Media analyst Joe Emersberger takes apart recent international media coverage of Venezuela, which is openly siding with the country’s opposition in portraying the government as a dictatorship
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Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Whenever Venezuela is in the news these days, it is covered as if the country were governed by a dictatorship. Headlines, especially when they’re editorial such as these, New York Times says “Venezuela’s descent into a dictatorship.” In the Chicago Tribune, “Venezuela, a wannabe dictator and a dilemma for Trump.” Or in Newsweek magazine, “Putin steps in to bolster Venezuelan dictator Maduro.” Do these articles really reflect what is happening in Venezuela or the character of Maduro? Joining us now to analyze the international media coverage of Venezuela is Joe Emersberger. Joe is a Canadian-based writer who has written for teleSUR English, Truthout, ZNet, and Venezuela Analysis. In his writing, he focuses on how the corporate media covers foreign policy of the United States and its NATO allies. Thanks for joining us today, Joe. Jeo Emersberger: Thanks very much. Sharmini Peries: Joe, let’s start with the analysis of an article you recently wrote, written by a well-known liberal writer, Matt Taibbi, in the Rolling Stone magazine where he calls the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Maduro, an infamous left-wing dictator. He writes this in an article where he says that Goldman Sachs is rescuing Maduro by buying Venezuelan bonds. Tell us why Taibbi has such a problem with Maduro and why a respected journalist like him is calling Maduro a dictator quite contrary to what the actual facts are. Jeo Emersberger: Okay. The whole spectrum in the media has been incredibly hostile to not just Maduro but even to … In 1999, Hugo Chávez first took office. He led the movement that’s become known as Chavezmo. He passed away in 2013. Maduro was then elected and kind of carried on as essentially the leader of the Chavezmo movement. Hugo Chávez was also called by Bernie Sanders’ campaign a dead communist dictator. In the UK Guardian, which is one of the most liberal newspapers in the Western world, I’ve looked very closely at their coverage, and from 2006 to 2012, I took a careful look through their own search engine, their coverage was roughly like 85% hostile to the Chávez government mainly because of its correspondence that it had during those years based in Venezuela. So there’s this incredibly uniform consensus that’s even caught up the liberal end of the media. That’s been going on for the last 15 years. I think the easiest way to see through that is to consider what happened in April of 2002 because there was a coup, and in all this talk about dictatorship, that was the only time in recent history when very briefly for two days Venezuela was a dictatorship. Hugo Chávez was kidnapped, he was overthrown in a military coup. Pedro Carmona, the head of the largest business federation in Venezuela, he actually took power, annulled the constitution that voters had ratified in 1999, dismissed Supreme Court justices, dismissed elected officials. Just consider that the opposition leaders today who are given this incredibly good press and whom Taibbi and many others that just parrot their version of events, and just consider two of the most prominent, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, they not only supported the coup cheering it, they participated. They led the kidnapping of a government minister while Carmona was in power. Again, consider the liberal end of the media. The New York Times Editorial Board said that democracy had been rescued, that Venezuelan democracy, and I quote, “is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator” and that power has been taken by a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. That’s them describing the one dictatorship there really was in Venezuela in recent history. So with this overwhelming uniformity, unless you’re really digging into things, it’s actually pretty easy to be mislead because there’s a lot of liberal voices echoing these claims, not just the far right. Sharmini Peries: Joe, getting back to that article of Matt Taibbi’s, why is the bond sale a problem for him? Jeo Emersberger: They reflect on is it moral to buy bonds that’s propping up the government in their opinion. But it’s really interesting because an article that just came out in The Globe and Mail by this woman named Stephanie Nolen, this journalist in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The article’s ridiculously biased like almost everything you read. It’s over 4,000 words long, it says nothing about the coup in 2002 or the devastating oil strike, that the opposition backed any of that stuff. Towards the end of the article, she says that the opposition hope is that the Maduro regime finally will go broke. When the food runs out entirely, the thinking goes the streets will fill with people and will not go home until he leaves. In her own words, she’s saying that the opposition wants the crisis to get worse and for people to get so hungry that they’ll turn completely on the government. If she believes her own words, then her article should be completely reframed and rewritten to say the opposition really wants economic sabotage again because they already did it with the oil strike back in the end of 2002, 2003. But sometimes the bias is so extreme that they don’t even reflect on their own words. I think what Taibbi did in that article is he just didn’t even bother to consider that what the opposition is trying to do is basically make the economic crisis worse, and he doesn’t reflect on the morality of that whatsoever because he’s just completely swallowed the opposition’s point of view. Sharmini Peries: So let’s take that up, Joe. A fairly liberal newspaper like The Guardian itself has come out so strongly against Maduro. It is, in fact, calling the Venezuelan government a pariah state or the international community should recognize it as such if there’s no elections held by 2018. But this is absurd. It’s like saying the US should be considered a pariah state if it doesn’t have election before 2020 when it is scheduled to have one. Why is a fairly liberal newspaper like The Guardian taking this kind of a position on Venezuela? Is it, as you say, because of the actual journalists covering it or is this a position of the paper? Jeo Emersberger: I think in the case of The Guardian, it’s corporate media, it relies on advertisers, its reporters tend to be, as they say, Oxbridge educated. They come from a certain class that tends to just have a uniform outlook on foreign policy. Again, to go back to the United States a bit, just consider that Bernie Sanders recently teamed up with Marco Rubio and the entire US Senate unanimously writing this ridiculous letter saying that the UN is being too hard on Israel, and then they mentioned Venezuela as one of the countries in the world that they should focus more on. It’s just this incredible uniformity when it comes to foreign policy because there’s less pushback, I think, because in domestic policy you can mislead people, but they still have their own lives to check against what the media’s telling them. But with foreign policy, you can tell people about places they’ve never been in countries whose language they don’t speak, and it’s just a lot easier to mislead people about foreign policy. Sharmini Peries: Right. Joe, in some of your writing, you also mention the role of Human Rights Watch, which recently referred to the dozens of anti-Maduro editorials to bolster their own case against the Venezuelan government. First of all, from your opinion, why is Human Rights Watch, again like The Guardian, considered a liberal organization that we usually respect when they make a certain call on a country. But why are they taking such positions? Jeo Emersberger: A few years ago, I just think there’s a shared ideology among the types of people who run liberal outlets like The New York Times, like The Guardian, like the Human Rights Watch and others, they have a shared ideology that on foreign policy just basically mimics to a large extent what’s on the far right. For example, the Human Rights Watch, when the coup took place, again going back to April 2002, their statement was pitiful. The statement they put out about the coup was pitiful. They expressed some concern that maybe a coup took place, and they basically asked the Carmona’s dictatorship to not be too rough with the Chavezistas he was arresting. But they didn’t do any of the things that a credible human rights groups should’ve done in that situation. It didn’t call on Carmona to resign, call for Chávez to be reinstated, call on other countries in the region not to recognize Carmona’s government, call for an investigation of the US government’s role. They didn’t do any of those things. I guess in Venezuela’s case, maybe they could say the coup was reversed quickly, they didn’t know what was going on. That would be damning enough of a big organization like that. But then again, when the coup was perpetrated by US troops in Haiti, it was the same thing, and that coup actually did succeed. That installed the dictatorship that was in place for two years. They said very little, and what little they had said basically legitimized what had been done. Sharmini Peries: Right. Besides Human Rights Watch, other freedom of expression watch organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists or the International Freedom of Expression Exchange or these kinds of organizations that are supposed to watch over Article 19 in the world also come out criticizing Venezuela for not having enough freedom of speech or freedom of expression. Is this the case in Venezuela? Jeo Emersberger: The easiest way to kind of see how misleading a lot of those NGOs have been and the international media has been is to actually look at the Venezuelan media. On my ZNet blog, for instance, I went in detail through an hour-long broadcast on what probably is the biggest outlet in terms of audience share in Venezuela for news, a broadcaster Venevisión is what they’re named. I went through their entire broadcast from May 26th, the entire hour-long broadcast. It opens with a report on a young protester who was killed and talks about the opposition governor of the state demanding justice. Basically, right from the beginning all the way through the end, the whole newscast jumps back and forth between talking to the opposition, their allegations, their claims of repression and the protest, and then jumping back to the government and their rallying for the constituent assembly. It’s extremely balanced, and it’s giving ample coverage of the protest and everything that they’re alleging against the government. It’s too much probably to go in detail here, but I have it my blog. It also highlights, in the broadcast, it talks about the consequences of the economic crisis, and this NGO Caritas talking about poverty and malnutrition and giving these alarming statistics. All this is being reported on a private network. Now, if you went to all these NGOs and the international media, you think, wow, this can’t possibly happen in Venezuela. Well, no, it’s right there. It’s happening. If you read the newspapers, you have guys like Julio Borges, he’s presently the president of the National Assembly, he’s making very … In one of the largest newspapers El Universal, he’s making very veiled references, veiled hints to the military that they should step in. This is very ominous considering that there was already a coup in Venezuela backed by guys like Borges and Capriles and all the others. Sharmini Peries: Thank so much for joining us, Joe. Jeo Emersberger: You’re welcome. Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.