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Mark Weisbrot: Conservative and liberal corporate media call Chavez
“dictator and authoritarian” in spite of multiple electoral victories
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
And on Sunday night, President Hugo ChÃ¡vez won reelection in Venezuela. Now joining us to talk about the significance of these events is Mark Weisbrot. He’s the codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He’s a regular columnist for The Guardian and a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks very much for joining us again, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT, CODIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH: Thank you.
JAY: So, before the election, there was all kinds of speculation about whether or not the opposition was going to challenge the results. President ChÃ¡vez himself was suggesting they were setting up conditions to challenge it. And early on in the evening, Reuters and a few other news agencies were reporting that the opposition candidate was actually about to win, which people said, oh, there it is, they’re getting ready to challenge. But ChÃ¡vez won, and no, there was no challenge. What’s your take on this?
WEISBROT: Well, the opposition for a long time has always had a plan B. You know, in 2004 they had fake exit polls, they had all kinds of stuff and were ready to challenge. And, in fact, when they lost, that was the presidential recall referendum, which they lost by a huge margin, 58 to 41, and they didn’t believe it. They saidâ€”you know, and a lot of the press said it was stolen at the time. The Venezuelan, Latin American press even had a couple of articles that filtered up here with conspiracy theories and The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times. But for the most part, you know, the mainstream press accepted that that was a clean election because the Carter Center and the OAS approved it.
But nonetheless, you had the opposition boycotting in 2005 congressional elections on the basis that the previous election was rigged. And it was completely absurd. So they’ve always had that. Even in 2006 there was a faction that didn’t want to recognize the result, but that was such a landslide. I mean, ChÃ¡vez got 62Â percent of the vote. It wasn’t really possible.
So you had all of these incidents in the past. And so in this election you had a lot ofâ€”you had people sayingâ€”you had editorials, op-eds from opposition leaders in one of the biggest newspapers. El Universal, for example, said if Capriles doesn’t win, he implied that it would be fraud and people should get in the streets. And there were a lot of that kind ofâ€”there was quite a bit of that kind of talk. And in the international press, the Spanish-language press was much worse than the English-language press. For example, Spain, the Spanish papers ABC and El PaÃs were promoting all kinds of conspiracy theories and were quick to run with the exit polls in this election, where I think it was Varianzas, one of the polling firms, came out with an exit poll late last night or, you know, into the night before the official results were announced, saying that ChÃ¡vez had actually lost.
And so you had a lot of this kind of stuff. And so I don’t blame anybody for thinking that it could happen. We don’t know if it wereâ€”the election was closer. Maybe it would have.
But my bet all along, what I said from the beginning was that it’s not likely, because Capriles was going toâ€”you know, he was going to recognize the results, even though he didn’t commit to it the way ChÃ¡vez did until maybe yesterday, when he probably already knew the results. He didâ€”.
You know, the Obama administration’s very important here. They don’t want anything that’s going to raise the price of gasoline before the election here. That’s much more important to them than Venezuela’s election. So I think that was true even of the Bush administration in 2004. And I think one of the smartest things the Venezuelan government did was to have their elections right before ours, because that’s the best guarantee they have that the result of the election will be respected.
JAY: So the point here is that the opposition wouldn’t start that kind of confrontation without U.S. backing, and you’re suggesting they didn’t have U.S. backing at this point.
WEISBROT: Absolutely. I’m sure they didn’t. I’m sure the Obama administration was going to recognize the result. They know the election is clean. You have the Carter Center, you know, put out its eight-page report on Friday, and, you know, they know it’s clean. I mean, if you look at the safeguards that the system has, it’s pretty incredible. It’s almost like, you know, what you need to launch a nuclear missile. You know, you have these codes that nobody even has the whole thingâ€”the three different parties, the opposition, the government, and the CNE all have to be able to produce their part of the security code in order to get into the electronic system. So it’sâ€”you know, it justâ€”the media wouldn’t have gone with it either. And so Capriles would have been crazy to challenge it.
JAY: Now, in the leadup to the election, the American media wasâ€”mainstream media was very, very hostile to ChÃ¡vez. And, of course, one’sâ€”expects that from The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and such. But the American liberal media’s also quite antagonisticâ€”New York Times, L.A. Times. And New York Times particularly was pushing this story that, okay, maybe the process, the machines are fair, but people are intimidated because of this thumbprint and because of the thumbprint they can link who voted for who, and that made people afraid. So I guess there’s kind of two parts to that. Was there anything to that story, one? And then, two, why such antagonism from American liberal media?
WEISBROT: Well, on Venezuela, the liberal media is really not much different from the right-wing media. I mean, you know, The New York Times, for example, their reporting is not much different from Fox or some of the other more right-wing outlets andâ€”has been, and the article they had on Friday really was ridiculous, where they interviewed a woman who said she was afraid to vote against ChÃ¡vez because of retaliation. And here she was. I mean, all heâ€”first of all, he might haveâ€”the reporter might have thought, well, why is she telling me this and giving me her full name and her occupation and age, and she has a name that’s very, you know, unusual and easily found?
JAY: Right. But there is some precedent for this. During the referendum that you mentioned, there was some release of lists within the Venezuelan government, and it did to some extent affect people’s employment, especially if they were working in the civil service. Isn’t that right?
WEISBROT: Well, there wasâ€”the referendum was a different thing. When you sign a petitionâ€”and same is true in the states that I know, like California and Michigan and Illinoisâ€”if you sign a petition, that’s a matter of public record. So, you know, I would bet that a lot of state employees didn’t sign the California recall petition that brought Schwarzenegger in, for example, some years ago. You know, there was no organized repression by the government. I’m sure that there were people fired, and not only, by the way, in the public sector, but also in the private sector, where the private employers coerced people to sign the petitions. And so, yeah, that’s the trouble with a petition that’s public: you know, individuals are going to take action against other individuals based on whether they sign or don’t sign something [crosstalk]
JAY: But the point here is you’re saying there’s noâ€”none of this was public, and so these suggestions didn’t have any basis.
WEISBROT: That’s right. Thisâ€”the ballot in a vote is completely different. That’s a secret ballot. It’s a completely secret ballot. That’s what the Carter Center was trying to tell people as well. And Capriles got on TV also and told everybody, this is a secret ballot, you don’t have to worry, ’cause he didn’t want people to be scared.
So for The New York Times to interview this womanâ€”. And then, you know, if you just looked on theâ€”he just would have gone and Googled her name, he could see that she’s been Tweeting for quite a while against the government. So how could she really be afraid to vote against the government in a secret ballot?
So these were kind of nonsensical stories, some of them, including another one in The L.A. Times.
And why is the liberal media so hateful? I think, well, first of all, there’s a general thing in the United States where, you know, the media has a tendency to follow the State Department a lot in their reporting. Now, the thing is, whenâ€”you know, there are divisions within the State Department on a lot of other foreign policy issues on the Middle East, on Palestine and Israel. You know, there’ve been divisions for 50 years in the State Department, for example, on Iran, Afghanistan.
On Venezuela there are no divisions. They all hate Venezuela. They all hate ChÃ¡vez. They want to get rid of him. They’ve been trying to get rid of him for ten years. So the media reflects, I think, that unanimity here in the foreign-policy establishment. There’s absolutely no dissent. And so that’s what happens.
And there are other things, too, I think, that make it worse. I mean, I think the fact that the ChÃ¡vez government doesn’t, you know, answer the media phone calls and treats them quite terribly, you know, that makes a difference, too. I don’t think that, you know, Venezuela could ever change U.S. policy, but I think they could probably influence the media a little bit if they talk to them.
JAY: Yeah, they seem to just write it off as part of the enemy, and they don’t work at it.
WEISBROT: That’s right. And to be fair, that has been their experience. I mean, they did try for years to talk to The New York Times and The Washington Post. It didn’t change their reporting at all. It was just universally hostile. There was a period where The New York Times reporter, for example, Juan Forero was there, and he had about a year or so of relatively balanced reporting, but then they got rid of him and he went to The Washington Post. So that was about the only period you can think of where you could actually [incompr.]
But it’s really striking. I mean, if you read the news here, you can’t even find anything good about this country. I mean, it’s like North Korea or something. And, you know, I mean, you really can’t find it in a news article, like, almost never. And it’s interesting, because even Capriles, who was running against ChÃ¡vez and mobilizing people who hated him, but also appealing to voters that were in the middle, he had to sayâ€”you know, he talked about preserving the achievements of the revolution. That’s how he described it. And yet you can’t find any of these achievements in The New York Times news reporting.
JAY: Right. Thanks very much for joining us, Mark.
WEISBROT: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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