The Worst Venezuela Coverage of 2014

Joe Emersberger lists examples of corporate media's most outrageous claims about Venezuela in 2014, and explains specific political agendas endorsed by those messages.


Attacking Venezuela is the US government’s failed strategy for isolating it from numerous left wing governments in the Western Hemisphere – all of which Washington would like to see disappear. Instinctively, the international corporate media does all it can to support US strategy.

As I said last year, you could make a case for the worst coverage by randomly choosing anything by the Associated Press (AP). This year I’ll ignore sources like AP, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal and instead highlight examples of coverage from sources where one might expect to find balance.  I’ll discuss them going from bad to worse.

Homicides Are Making Coffins Scarce In Venezuela! 

That’s the sensationalist message of this Reuters article by Girish Gupta. He wrote that “undertakers’ business is buttressed by spiraling violent crimes that killed at least 11,000 people last year….Demand for funerals is driven by one of the world’s highest murder rates, which has long been Venezuelans’ main gripe with the socialist government. Castro [an undertaker] said 70 percent of the corpses her company receives are murder victims.”

Venezuela’s crude death rate in 2012 was 5.25 per 1000 people (and it has increased by only since 6% since 2000). That works out to 150,000 deaths in 2012. Therefore 11,000 murders would account for 7% of Venezuela’s annual deaths – not remotely enough to “buttress” the coffin industry, not even if you more than doubled the figure Gupta used for homicides. If about 93% of Venezuelan deaths every year are not from homicides, then what can we conclude about the undertaker who claimed that 70% of the corpses she receives are murder victims? Is she an incredibly unusual undertaker? Do the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans not bother with coffins for their loved ones unless they were murdered? The most likely conclusion is that the businesswoman offered up a totally bogus figure and rightly assumed that a corporate journalist would not scrutinize it.

Maduro Opponents Make Claims. Reuters Writes Them Down.

Some folks at Reuters (Julia Symmes Cobb and Carlos Garcia Rawlins) happily take dictation from government opponents in this article: “…academics and businesses leaders say at least 1 million have emigrated since Chavez took power in 1999…”

This VenezuelAnalysis.com article cites UN statistics that say, as of 2010, there were about 500,000 Venezuelans living outside the country and obviously many of those would have left before 1999. This article, also from VenezuelAnalysis.com, cites 2013 election data for overseas voters. There were roughly 100,000 such Venezuelan voters (overwhelmingly opposition) in 2013. One must be of voting age and a legal resident to vote outside Venezuela, but assume only one voter per family of five. The figures do not remotely support claims of “at least one million” leaving since 1999 unless Venezuela has a huge illegal resident population overseas. According to World Bank Data, Venezuelans receive negligible remittances from people living abroad – a sign that Venezuela does not have a large population suffering the burdens of illegal residency abroad. According to the US government, Ecuador, which has only half the population of Venezuela, has cracked the top ten list of countries with illegal residents in the USA. Venezuela hasn’t.

That’s Our Lie And We’re Sticking To It

In an April, 2014 article for the New York Review of Books (NYRB), Daniel Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed, referring to Venezuela’s top TV broadcasters, that “Two of the four private stations voluntarily dropped their critical coverage” of Hugo Chavez after a 2002 coup failed to permanently oust his government. It’s possible (if very unlikely) that Wilkinson didn’t know this was completely untrue when he wrote it, but readers notified Wilkinson, various HRW officials, and the NYRB editors. They’ve refused to correct the article, so we can conclude that they are all happy to let an easily refuted falsehood stand about a very important matter. That’s called lying. As I showed in this article, the two broadcasters Wilkinson meant (Televen and Venevision) were – in the midst of violent protests this year – televising very lengthy and supportive interviews with prominent opposition leaders who ripped into the government. In fact, in one interview, Julio Borges turns to the cameras in the middle of his tirade and makes a thinly veiled entreaty to the military to attempt another coup.

In June, Wilkinson’s lie came up in a debate on Democracy Now between Keane Bhatt and HRW legal expert Reed Brody. Oddly, Brody insisted that Wilkinson didn’t make the claim that, as I write this, still appears in the NYRB article. Brody supplied a link to another article by Wilkinson to Democracy Now, not the one where the claim appears. Perhaps, in a mad rush to prepare for the debate, Brody didn’t read the correct article.

Wilkinson’s article also completely ignored a Carter Center study of Venezuelan TV coverage during the 2013 presidential election campaign. The data in that study not only exposes the lie Wilkinson told about two major broadcasters, it also demolishes the premise of his op-ed.

The Opposition is Shut Out of the Media. How Do They Cope?

In this radio interview (which I discussed in more detail here) Ian Masters asks Virginia Lopez, the UK Guardian’s Caracas based correspondent, how the Venezuelan opposition copes with being shut out of the media. She gladly reinforces his appalling ignorance. 

Lopez has not been nearly as prolific as Rory Carroll, author of about 75% of the Guardian’s Venezuela output from 2006-2012. Overall, the Guardian’s output over that period was about 85% hostile to the Chavez government, probably a bit less lopsided than the rest of the English language media.

NYT Says Colombia Must Lead the Effort to Keep Venezuela at Bay

Imagine the reaction if a leading newspaper were deranged enough to call on the Klu Kux Klan or the Mafia to take up a leading role in the community. In a country that wasn’t heavily propagandized, that’s the reaction the NYT would have received to this editorial which I’ve discussed before. The NYT singled out Colombia as one of the countries that should lead an effort to keep Venezuela off the UN Security Council. Since 1956, about 7 million Colombians have been murdered, disappeared or displaced in a civil war in which the US has staunchly backed the government.  Even establishment-friendly human rights groups like HRW and Amnesty have long identified the government and its paramilitary allies as being responsible for the vast majority of the atrocities. Under Bill Clinton, US military support for the worst culprits really took off as did the number of victims – unsurprisingly.

The US government constantly proclaims who the good guys and bad guys are in the world, often in complete defiance of facts and common decency. The corporate media – the liberal end of it very much included – follows the US government’s lead on this with a level of obedience one would expect in a dictatorship.

Hopefully, 2015 will bring greater awareness that openings for dissident views in the liberal media will never be enough. The world desperately needs radical media reform in countries whose governments see themselves as global leaders.