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New York Times Coverage of Venezuelan Election Was Poor

October 8, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: NYTX

Chavez Celebrations

By Michael M’Gehee:

Hugo Chávez won his third straight presidential election this past weekend, and as the New York Times correspondent William Neumann put it in his latest article, “Chávez Wins New Term in Venezuela, Holding Off Surge by Opposition,”: “Though his margin of victory was much narrower than in past elections, he still won handily.” By more than 10 percent, Chávez defeated center-right candidate for the Justice First party, Henrique Capriles.

The problem with Neumann’s article, and his pre-election article “Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election” is that he said nothing about Capriles’ campaign while providing considerable space to hearsay and accusations he, and Times editors, didn’t back up with examples. What resulted was clear cases of anti-Chávez hysteria and poor journalism.

In Neumann’s pre-election article he wrote that “polls diverge widely, with some predicting a victory for Mr. Chávez and others showing a race that is too close to call,” but he offers no examples of these “too close to call” polls. When the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at available data they found that “Capriles [had] a 5.7 percent probability of winning the election.”

And just as Neumann doesn’t provide any examples of those who have “anxiety” about  ”a new electronic voting system that many Venezuelans fear might be used by the government to track those who vote against the president” there are no examples provided of “[m]any government workers” whose names “were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office” and subsequently ”lost their jobs.” This claim has been circulating for nearly ten years, and if Neumann has proof it occurred he should certainly share it. That would be more newsworthy than the unfounded fears of unknown persons.

The fearmongering does not stop there. Neumann also claims, without providing any supporting evidence, that “Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies.” Despite having won three successive presidential elections by large margins, and whose voter base continues to grow, it seems Neumann cannot accept the fact that Venezuelans vote for and “attend pro-Chávez rallies” because they actually support the man and his policies.

Another problem with Neumann’s articles is that, on one hand of Neumann’s Anti-Chávez argument, Chávez has sown “fear” and rules by intimidation. This is why nearly eight million Venezuelans voted for him—an increase by more than half a million votes, or an almost ten percent gain in votes since the 2006 election. Then, on the other hand, we are told that Chávez rules by bribery. Neumann claims that the reason “it has been harder for Mr. Capriles to dent the strong support for Mr. Chávez in rural areas” is the government spending on poverty, which Neumann refers to as “the government largess [Mr. Chávez] doles out with abandon.”

In his post-election article Neumann continues with his bias, which would be more appropriate in the opinion section, when he offers advice to Capriles. Neumann warns that ”the opposition is a fragile coalition with a history of destructive infighting, especially after an election defeat,” and that “Mr. Capriles will have to keep this fractious amalgam of parties from the left, right and center together in order to take advantage of the new ground they have gained.”

While noting that “Mr. Chávez has trumpeted his programs to help the poor,” or the so-called “government largess” which Chávez “has pointed to a sharp reduction in the number of people living in poverty” as proof that he is delivering the goods, Neumann tries to explain this not so much as an actual agenda by Chávez but due to the fact that the president “has governed during a phenomenal rise in oil prices, which have soared from $10 in 1998, the year before he took office, to more than $100 in recent years and the high $80s now, pouring huge amounts of revenue into Venezuela.” When it comes to Neumann, Chávez can’t win for losing.

Neumann also spends an inordinate amount of time talking about Chávez’s health. In fact, he provides more coverage of that, as well as criticizing Chávez at every turn and giving voice to unqualified accusations, than he does talking about the actual campaigns of the candidates. While Neumann writes in his post-election article that Capriles “campaigned almost nonstop” he doesn’t say what Capriles campaigned on, and if he provided his readers with such information they might actually get a glimpse into why the opposition fared much better than the past two elections.

In an article published this past April, Reuters wrote that “Henrique Capriles defines himself as a center-left ‘progressive’ follower of the business-friendly but socially-conscious Brazilian economic model,” while Global Post wrote that “Capriles has based his campaign on improving education, which he sees as a long-term solution to the country’s insecurity and deep poverty,” and that ”Capriles’ methods are not to shout down Chavez — indeed, he praises many of the president’s ideas.” Far from being an “opposition” candidate, Capriles tried to appear as Chávez-lite.

New York Times coverage of the presidential election in Venezuela was bizarre, but typical. The political leanings of the “paper of record” are notorious for reflecting the views and interests of the political and economic establishment. And with Chávez not being an ally of the U.S. government and business community, and is instead encouraging the regional independence that has been unfolding for the past decade much to their ire, and with Chávez expected to and having “won handily,” it comes as no surprise that the Venezuelan election process, which former American president Jimmy Carter has hailed as the “best in the world,” would get picked over by the New York Times as being the results of intimidation and bribery.

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