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Deputy Editor, Editorial Page
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071
March 25, 2008
Dear Mr. Diehl,
Over the past several years, we have informed you of our concerns regarding the hostile, distorted and inaccurate coverage of Venezuela in your newspaper, and particularly on the Editorial Page. Previously, we communicated our alarm at the unbalanced reporting and writing on Venezuela during the period 2000-2006, which evidenced one-sided analyses and false claims regarding President Chávez’s tendencies and events within the country. Since then, however, the Post coverage has gotten worse. More editorials and OpEds have been written this past year about Venezuela than ever before, 98% of which are negative, critical, and aggressive and contain false or manipulated information. We are therefore led to believe that the Washington Post is promoting an anti-Venezuela, anti-Chávez agenda.
This is interesting in that we have a negative commentary about our MSM from somewhere out of the US. We know that the MSM laid down for W’s leadup to the Iraq war, so we should be aware when they go after another country. While we can expect some spin from the writer, we also should know that there is spin from the MSM.
President Chávez has been referred to in Washington Post editorials and OpEds during the past year as a “strongman”, “crude populist”, “autocrat”, “clownish”, “increasingly erratic”, “despot” and “dictator” on 8 separate occasions and his government has been referred to 7 times as a “dictatorship”, a “repressive regime” or a form of “authoritarianism”. Such claims are not only false, but they are also extremely dangerous. The U.S. government has used such classifications to justify wars, military interventions, coup d’etats and other regime change techniques over the past several decades.
Mind you, it’s not just the MSM. When you read about Chavez and Venezuela in the blogosphere (even the left blogosphere), you often times see the same points. Yet in the blogosphere, you get to read pro-Chavez reports as well as good middle-of-the-road analysis as well. This is what we should expect from the MSM, but it’s more often than not what we don’t get.
Far from a dictatorship, President Chávez’s government has the highest popularity rating in the Venezuela’s contemporary history and Chávez has won three presidential elections with landslide victories and several other important elections, including a recall referendum against his mandate in August 2004, which he won with a clear 60-40 majority. Hugo Chávez is the first president in Venezuela’s history to include the country’s majority poor population in key decision and policy-making. The creation of community councils that govern locally and the increase in voter participation are clear signs of a vibrant, open democracy, demonstrating that Venezuela is far from a dictatorship.
Another good point would be that a dictatorship wouldn’t have accepted loosing the vote on the constitutional reforms.
The Editorial Page inaccuracies and distortions extend beyond the mere labeling of President Chávez. On more than 11 occasions, editorials and OpEds have falsely claimed that President Chávez “controls the courts and the television media”. Venezuela has five branches of government – all of which are autonomous from one other by Constitutional mandate: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, the Electoral and the People’s Power. Unlike the United States, which allows for the Executive to appoint supreme court justices, in Venezuela, the high court magistrates are determined through a selection process and a vote in the National Assembly. The Executive branch in Venezuela plays no role in the assignment of judges to the courts. Communications media in Venezuela continues to be majority controlled by the private sector, despite what the Post Editorial Page claims.
This is intereseting, if only because we learn part of how Venezuela’s government is set up. It’s also good to know that most of Venezuela’s media is still in private hands. Opposition is allowed, and continues unabated under Chavez’ administration.
Post editorials and OpEds also erroneously referred to the constitutional reform package last December on more than 8 occasions as enabling President Chávez to “rule indefinitely” or become a “de facto president-for-life”. The Constitutional reform did seek to abolish term limits, but not elections. Venezuelans would still have the right and duty to nominate candidates and vote for them in transparent electoral processes. Interestingly, the Post made no similar accusations against President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia when he twice made moves to change constitutional law to permit reelection to a second term. Uribe succeded in 2004 and is now again seeking to amend that law so he can run for a third term. Where are the Post’s cries about dictatorship and de facto president-for-life in Colombia?
Once again, a case of shading is pointed out by the letter. I think Chavez’ mistake was allowing himself to eradicate term limits while in his current term. He should have had the elimination of term limits take place after his current term ends. Oh well. The fact that elections would be held were a good point, although a third term victory by Chavez probably would have been spun as a rigged election. The letter is also right to point out the Post’s (and much of the MSM’s) hypocriscy in dealing with the pro-American regimes such as Uribe’s.
The Post has also severely manipulated and outrighted censored information about economic growth in Venezuela. Twice, recent publications on the editorial page described the Venezuelan government economic measures as “disastrous, crackpot economic policies”. Under Chávez’s economic policies, extreme poverty has diminished to an all-time low of 9.4% (2007) from a high of 42.5% in 1996. Unemployment has been reduced to 6.9% (2007) from 16.6% in 1998. Minimum wage has been raised substantially during the Chávez government to become one of the highest in the developing world, and there has been a significant reduction in Venezuela’s public debt. Chávez also paid off Venezuela’s loans to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and has increased investment in the nation’s agricultural production industry.
Now, I’ll take this with a grain of salt. I expect the Minister to put Venezuela’s accomplishments during Chavez’ administration in a good light. It would be interesting to see how independent economic analysis looks at what’s going on in Venezuela.
The letter then goes to point out that the Post seems to be beating the drums against Chavez and the country. In the context of W’s ‘with us or against us’ doctrine in the ‘war on terror,’ Izarra asks if the Post wants Venezuela to be seen as ‘against us’ and have the US act in such a manner.
And your latest editorial on March 5, 2008, “Allies of Terrorism” is well beyond a mere criticism of President Chávez’s policies; it’s a direct threat to the people of Venezuela. By accepting at face value – with absolutely no investigation or verification – the documents alleged to have been found on a computer belonging to Rául Reyes from the FARC, the Post recklessly condemns both Venezuela and Ecuador as nations that promote and harbor terrorism and justifies the most violating, reviled and dangerous Bush doctrine of modern times: Preventive War. By comparing Colombia’s violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty to a US attack against al-Qaeda, the Post shamelessly validates the most irrational war in history and calls for its expansion into Latin America. We find the Post’s defense of the violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty and its satisfaction with such aggressive – and illegal – tactics, together with the warning that Venezuela is in “danger”, extremely disturbing.
The Post should be asking if the information ‘found’ on that laptop was actually there, or is it a piece of propaganda coming from our ally in Columbia. Instead, they’ve accepted said information as fact, which leads one to wonder if they’re using the same level of proof they used in the leadup to the current Iraq war. It seems that the Post hasn’t learned any lessons from what went on leading up to the Iraq War; or, perhaps, they learned the lessons very well and are using the same playbook in their approach to Venezuela.
We are outraged with the Washington Post’s editorial coverage of Venezuela. The Post was once the bastion of genuine investigative reporting and truth-seeking. Those days are well gone and the Washington Post has now become nothing more than a tabloid serving special interests. The noble principles Eugene Meyer envisioned for the Washington Post in 1935, including “telling the truth as nearly as the truth can be ascertained”, “telling ALL the truth so far as it can be learned, concerning the important affairs of America and the world and “the newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public persons,” have been violated by editors like you, Mr. Diehl, who have chosen to promote a harmful personal agenda instead of ensure the ongoing greatness of your newspaper.
Say what you will, I think Minister Izarra’s take in the last paragraph is spot on. I also think it should be something that all members of the MSM should read. If the Post (or MSM) want to post what seems to be opinion, they should keep that on the opinion pages. If they wish to cover Venezeula (and the rest of the world) they should return to the good journalistic practices the Post was famous for years ago.
Originally posted here: http://rjones2818.blogspot.com/2008/…