One key to understanding how U.S. news media portray the politics of foreign countries concerns who the media rely upon as sources in reports about those countries. In a commentary last June, the progressive economist Mark Weisbrot noted that English-language journalists covering Venezuela frequently quote analysts who oppose the Chávez government but rarely cite experts who sympathize with that government. My own recent report for the U.S. media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (“Oil Calms Troubled Reporting,” Extra!, December 2004) corroborates Weisbrot’s charge of media imbalance.
Below is a chart showing the number of citations of respective pro and anti-Chávez sources in six U.S. newspapers. I tallied the numbers of citations of each listed analyst by performing archive searches on the websites of the six U.S. newspapers.
In the two-and-a-half-year period following the failed coup of April 2002, the most frequently quoted anti-Chavez analysts are cited in more than five times as many press reports as their Chavez-sympathizing counterparts.
Michael Shifter, the anti-Chávez vice president for policy at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, is quoted more frequently than all pro-Chávez analysts combined.
When looking only at the U.S. press’ citations of Venezuelan sources, the anti-Chávez bias appears even starker. Only six press reports included quotes from the prominent Venezuelan historians Margarita López-Maya and Samuel Moncada, both of whom speak English fluently and sympathize with the Chávez government. For every citation of the two pro-Chávez Venezuelan historians, there were more than 17 citations of anti-Chávez Venezuelan analysts.
Oft-quoted opposition sources include the anti-Chávez historian Alberto Garrido, the virulently anti-Chávez Venezuelan pollsters Luis Vicente León and Alfredo Keller; Alejandro Plaz and Maria Corina Machado of the opposition “civic organization” Súmate, which is partially U.S.-funded; and Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of the anti-Chávez Caracas daily Tal Cual.
Justin Delacour is a freelance writer and a doctoral student of political science at the University of New Mexico. He receives email at [email protected]
Citations of sources in U.S. reports about Venezuela (April 12, 2002-October 12, 2004)