at Veneconomia, a
financial newsletter," bolstering Forero's spin that Chávez had wrecked
Venezuela's economy. Two months later, Toro popped up as a Times reporter.

A LexisNexis search reveals that, in his brief career at the Times, Toro
penned just two articles: on November 21 ("Venezuela Ready to License
Rights to Offshore Gas ") and November 30 ("White Collar Oil Workers Key in
Venezuela Crisis"). Ironically, Toro's reports were more balanced than
those of the rabidly pro-coup Forero or those of relief pitcher Thompson:
Toro, at least, acknowledged that it was the "white collar" members of the
state oil company's management behind the lock-out and that "The biggest
federation of blue-collar unions in the oil industry, Fedepetrol, is split
between pro- and anti-government factions."

In fact, even last fall, before the "strike" began on December 2nd, Toro
acknowledged on his own Internet weblog that "this strike doesn't have a
chance. the strike will fail." If only some of that kind of interpretation
had made its way onto the Times' pages over the past month!

Toro, with one key exception, has honored the Golden Rule of the New York
Times - "Don't Get Caught" - better than Forero or Thompson. Toro, who
publicly acknowledges that he admires Mexico's disgraced ex-Secretary of
State Jorge Castañeda (who also resigned this past week from his post),
plays the "objectivity game" slightly better than the official Timesmen:
Mixing his rabid pro-coup sentiments with flourishes of measure and
consideration of other views so as to appear more balanced.

Here is a copy of Toro's resignation letter, sent yesterday afternoon to
Times editor Patrick Lyons, and now posted to Toro's weblog:


 From "Francisco Toro"
Date Mon, 13 Jan 2003 5:57 PM
To "Patrick J. Lyons"
Subject

--------------------------------------------------

Dear Pat,

After much careful consideration, I've decided I can't continue reporting
for the New York Times. As I examine the problem, I realize it would take
much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict of
interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition
activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing
events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I
don't think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story
that the New York Times demands. For better or for worse, my country's
democracy is in peril now, and I can't possibly be neutral about that.

I appreciate your understanding throughout this difficult time, and I hope
in the future, conditions will allow for me to contribute with the World
Business page again.

Sincerely,

Francisco Toro


Toro, on January 7th, committed an act of disclosure that probably marked
the beginning of the end of his Times career: He spoke "out of class" about
his interactions with a NY Times editor, also on his weblog:


"It's tough being a journalist in this country, especially if, like me,
you're trying to juggle roles as a critic in the local press and a beat
reporter for a U.S. newspaper. Trying to play both roles - and trying to
mediate between the sides - takes its toll. It's the reason, in any event,
for the new and regrettable need to password-protect this blog: one of my
US editors was very uncomfortable with having one of his reporters taking
such openly political stances on a public website."


In other words, at least by January 7th, the Grand Poohbahs of 43rd Street
were already aware of Toro's conflicts of interest, and whatever they said
to him led him to sweep his blog under the rug with password-only access.
This suggests strongly that at the Times, conflicts of interest are
tolerated as long as they are not disclosed or made public.

Then, last night, Toro came clean: "my lifestyle is bound up with
opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to
organizing events and attending protest marches."

As much as I disagree with Toro's politics (I have argued with him before
in heated exchanges), I admire him for disclosing what the New York Times
did not want him to disclose: his clear bias and his conflicts of interest.
By resigning from the Times in an open and public manner, he did the right
thing.

But the New York Times comes out of this episode with its already broken
credibility regarding Venezuela reporting more damaged than ever. The
Times' Venezuela coverage is adrift, caught between its self-proclaimed
"objective" mission and its hidden agenda: the distortion of news from that
country in order to destabilize a democratically elected government.

If the Times International Desk had a shred of journalistic ethics, it
would have either hired Toro as a partisan columnist or disclosed his
activity in organizations, protest marches and the rest of what Toro
himself calls his "opposition activism" on its pages when it hired him as a
news correspondent.

That the Times hired Toro in the first place, did not disclose his
conflicts, and then apparently encouraged Toro to hide his conflicts by
blocking public access to his web blog for the past week, indicates that
the cancer inside the 43rd Street offices of the New York Times that grows
from its simulated Venezuela coverage is malignant. Until the Times'
management comes clean on this and previous ethical lapses, particularly
those of Forero, regarding Venezuela, the patient - the newspaper's
credibility - continues to die.


Correction: At 3:15 p.m. ET we reported that the Toro weblog no longer
contained the email text above. We were wrong about that: It was not
removed at any time to our knowledge.

The source of the confusion was a "code" error in our URL link: The lack of
the letter "s."

The correct address of Toro's weblog is:

http://caracaschronicles.blogspot.com

The glitch in our original posting had said "Caracas Chronicle" instead of
"Caracas Chronicles" (thus, the missing "s"), which leads to the following
page:

http://caracaschronicle.blogspot.com

That page also exists, but only contains his September 21 report.

Confusing as it is, we regret the implication that Toro pulled his archives
down. He did not. His weblog still appears, with his resignation letter to
the NY Times, at:

http://caracaschronicles.blogspot.com

Apologies for the unintentional error in our update.

- Al Giordano

http://www.narconews.com/Issue27/article584.html
 
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