Corporate media’s coverage of Venezuela has been constantly biased over the past 20 years, but especially when reporting on elections (FAIR.org, 11/27/08, 5/23/18, 1/27/21).
The latest flurry of dishonesty and faithful stenography came as Venezuelans voted for new regional and local authorities on November 21. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won resoundingly, securing 19 of 23 governorships and 212 of 335 mayoralties. Pundits who are happy to equate “democracy” with elections are not so keen on people voting when Washington’s enemies are poised to win (Washington Post, 11/22/21).
The hardline Venezuelan opposition made life easy for the media establishment in recent years by boycotting elections altogether. Outlets could then just echo the ever baseless “fraud” allegations from US officials and move on (NPR, 5/21/18; BBC, 5/21/18; Reuters, 5/20/18; Bloomberg, 5/7/18; New York Times, 5/17/18).
However, this time around, these right-wing actors returned to the ballot. Corporate journalists, having paid little attention to Venezuela in recent months as US-backed regime change efforts floundered, had to scramble to explain and discredit the events. Unable to reheat the “fraudulent” label, there was a return of classics such as “rigged” (CNN, 11/24/21) or “flawed” (New York Times, 11/23/21), which happened to be the State Department’s choice too.
There was already a sense that the US-favored parties would not do so well on their return to the electoral path. Reports talked of a “skeptical” opposition (Al Jazeera, 11/19/21; AFP, 11/19/21) to dampen expectations, after building the myth that anti-government parties had overwhelming support in the country.
Beyond managing expectations, there were less-than-convincing efforts to explain the change of course. Reuters (11/22/21) claimed that, in justifying boycotts, the opposition argued “a fair ballot was impossible because of interference from President Nicolas Maduro’s government and violent gangs loyal to him.” But then the same piece ends up undermining the thesis that the boycott was all about “fair” conditions. In saying that the return to the ballot happened “amid frustration over the failure of US sanctions to dislodge Maduro,” there’s an unwilling confession that opposition forces hoped US intervention would rid them of Venezuela’s democratically elected government.
It was not the first time that Reuters ran the “interference and gangs” line (11/17/21). But then to explain how “cautiously optimistic” opposition politicians were able to campaign free from intimidation, the explanation was that the hillside barrios of Caracas no longer “belong to Chavismo.” Journalists Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas could not hide their disdain for the poor and working-class who identify with the Bolivarian Process, referring to popular neighborhoods as “fiefdoms of former president Hugo Chavez and…Maduro.” For what it is worth, Chavista candidate Carmen Meléndez secured the Caracas mayoralty with 59% of the vote, performing even better in those very barrios.
Making use of EU
The opposition’s electoral defeat prompted some outlets to publish sobering headlines, suggesting that the opposition needed to “regroup” (NPR, 11/25/21), “rebuild” (Reuters, 11/22/21) or “lick wounds” (Financial Times, 11/25/21). But others doubled down on propaganda.
The New York Times (11/23/21) led the way, as Isayen Herrera and Anatoly Kurmanaev argued that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had found a “way to retain power”: winning elections. In a hyperbolically dramatic tone, the Times charged Maduro with “subverting the vestiges of democratic institutions” and “perfect[ing] a political system” that ensures success.
The paper of record flagrantly distorted the conclusions of the European Union’s electoral observation mission. The article’s teaser says “European observers said the elections were neither free nor fair.” But that was not the case. Rather, the mission’s chief, Isabel Santos, when repeatedly asked the question, declined to answer, which other reports made clear (Reuters, 11/23/21). To assume this means the mission declared the elections not to be free or fair is disingenuous, to say the least.
Most corporate outlets clung to EU conclusions that pro-government candidates allegedly spent state resources in campaigning, or were favored in public outlets (Washington Post, 11/23/21; Financial Times, 11/25/21; Bloomberg, 11/23/21). Of course, opposition forces getting foreign resources (Financial Times, 7/18/19) or being favored in private media (FAIR.org, 5/20/19) has never been a concern.
Corporate journalists conveniently downplayed the mission’s endorsement of the reliability of Venezuela’s voting system, seriously undermining past and future “fraud” claims. Indeed, Washington, the Post (11/8/21) admits, was “not amused” by its European partners actually wanting to witness the process. US officials even wanted to impose the report’s findings ahead of time.
The coverage likewise suggests the European presence by itself meant improved conditions and a previously absent level of international scrutiny, when in fact the EU had been repeatedly invited to send electoral delegations. Not just that, all Venezuelan elections have had numerous international monitoring missions, only not from close US allies (Venezuelanalysis, 5/31/18, 12/9/20).
The ‘divided’ opposition
There was an overriding consensus that opposition disunity proved costly. The results speak for themselves, with the PSUV securing most offices, despite having less than 50 percent of the vote. However, instead of scrutinizing why opposition parties could not get on the same page, many outlets found it easier to just blame Maduro.
The New York Times (11/23/21) accused the seemingly all-powerful Venezuelan president of “dividing opposition parties” to compete against “carefully calibrated opponents.” Times journalists accused the non-hardline candidates of adopting “a softer line against the president,” when in fact the key difference is that moderate opposition sectors condemn US sanctions and US-endorsed coup attempts. Corporate journalists will accept nothing less than absolute loyalty to Washington’s designs.
Reuters (9/23/21) had set the tone in the build-up to the elections by referring to non-US-backed figures as “spoiler candidates,” with possible “disguised ties” to the government. They were said to pose a threat to the “opposition,” meaning that reporters Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth took it upon themselves to decide who qualified as “opposition.” In fact, the “spoilers” had promising candidates in a number of races, and it was the US-backed Democratic Unity Roundtable (known in Spanish as MUD) that cost them victory by fielding their own.
One of the highest-profile cases of opposition infighting happened in the state of Miranda, where candidates Carlos Ocariz and David Uzcátegui traded barbs and accusations. Ocariz did finally drop out, and as the Washington Post (11/21/21, 11/23/21) reported more than once, “the electoral council ruled it was too late” to take his name off the ballot. The Bezos-owned newspaper makes this sound like an arbitrary decision by a pro-government body, when the electoral calendar had been published months before. And Ocariz knew it, since he was posting messages on social media announcing “there is X time left to reach an agreement.”
The cardboard ‘interim president’
The Western media’s sudden scrutiny of election rules and opposition candidates contrasts with its laissez-faire attitude towards the self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó. The opposition leader’s made-up post never had a constitutional leg to stand on, but the Washington Post (11/23/21) is happy to let him talk about his “constitutional mandate.”
The Post (11/21/21) likewise remains wedded to the idea that “50 other countries” recognize Guaidó, when this number is probably closer to single digits after the European Union withdrew its recognition earlier this year. In contrast, it is refreshing to see some outlets stop pretending and just admit that in their view it is up to the US to decide who is the legitimate (parallel) leader of Venezuela (Financial Times, 11/25/21; Bloomberg, 11/22/21).
For his part, Guaidó recently had an unfortunate episode as a presidential shield made of cardboard fell to the floor behind him in the middle of a press conference. It is not hard to imagine how the symbolism of the affair would have stolen headlines had it involved Maduro or any other official enemy. But the corporate media chose to look the other way, just as it does concerning a string of scandals that have seen the opposition leader jeopardize billions worth of state assets under his control, leaving them at the mercy of corporate predators (Venezuelanalysis, 9/25/21; 10/4/21; 10/23/21).
All in all, the latest elections have shown how, like the US State Department under Biden, media will not change their tune on Venezuela. Rather than correcting past biases, corporate journalists continue to look for ever more creative ways to push the official line coming from the White House, even if that means propping up a discredited con artist like Guaidó or, worse, whitewashing policies that kill tens of thousands (FAIR.org, 6/4/21). And a self-declared commitment to democracy rings very hollow alongside such efforts to discredit elections because the US empire did not like the results.