Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dissecting "News" - Hugo Chavez

[Approximate Reading Time: 10 minutes]
[Mood: Angry]

I read two very interesting articles on Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela today, a day after his death.

The first was a news report by Reuters, a very mainstream news source -

And the second, which I came upon a few hours after reading Reuters, is by a well respected investigative journalist who is very much anti-establishment -

Before reading on, I recommend reading these two articles as carefully as you can, pausing after each paragraph to think about what you learned or noticed. I do this sort of an exercise almost all the time these days. It takes me a certain amount of extra mental effort to read this way but it has become easier with time.

Reuters starts off by saying "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous rule that made the socialist leader a hero for the poor but a hate figure to his opponents." Now, "A hero for the poor" sounds good but a "hate figure to his opponents" puts me on guard as to what's coming next. We aren't told who these opponents are.

Then, Reuters continues, "Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-U.S. rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums. 

Detractors, however, saw his one-man style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of opponents as traits of an egotistical dictator whose misplaced statist economics wasted a historic bonanza of oil revenues."

There's something positive said about him in the first paragraph above (actually a lot of nice things) but they're followed by a slew of charges against him, both personal and political. Again, we don't know who these detractors are. By this point, it should cast a certain doubt in the mind of the uninformed reader as to what kind of a man Chavez might really be.

Another attack follows "His health weakened severely just after his re-election on October 7, possibly due to his decision to campaign for a third term instead of stepping aside to focus on his recovery." At about this point, I'm thinking..."looks like he was too power-thirsty for his own good and he ignored his own health, the egotist that he was"

Next, the section "Humble Roots" gives us a brief glimpse into his early life and we begin to have a certain admiration for this man. But we're quickly cautioned with "But Chavez alienated investors with waves of takeovers and strict currency controls, often bullied his rivals, and disappointed some followers who say he focused too much on ideological issues at the expense of day-to-day problems such power cuts, high inflation and crime."

We expect news to be fair and balanced and sure enough, we get plenty of good and plenty of bad on Chavez. By the time we're done reading the Reuters article, we have painted a certain picture of Chavez in our minds. But he's hardly worth talking about. He didn't leave a mark. He sounds like just another run-of-the-mill politician who came from humble beginnings, learned to navigate the politics of this Latin American country and got way too power-hungry and finally succumbed to cancer.

Now, let's look at Greg Palast's article. Palast had met with Chavez and Maduro many times and paints a very different picture of them. He goes into the gory details. He drops plenty of names and places. He quotes people in positions of power and his emotions come across. His blow-by-blow account of how things happened is a far cry from what Reuters gave me. Palast is not afraid of talking about big money, big oil and how they influence world events.

Reuters gave me a rather bland write-up on Hugo Chavez that passes for "news" while Palast gave me more of the real deal. He doesn't hesitate to point his finger at those US powers he thinks or knows to be involved in Venezuelan politics and Chavez's life. Unlike Reuters which is part of a vast media-industrial complex, Palast is a fearless truth-seeker who's trying to get the word out on what's really happening behind the scenes. Reuters dare not go there for fear of upsetting the powers that be. Palast isn't afraid of those powers. Reuters worries about losing revenues. Palast takes donations from you and me

As we digest the news of Chavez's death and hear the pundits talk about him and his legacy in a variety of ways, the future of Venezuela looks uncertain. Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, named by Chavez as his successor is expected to run for office soon. Palast has this to say of Maduro... "as good and decent a man as they come, as heir to the fight for those in the "ranchos." The One Percent of Venezuela, planning on Chavez's death to return them the power and riches they couldn't win in an election, are livid with the choice of Maduro." And what does Reuters have to say about Maduro? "Maduro is a former bus driver who rose from union activist to foreign minister and then to president-in-waiting. He won Chavez's confidence by meticulously echoing his vitriolic rhetoric and never airing a dissenting opinion. Maduro has mimicked Chavez's rabble-rousing style in appearances in recent weeks, peppering speeches with insults aimed at adversaries." What an ass-kisser, this Maduro guy? But, oh wait, that was Reuters! Never mind!

Thank you, Greg, for telling me who Chavez's "opponents" and "detractors" were. Keep up the good work.

None of the above is to say Chavez was a role model for a head of a state. My goal is to point out the stark contrast for what passes for news and opinion in mainstream corporate-controlled media and a more realistic account of what's actually happening based on field research and a good ounce of investigative journalism.

If you have time, I recommend going back to the Reuters article and reading it again. Doesn't it look rather artificial? More bland? Even suspicious as to its agenda? That's mainstream news these days.

I first heard of Hugo Chavez in 2007 when I watched a documentary made by investigative journalist, John Pilger, at the Tiburon International Film Festival in Tiburon, CA. I highly recommend it -

[Update: March 11, 2013]

Excellent coverage of participatory democracy in Venezuela -

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