On February 26, Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, professor of political economy at the City University of New York, sent the following letter to the editors of The New York Times in response to a factual error the newspaper printed by blogger Francisco Toro of Caracas Chronicles.
Today's op-ed, "Rash Repression in Venezuela," contained at least one glaring factual error. Its author Francisco Toro wrote that opposition leader Henrique Capriles' Saturday speech remained largely unheard, "because government pressure ensured that no broadcast media carried coverage of the event." In fact, both Globovisión and Venevisión, the two largest private media outlets, provided coverage of the event.
Toro is also the author of a viral piece at the blog he co-founded, Caracas Chronicles, titled, "The Game Changed in Venezuela Last Night—and the International Media Is Asleep At the Switch." In it, he outlined a purported "tropical pogrom" and a paramilitary shooting spree that took place throughout the night of February 19. His post accused the Times and other news outlets of complicity in an "international blackout" regarding the supposed "pogrom." However, as any examination of protest-related homicides over the past two weeks shows, there were no deaths recorded on the day or night of the 19th.
Even worse, Caracas Chronicles alleged on Feb.19th that opposition mayor Ramón Muchacho of Caracas' Chacao district "is working with Polichacao to evacuate students from their hidding [sic] places. You read that right, the municipal police is scrambling to keep national security forces from killing protesters." The next day, Ramón Muchacho announced that there had not been a single gunshot wound recorded, and that there was no evidence of supposed paramilitary activity in the municipality.
When confronted on Twitter with the lack of any proof of his "pogrom," Toro admitted to making an "overstatement in the heat of the moment." Nevertheless, Caracas Chronicles has yet to issue any updates, clarifications or corrections to its now disproved coverage. Toro's voice does not need amplifying by the Times to be heard; "The Game Changed in Venezuela Last Night" has received over 370,000 Facebook likes and shares, and 10,000 tweets.
At this combustible moment, at least 13 Venezuelans—both pro-opposition and pro-government alike—have been tragically killed in violence. In this context, the Times' decision to offer its prominent op-ed space to Toro yet again is questionable, given the journalistic irresponsibility that Toro and his colleagues at Caracas Chronicles have demonstrated.
Ian J. Seda-Irizarry
Department of Economics
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
City University of New York
As of publication, Toro's error in the Times stands uncorrected. Readers may contact the editors of the Times directly on this matter, and participate in two related petitions initiated by the group Just Foreign Policy, urging accountability for the dissemination of falsehoods in Venezuela coverage:
"The political website Caracas Chronicles should correct allegations made in its viral blog post that throughout the evening of February 19 a 'tropical pogrom' took place in Venezuela. There is no record that a single protester was killed or wounded by gunfire on the 19th, leading the blog's author Francisco Toro to admit on Twitter that he had made an 'overstatement in the heat of the moment.' In the context of a highly fraught environment in which both opposition protesters and government supporters have been killed, Toro should correct his inaccurate and inflammatory post."
[email protected]: Fix Your False Reporting on Venezuela
"The New York Times must correct its false report that voices critical of the government are excluded from Venezuelan TV."