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Urge NYT Public Editor to Investigate Biased Reporting on Venezuela & Honduras

May 14, 2013   ·   0 Comments

Source: NYTX

The following petition, signed by over a dozen experts on Latin America and Media including Noam Chomsky and Greg Grandin, was sent today to Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for The New York Times. Join the campaign below.

Dear Margaret Sullivan,

In a recent column (4/12/13), you observed:

Although individual words and phrases may not amount to very much in the great flow produced each day, language matters. When news organizations accept the government’s way of speaking, they seem to accept the government’s way of thinking. In The Times, these decisions carry even more weight.

In light of this comment we encourage you to compare The New York Times’s characterization of the leadership of the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and that of Roberto Micheletti and Porfirio Lobo in Honduras.

In the past four years, the Times has referred to Chávez as an “autocrat,” “despot,” “authoritarian ruler” and a “caudillo” in its news coverage. When opinion pieces are included, the Times has published at least fifteen separate articles employing such language, depicting Chávez as a “dictator” or “strongman.” Over the same period—since the June 28, 2009 military overthrow of elected president Manuel Zelaya of Honduras—Times contributors have never used such terms to describe Micheletti, who presided over the coup regime after Zelaya’s removal, or Porfirio Lobo, who succeeded him. Instead, the paper has variously described them in its news coverage as “interim,” “de facto,” and “new.”

Porfirio Lobo assumed the presidency after winning an election held under Micheletti’s coup government. The elections were marked by repression and censorship, and international monitors, like the Carter Center, boycotted them. Since the coup, Honduras’s military and police have routinely killed civilians.

Over the past 14 years Venezuela has had 16 elections or referenda deemed free and fair by leading international authorities. Jimmy Carter praised Venezuela’s elections, among the 92 the Carter Center has monitored, as having “a very wonderful voting system.” He concluded that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” While some human rights groups have criticized the Chávez government, Venezuela has had no pattern of state security forces murdering civilians, as is the case in Honduras.

Whatever one thinks of the democratic credentials of Chávez’s presidency—and we recognize that reasonable people can disagree about it—there is nothing in the record, when compared with that of his Honduran counterparts, to warrant the discrepancies in the Times’s coverage of the two governments.

We urge you to examine this disparity in coverage and language use, particularly as it may appear to your readers to track all too closely the U.S. government’s positions regarding the Honduran government (which it supports) and the Venezuelan government (which it opposes)—precisely the syndrome you describe and warn against in your column.

Sincerely,

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus, MIT
Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center
Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center
Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University
Mark Weisbrot, Ph.D, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pomona College
Katherine Hite, Professor of Political Science, Vassar College
Steve Ellner, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, Universidad de Oriente
George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University
Daniel Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Gregory Wilpert, Ph.D, author of “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power”
Joseph Nevins, Professor of Geography, Vassar College
Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University
Steven Volk, Professor of History, Oberlin College
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University
Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America
Chris Spannos, New York Times eXaminer
Michael Albert, ZNet
Oliver Stone, Film Director, “South of the Border”
Michael Moore, Film Maker and Activist
Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights

Translations: Spanish Below / French

Noam Chomsky y un grupo de intelectuales le piden a la editora del NY Times analizar el enfoque parcializado en opiniones sobre Venezuela y Honduras.

La siguiente petición, firmada por más de una docena de expertos en el tema de América Latina y los medios de comunicación, le fue enviada hoy a Margaret Sullivan, editora del New York Times:

14 de mayo de 2013

Estimada Margaret Sullivan,

En una columna reciente (12/4/2013) Usted comentó:

Aunque ciertas palabras y frases no tienen mucha importancia dado el gran flujo diario que se crea, el lenguaje importa. Cuando las organizaciones de noticias aceptan la manera de expresarse del gobierno, ellas parecen aceptar la forma de pensar del gobierno. En el Times, estas decisiones tienen aun más peso.

A la luz de estos comentarios, nosotros le pedimos a comparar la caracterización del New York Times al liderazgo del difunto Hugo Chávez en Venezuela con aquella de Roberto Micheletti y Porfirio Lobo en Honduras.

En los últimos cuatro años, el Times ha tildado a Chávez como “autócrata”, “déspota”, “gobernante autoritario”, y un “caudillo” en sus coberturas de noticias. Si incluimos los artículos de opinión, el Times ha publicado al menos quince artículos empleando tal lenguaje, describiendo a Chávez como “dictador” u “hombre duro”. En el mismo período —desde el golpe militar que derrocó al presidente electo hondureño Manuel Zelaya el 28 de junio de 2009— ningún colaborador del Times ha utilizado esos términos para referirse a Micheletti, quien encabezaba un regimen golpista tras el desposeimiento de Zelaya, ni se refirió así a Porfirio Lobo, quien lo sucedió. En cambio, el periódico los ha descrito en sus coberturas de noticia como “interino”, “de facto”, y “nuevo”.

Porfirio Lobo asumió la presidencia luego de ganar las elecciones que tuvieron lugar bajo el mandato del gobierno golpista de Micheletti. Dichas elecciones fueron marcadas por la represión y la censura, y los observadores internacionales, como el Centro Carter, las boicotearon. Desde el golpe de estado, las fuerzas militares y policiales hondureñas han asesinado a civiles con asiduidad.

En los últimos 14 años, Venezuela ha realizado 16 elecciones o referéndum. Jimmy Carter alabó las elecciones en Venezuela, entre las 92 elecciones que el Centro Carter ha monitoreado, y las describió como “un magnífico sistema de votación”. El concluyó que “el proceso electoral en Venezuela es el mejor del mundo”. Mientras algunos grupos por los derechos humanos han criticado el gobierno de Chávez, las fuerzas del orden en Venezuela no tienen un historial de haber asesinado a civiles, como es el caso en Honduras.

Cualquier cosa que uno piense sobre las credenciales democráticas de la presidencia de Chávez —y creemos que personas razonables pueden debatirlas— no hay nada registrado, al compararlo con su contraparte en Honduras, que justifique las discrepancias en la cobertura del Times hacia cada gobierno.

Le instamos a examinar esta diferencia en las coberturas y el uso del lenguaje, particularmente porque aquella puede darle una impresión a sus lectores de la parcialización a favor de la posición del gobierno estadounidense con respecto al gobierno de Honduras (al cual apoya), y el gobierno venezolano (al cual se opone) —precisamente el síndrome que Usted escribe y advierte en su columna.

Sinceramente,

Noam Chomsky, Profesor Emérito del Instituto Tecnológico de Massachusetts
Edward Herman, Profesor Emérito de Finanzas en la Wharton School, Universidad de Pensilvania
Greg Grandin, Profesor de Historia en la Universidad de Nueva York
Sujatha Fernandes, Profesor de Sociología en el Queen College y del Centro Graduado de la Universidad de Nueva York
Corey Robin, Profesor de Ciencias Políticas, Brooklyn College
Adrienne Pine, Profesor de Antropología en la American University
Mark Weisbrot, Doctor en Filosofía y codirector del Centro para el Estudio de la Política y Economía
Miguel Tinker Salas, Profesor de Historia y Estudios latinoamericanos en el Porma College
Katherine Hite, Profesora de Ciencias Políticas en el Vassar College
Steve Ellner, Profesor de Asuntos Internacionales y Públicos en la Universidad de Columbia y la Universidad de Oriente
George Ciccariello-Maher, Profesor de Ciencias Políticas Universidad de Drexel
Daniel Kovalik, Profesor de Derechos Humanos Internacionales de la Facultad de Derecho en la Universidad de Pittsburgh
Gregory Wilpert, Doctor en Filosofía, autor de “Cambiar a Venezuela tomando el poder”
Joseph Nevins, Profesor de Geografía en el Vassar College
Zazih Richani, Director de Estudios de América Latina, Universidad de Kean
Steven Volk, Profesor de Historia en el Oberlin College
Aviva Chomsky, Profesora de Historia en la Salem State University
Keane Bhatt, Congreso norteamericano para América Latina
Chris Spannos, analista del New York Times eXaminer
Michael Albert, ZNet
Oliver Stone, cineasta, “Al sur de la frontera”
Michael Moore, cineasta, activista
Vincent Warren, director ejecutivo, Centro de Derechos Constitucionales

 

Add your name to this petition by sending your email to the Times’s Public Editor below. Edit the message if you wish.

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Supporting Documentation

Below is a list of 16 Times articles compiled by Keane Bhatt that served as the basis of an analysis piece from which this petition was derived. None of the terms below (autocrat, despot, authoritarian, ruler, strongman, caudillo, dictator, tyrant, sultan) have been applied to either of Honduras’s post-coup regimes:

News:

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg, 2/16/11: “Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced him.”

The Arab Spring Finds Itself Upstaged by a New Season,” Neil MacFarquhar, 9/22/11: “In fact, this year’s gathering was suffering from something of a despot deficit, or at least the ranks of haranguers raging against the evils of capitalism and the West have been drastically thinned by revolutions or disease. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Cuba, literally mailed it in . . .”

Charges Against U.S.-Aided Groups Come With History of Distrust in Egypt,” Scott Shane and Ron Nixon, 2/6/12: “Authoritarian rulers from Caracas to Moscow and beyond have long viewed pro-democracy groups financed by the United States with deep suspicion, regularly denouncing them as meddlers or spies and sometimes harassing their workers.”

A Polarizing Figure Who Led a Movement,” Simon Romero, 3/5/13: “He maintained an almost visceral connection with the poor, tapping into their resentments, while strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel. . . . He grew obsessed with changing Venezuela’s laws and regulations to ensure that he could be re-elected indefinitely and become, indeed, a caudillo.”

Opinion:

The Winner in Honduras: Chavez,” Alvaro Vargas Llosa, 6/30/09: “The United States’ more measured response [to Honduras's coup d'etat], and the low-profile stance taken by some South American governments, have been lost amid the high-stakes campaign launched by Venezuela’s caudillo.”

Real Men Tax Gas,” Thomas Friedman, 9/19/09: “Such a tax would make our national-security healthier by . . . increasing our leverage over petro-dictators, like those in Iran, Russia and Venezuela, through shrinking their oil incomes.”

As Ugly as It Gets,” Thomas Friedman, 5/25/10: “[Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] regularly praises Venezuela’s strongman Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator — and now Ahmadinejad — while denouncing Colombia, one of the great democratic success stories. . .”

Wallflowers at the Revolution,” Frank Rich, 2/5/11: “More damning, Morozov also demonstrates how the digital tools so useful to citizens in a free society can be co-opted by tech-savvy dictators, police states and garden-variety autocrats to spread propaganda and to track (and arrest) conveniently networked dissidents, from Iran to Venezuela.”

Why Tyrants Love the Murdoch Scandal,” Bill Keller, 7/24/11: “And autocrats will be autocrats, with or without our bad example. Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chávez would be just as hostile to an unfettered press if no British journalist had ever hacked a phone.”

The Stomachs of Strongmen,” Ann Louise Bardach, 8/21/11: “Ironically, the hemisphere’s most indomitable strongmen and determined foes of the United States and free market economics have both been felled, at least for now, by abdominal woes . . . The symbiosis between Cuba’s emeritus or former (and in most ways, still de facto) commander in chief and the Venezuelan colonel-turned-oil-sultan is the most powerful and fascinating political alliance in the Americas.”

The Realest Reality Show in the World,” Rachel Nolan, 5/6/12: “[I]t’s hard to imagine another political figure with the combination of manic exhibitionism and entertainer’s stamina required to star in this sort of show, never mind the autocratic control required to make it, literally, must-see TV in his home country. . . . ‘Aló Presidente’ has that same wacky quality. The difference is that Mrs. Mouth wasn’t the autocratic leader of an oil-rich country of 29 million people.”

Velvet Gloves Over Iron Fists,” Dwight Garner, 6/10/12: “The neo-authoritarians, from Vladimir Putin in Russia to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to China’s more faceless technocrats, are still brutal, but they have learned to adapt.”

How Hugo Chávez Became Irrelevant,” Francisco Toro, 10/5/12: “Mr. Chávez’s autocratic excesses came to look unnecessary and inexcusable to Venezuelans. . . . With oversight institutions neutered, the president now runs the country as a personal fief . . . Chávez-style socialism looks like the worst of both worlds: both more authoritarian and less effective at reducing poverty than the Brazilian alternative. . . . Mr. Capriles pitches himself as an ambitious but pragmatic social reformer committed to ending the Chávez era’s authoritarian excesses.”

The Missing President,” Alberto Barrera Tyska and Christina Marcano, 1/22/13: “In the name of the dispossessed, he revived the ghost of the South American military caudillo, creating a new version of that traditional strongman. … There is one element of the Chávez leadership, however, that is no different from any of Latin America’s other personality-driven authoritarian regimes: its messianic nature.”

Hugo Chávez,” Editorial Board, 3/6/13: “Hugo Chávez dominated Venezuelan politics for 14 years with his charismatic personality, populist policies and authoritarian methods . . . his legacy is stained by the undermining of democratic institutions.”

Death of a Strongman,” Jonathan Tepperman, 4/5/13: “Finally, after years of riding the sugar binge of Chávez’s populist politics, which left the country “flabby, enfeebled and import-­addicted,” much of the public lost enthusiasm for their latter-day caudillo. . . . efforts to underscore the inherent absurdity of autocrats and their personality cults are nothing new.”

Keane will update this list on his NACLA blog “Manufacturing Contempt“.

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