Francisco Toro on the Internationl Press and Venezuela

February 22, 2003

As usual Francisco Toro does an excellent job in describing the reaction of the international press to recent events in Venezuela. Particularly interesting is his news that a different reporter will arrive to replace the sloppy reporting of Juan Forero of the NYT:


The Full Mugabe

There’s one positive side to this whole Carlos Fernández incarceration hubbub: the foreign press is finally taking the gloves off. After months of not quite knowing how to deal with the crisis, of not being entirely sure whether to treat Chávez like a normal democratic president or an autocrat, the Fernández episode seems to have tipped the scales. It’s the Mugabization of Hugo Chávez in the court of world public opinion. It’s still far from complete, but now it’s definitely on the way.

Consider this remarkable story by Scott Wilson in the Washington Post. I’ve been friends with Scott for a long time and consider him one of the best journalists around. I understand the pressure he’s under – both from his editors and his personal sense of journalistic ethics – not to write any further than the facts will allow. Whatever, intimately, he might have thought or felt about Chávez, for a long time the facts were just too nebulous and contradictory for him to give Chávez the full Mugabe treatment. I had the feeling he understood, at a gut level, how dangerous Chávez was. But Scott doesn’t draw a paycheck to tell the world how his gut is feeling – his job is to tell the world what happened. And it hadn’t happened, yet.

Now it’s happened, and his treatment in the Post is absolutely brutal. I’ve never seen the government take it this hard in a reputable foreign news story before. I think a lot of foreign journalists were, in a sense, waiting for a big stink-up to pounce – and now the stink-up is here, the government’s heavy autocratic character is in plain for all to see, and the pouncing has started.

Good.

Reuter’s is just as harsh as the Post – they played that papaya quote for all its worth – and AP is just acerbic – I can’t think of a lead anywhere near as biting as this one in any AP story I’ve ever read out of Venezuela. The NYT is flying in David González tonight, and while I only know him superficially, he’s a fantastically talented reporter and can be expected to write some good stuff.

Is it the Full Mugabe yet? Not quite. But the treatment Chávez is getting now is far, far closer to it. My fear is that he’ll use the international media blackout that will come with the start of the war on Iraq for cover – people will be very nervous here the day the war starts. Specifically, it’s easy to foresee that he’ll move against the independent TV stations within minutes of the start of the war. Under normal circumstances – and the stories of the last few days bear this out – he’d be pilloried abroad for a stunt like that. But with the green lights streaking over the skies of Baghdad on CNN, who can tell?

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