Analysis of The Wall Street Journal Editorial-Page Coverage of Venezuela

Led by editorials by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, the WSJ has repeatedly published unbalanced and inaccurate information on the political and economic situation of Venezuela, and about President Chavez

By Venezuela Information Office
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In the United States, the Wall Street Journal's (WSJ) editorial page maintains a conservative and Republican viewpoint. Robert Bartley, who took over the editorial page for the WSJ in 1972 and passed away in 2003, invited many neo-conservative and supply-side economic intellectuals to voice their opinion in the paper's editorial section. In its own words, the WSJ editorial page is

united by the mantra "free markets and free people," the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities. If these principles sound unexceptionable in theory, applying them to current issues is often unfashionable and controversial.[1]

Hence, according to the National Review, a right-wing policy magazine, "Journal editorials became must-reading for every right-leaning policy analyst in Washington."[2]

A recent survey led by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (PRCPP), with the participation of 547 journalists and media executives, shows that, among journalists, the WSJ is defined as a conservative news agency, along with Fox News Channel and The Washington Times. According to the report,

Journalists did see ideology at one outlet: “The single news outlet that strikes most journalists as taking a particular ideological stance — either liberal or conservative — is Fox News Channel,” Pew reported. More than two-thirds of national journalists (69 percent) tagged FNC as a conservative news organization, followed by The Washington Times (9 percent) and The Wall Street Journal (8 percent).[3]

In terms of Venezuela, the WSJ editorial page has vehemently attacked the government and President Chavez. Led by editorials by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, the WSJ has repeatedly published unbalanced and inaccurate information on Venezuela, President Chavez, and the government's policies.

One must take into account that in the United States, the editorial board operates independent of the news section. This clear division between the two groups permits the editorial board to express its own opinions free of those of the news reporters.

With this in mind, among journalism and academic circles, O'Grady has the reputation of being ultra-conservative and therefore holding very little credibility. While O'Grady has nothing positive to say about President Chavez and his policies, Wall Street Journal reporters have reported favorably on the government. For instance, Wall Street Journal reporter Jose de Cordoba recently penned the article, "As Venezuela Tilts Left, a Rum Mogul Reaches Out to Poor," (11-10-2004) on the Proyecto Alcatraz, a social rehabilitation program for gang members initiated by Alberto Vollmer, a rum magnate and member of the opposition. This article depicts a situation of coexistence and cooperation between the government and opposition members.

According to the Wall Street Journal website, Mary Anastasia O'Grady has worked as an options strategist for Advest Inc., Thomson McKinnon Securities, and Merrill Lynch & Co. More importantly, she has been awarded the Inter American Press Association's (IAPA)—an association of private media owners and corporations—Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary and an honorable mention in IAPA's opinion award category in 1999.[4] O'Grady has also developed reports for the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington DC "whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."[5]

A detailed analysis of O'Grady's editorials on Venezuela throughout 2004 and 2005 follows. Overall, O'Grady's analyses are biased and one-sided, presenting multiple opinions by opposition members and Chavez critics and failing to include even brief mentions of the positive contributions by the Chavez administration to the Venezuelan population. Government voices are notably absent and she constantly uses harsh and disrespectful language to describe Chavez and his policies.

Should Chavez Be on the List of Terrorism Supporters?
January 21, 2005

Following the Rodrigo Granda affair, this piece rehashes unproven claims that President Hugo Chavez "is harboring Colombian terrorists," going as far as asking whether Chavez should be put on the list of terrorism sponsors. She highlights that Granda held Venezuela citizenship and lived comfortably in Caracas, calls "Chavez's denials that he knew about Granda…implausible," and suggests that Interpol had requested Granda one year prior to his abduction. The author also develops weak connections between Ali Rodriguez and FARC commanders, links based on their posts on the editorial board of an Argentine left-leaning magazine. Nowhere does she mention that Interpol submitted their request for Granda on January 9, 2005, nearly one month after the man's kidnapping on Venezuelan soil. She also neglects the fact that Venezuela has made concerted efforts at protecting its border and has actively engaged in drug interdiction operations. Additionally, Granda traveled extensively throughout the region, including multiple entrances into Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and other Latin American and European nations, and was never sought by Colombian authorities or Interpol.

O'Grady, without a single piece of evidence, also purports that Chavez "may be bent on arming his revolutionary cadres all over South America," suggesting that Castro and Chavez are on a mission "to expand their influence throughout the region" and use the "FARC's arms and narcotics trading network…to spreading the Chavez revolution."

Night Falls on Caracas, with No Carter in Sight
December 3, 2004.

In this editorial, O'Grady has the audacity to criticize former US President Jimmy Carter for monitoring and validating the results of the August 15th referendum that reconfirmed President Chavez in office. She repeats discredited arguments of fraud, alleging that Chavez defeated the recall "through tampering with the vote and other chicanery." The article also provides ridiculous commentary by emphasizing the "anti-Semitic overtones" of a police search of a Jewish school and Chavez's wish to control the police under the Ministry of the Interior to "ensnare his opponents."

Furthermore, O'Grady falsely asserts that the Law of Social Responsibility "would give the government the discretionary censorship powers without legal recourse" and fails to provide the real reasons for the law's implementation, including the protection of minors, the promotion of domestic production, and the education of the citizenry.

Chavez's Yankee-Baiting Takes a Sinister Turn
October 15, 2004.

This article focuses on Sumate and the prosecution of its leaders for treason. Falsely labeling the opposition-aligned organization "a nonpartisan Venezuelan NGO with a goal of strengthening the country's democracy," O'Grady ignored Maria Corina Machado's presence at the swearing in of illegal President Pedro Carmona and Sumate's illegal release of erroneous exit poll data designed to influence the outcome of the election. She also rehashes fraud claims, using the debunked Hausmann and Rigobon report, "En busca del cisne Negro: Analisis sobre la evidencia estadística sobre fraude electoral en Venezuela," as proof.

Venezuela's Oil-for-MiGs Program
September 24, 2004.

This article brings up preposterous claims that Venezuela "seems fully prepared to menace neighboring states," quoting a UPI story which purportedly suggests that Venezuela and Colombia are on the verge of war. O'Grady places significant emphasis on Venezuela's purchase of weapons. However, instead of highlighting the purchase of helicopters to help protect its borders from illegal incursions into Venezuelan territory, O'Grady stresses the alleged purchase of MiGs from Russia as part of an arms build-up directed against Colombia. These allegations, introduced by UPI on September 14th, have been repeatedly denied by Venezuelan officials and have never been substantiated.

Why the EU Skipped the Chavez Vote
August 27, 2004.

O'Grady criticizes the referendum process and President Jimmy Carter's monitoring and validation of the results. According to this article, several OAS monitors criticized President Chavez for his "pre-election maneuvers that tilted the table in his favor through control of the electoral apparatus and indirect intimidation." She calls Chavez's "intimidation factor…legendary" and implies that Chavez rigged the Smartmatic machines used to count the votes. The editorial is also unfairly balanced, relying heavily on quotes by Sumate and failing to include comments from government officials or the Carter Center.

Observers Rush to Judgment in Caracas
August 20, 2004.

This editorial also criticizes Jimmy Carter and Cesar Gaviria for what O'Grady deems "too hastily" validating the August 15th results. She disapproves of the validation process, asserting that the monitors "were not allowed to check [the quick count] against ballots the machines issued to voters as confirmation that their votes were properly registered." She falsely claims that Venezuelans had "been voting two-to-one against Chavez in opinion polls" and were presumably robbed by machines that were tampered with to favor the government. She also brings up the Penn, Schoen, and Berland exit poll as showing that Chavez only held 41 percent of the country's vote. However, she fails to mention Sumate, an opposition-aligned group, contracted the poll and used it illegally to influence the elections outcome. Later, Jimmy Carter asserted that Sumate "deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line." To end the article, O'Grady declares that "endorsement of this referendum without a fair audit…is tantamount to yielding to terrorism," clearly implying that Venezuela under Chavez is a terrorist state.

Chavez's Cheatin' Heart
August 6, 2004.

Despite evidence showing that Chavez held clear advantages coming into the referendum, O'Grady urged the international community to ignore the data and expressed that she simply "did not buy" the fact that Chavez could potentially win. She goes on to assert that "[t]here has never been much reason to doubt that Mr. Chavez would pull out all stops to remain power," stops that included, according to O'Grady, the release of suspicious pro-Chavez poll numbers, intimidation, and harassment. Furthermore, she unfairly refers to the missions as "state handouts" that "could pay off at the polls." Her position on the referendum is blatantly unbalanced and she fails to account for shady actions by the opposition.

Winning Hearts and Minds Inside the Beltway
April 9, 2004.

In this editorial, O'Grady laughs at Venezuela's hiring of public relations firm Patton Boggs to improve US-Venezuelan relations. She compares Chavez' efforts to "[buy] influence in Washington" to Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide's efforts in the mid-1990s and criticizes the presumed 1 million dollars received by the PR company to help Venezuela. She then goes on to mistakenly assert that Chavez has paramilitary groups to back him, has provided "safe haven to Colombian guerrillas," and is funding indigenous movements in Bolivia. She also criticizes Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) for supporting Chavez and condemning the April 2002 coup.

Chavez's Nasty Battle Against the Popular Will
March 19, 2004.

In this editorial, O'Grady openly criticizes President Chavez and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), citing that Dodd defended Chavez during the April 2002 coup, which the author contends was "stage-managed" by the Venezuelan President. She asserts that during the coup Chavez ordered the military, which refused to comply, "to fire on unarmed demonstrators," a completely unsupported allegation that she would have no way of verifying.

O'Grady also accuses Chavez of "employing delay and obstruction" throughout the signature collection process for the August 15th referendum, stating that the CNE, "which he controls, ruled that there [were] only 1.8 million valid signatures, charging, among other things, that thousands of signers [were] disqualified because they received help in printing their names and identification numbers next to their signatures."

President Chavez, as permitted under the law, challenged the signature process within a democratic and legal framework. Signatures were gathered according to terms established by the National Electoral Committee and agreed to by both the government and the opposition. Many of the signatures presented, however, were in direct violation of these preset rules: over 375,000 signatures, or more than 10 percent of the required total, belonged to minors, foreigners, dead people, and people who signed twice and were invalidated. All signatures were carefully verified and made available for examination by the Venezuelan public between May 27th and May 31st to confirm that they were indeed invalid. Furthermore, the OAS and the Carter Center, repeatedly monitored this process, noting on March 2, 2004, that they "support the efforts of the CNE and of the promoters to work together to establish guarantees necessary to ensure that all of the citizens who wish to take advantage of this resource may do so…and urge them to continue in this direction." It is clear that President Chavez acted within democratic parameters and, as established in the Constitution, allowed for the referendum to be scheduled and to take place.

O'Grady portrays the Venezuelan government as a violent repressive apparatus; National Guard troops shoot rubber bullets, beat unarmed civilians, and fire tear gas into groups of people, while reporters are "allowed…to film most of this, undoubtedly well aware that it would be televised and serve as a warning to future demonstrators." She ends the piece by adding that Chavez's "American-bashing and destruction of political rights make it clear that he wants oil-rich Venezuela to mirror Cuba."

Time is Running Out to Rescue Venezuela
March 5, 2004.

This editorial suggests that Fidel Castro, following lessons learned after the speedy revolutionary process undergone by Chile during the Allende presidency in the early 1970s, has encouraged Chavez to pursue "the methodical consolidation of absolute authority under the guise of 'democracy.'" With the support of "paramilitaries and community snoopers," Chavez has, according to O'Grady, "militarized the government, packed the Supreme Court, imported a large number of Cubans to indoctrinate the citizenry, and began choking off the private sector with capital and price controls." She establishes that "[t]he noose is already so tight around the neck of what is left of the democracy that it may not be able to escape." Nowhere does she mention the benefits of the social missions or the unconstructive actions, such as the crippling 2003 oil strike, led by the opposition.

O'Grady then encourages the international community to challenge Chavez and let him know "that it will not tolerate the militarization of democracy…[and allow] the Chavez virus…infect other Latin nations." She purports that Bolivia "is already at risk" and that Chavez and Castro provided funding and organizational advise to the indigenous movements that led to dismissal of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003.

Money Fun In the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez
February 13, 2004.

In this piece, O'Grady places all the blame for the country's economic woes on the shoulders of President Chavez. She suggests that, during his time in prison after the 1992 attempted coup, Chavez's reading list "seems to have been so skimpy on economics and so heavy on Machiavelli." She fails to recognize that the 2003 illegal oil strike led by the country's opposition severely hindered the economy, leading to a devastating recession.

She also alleges that Chavez will somehow try to impede the recall referendum, asserting that the "permutations and combinations of rabbits that Mr. Chavez could pull out of his hat to derail or delay the recall are numerous." She then asserts that to "calm the hungry masses" implored the Central Bank to grant him one billion dollars to benefit the people, and, when this request was denied, Chavez devalued the bolivar. According to O'Grady, this devaluation served "as a way to pay for his Bolivarian 'missions,' government projects that might restore his popularity long enough to allow him to survive the recall, or survive an audacious decision to squelch it." It is clear that at any mention of the missions, O'Grady fails to elaborate on their success at improving literacy rates and providing healthcare for the first time in Venezuelan history to thousands of previously marginalized sectors of the population.

She furthers her criticism of Chavez by pointing out that Chavez's "political philosophy precludes any economic policies that might actually boost real living standards" and that the Venezuelan President "opposes open markets, liberalized prices, deregulation, property rights and competition." She also further diminishes the value of the missions and other social policies by writing that Chavez's plan is "that his populist blitz will reap sufficient goodwill among some portion of the undecided, even if a majority remain on the sidelines in disgust."

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Overall, Mary Anastasia O'Grady's reporting on Venezuela is overwhelmingly negative and unbalanced and she never presents the government's perspective or provides comments from pro-Chavez spokespeople. Furthermore, O'Grady constantly reiterates a series of unsubstantiated claims, including Chavez's support for revolutionary movements in Colombia and Bolivia, Venezuela's plan to purchase MiGs from Russia, and allegations of fraud during the internationally monitored August 15th referendum.

Likewise, she criticizes ex-President Jimmy Carter and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) for opening up to the Chavez administration, accepting his overwhelming electoral victories, and trying to constructively work with him. Finally, she unjustly blames President Chavez for Venezuela's economic woes, repeatedly failing to mention the crippling 2002-2003 oil strike, the April 2002 destabilization attempt, and other illegal activities perpetrated by the opposition. With this in mind, it is impossible to consider O'Grady a credible and fair source on Venezuela.


[2] Bartlett, Bruce. "A Beacon Light." National Review, December 24, 2003. http://www.nationalreview.com/nrof_bartlett/bartlett200312240917.asp

[5] http://www.heritage.org/about/


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