Saturday, November 29, 2008

The New York Times' Disgraceful Role as a Bush Mouthpiece against Venezuela

Rob links to Glenn Greenwald's great post on the New York Times' disgraceful editorial supporting the coup of Hugo Chavez back in 2002. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Times failed as miserably as any news agency, "legitimate" or not, could, totally pushing the Bush line on the coup even while contradicting itself repeatedly within its own editorial:

The Times -- in the very first line -- mimicked the claim of the Bush administration that Chavez "resigned," even though, several paragraphs later, they expressly acknowledged that Chavez "was compelled to resign by military commanders" (the definition of a "coup"). Further mimicking the administration, the Times perversely celebrated the coup as safeguarding "Venezuelan democracy" ("Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator"), even though the coup deposed someone whom the Times Editorial itself said "was elected president in 1998" and -- again using the Times' own language -- "handed power to" an unelected, pro-American "respected business leader, Pedro Carmona," who quickly proceeded to dissolve the democratically elected National Assembly, the Supreme Court and other key institutions.
Worse still, the Times Editorial mindlessly spouted the administration's claim that "Washington never publicly demonized Mr. Chávez" and "his removal was a purely Venezuelan affair." Yet less than a week later, the Times itself was compelled to report that the Bush administration "acknowledged today that a senior administration official [Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich] was in contact with Mr. Chávez's successor on the very day he took over"' -- a disclosure which, as the Times put it with great understatement, "raised questions as to whether Reich or other officials were stage-managing the takeover by Mr. Carmona."[all bolds from the original post]
I was in Costa Rica at the time, and the media there did as great a job as the U.S. media didn't. It was immediately clear that the U.S. was supporting the overthrow of Chavez and was in a large part behind the coup, as it had been in Chile in 1973, and as it had been prepared for in Brazil in 1964, in addition to dozens of other cases throughout the world in the 20th century. The Costa Rican media, which was neither pro- nor anti-Chavez, was rightfully condemning of the U.S. for overthrowing a leader who (at the time) had been popularly elected only four years before. Venezuela occupied the front pages and lead stories in the newspapers and television news for the next four days (a rarity in Costa Rica), and the media (again correctly) lauded the return of Venezuela's popularly elected leader. It covered things fairly and pointed out issues such as the U.S.'s hypocrisy in claiming to want "democracy" in Afghanistan (then just getting rid of the Taliban in government) while undermining democracy in Venezuela. In short, the Costa Rican media was a way better guage of the happenings in Venezuela in April of 2002 than the Times, which was little more than a Pravda-style mouthpiece for the Bush administration's efforts to legitimize the coup (and, by implication, its involvement in it).

There are two other aspects worth pointing out about the Times' article and what it signifies. First, April 2002 was still only 7 months after September 11, 2001, and the Times' open failure to question any aspect of the Bush administration in regards to Venezuela I think really gets at something we've lost sight of: how much good will, not just internationally but domestically and within the media, even the New York Times, now one of the wingnuts' main targets of the "liberally biased media," had towards Bush, and as a result, how much he really pissed away with the Iraq War and subsequent disasters climatic, economic, and otherwise.

Secondly, Venezuela really is the first example of the simultaneously arrogant and blockheaded foreign policy decisions that have dominated Bush's administration. When the U.S. was barely beginning to rattle the sabre for Iraq, Bush was already pushing a foreign policy with Venezuela (with whom the U.S. had had cordial relations for the first two year of Chavez's administration) that threw dialog aside and sought only to put in leaders that would be totally subservient to the U.S. and Bush's vision of free-market economic policies that perpetuated the gross inequalities in Latin America.

In short, before we went in and knocked out Hussein and and declared "Mission: Accomplished," only to find the Iraqi people further divided, we were already blockheadedly trying to overthrow popularly elected leaders, thinking the Venezuelan people would just go along with the coup and the U.S. could get what it wanted (in this case, oil and a free-market servant). But it didn't work out that way. Instead, Chavez only gained in popularity, bolstered by the fact that he had withstood a U.S.-supported coup, and the pie-in-the-face that his return represented for Bush quite probably gave Chavez a staying power in Venezuela that he arguably might not have had if it weren't for Bush's quick embrace of the coup.

And the Bush administration could have learned from this, just as it could have learned from the case of North Korea, when it lumped that country in with the "Axis of Evil," only to end up having North Korea develop a nuclear power plant in order to be prepared for a possible U.S. invasion. But instead of learning from their mistakes and trying to consider what other countries might actually want for themselves or considering the power of dialogue, the Bush administration continued down the same path of bullying, only to lose more "legitimacy" and heft in the world and to give further popularity to the very people it opposed simply by openly opposing those leaders. Iraq wasn't the first example of the sheer wrong-headedness and at times sublime idiocy of the Bush administration in terms of policy and planning; it was just one of the brightest stars in what has turned into a constellation of disasters. And, in the "united we stand" mist immediately following 9/11, the Bush administration didn't just find its mouthpieces on Fox News or talk radio; it found them throughout the media, including the New York Times. And for that, we should not let the Times or others escape the burden of guilt.