On 30 April, key figures from the Venezuelan opposition tried to stage a military uprising to topple the elected government of President Nicolás Maduro. Within hours, the coup attempt had demonstrably failed; and the situation had descended into a violent protest. It was another embarrassment within a growing list of humiliating defeats for the US-backed opposition.
The media circus that covered the day’s events, meanwhile, was certainly not lacking clowns. As Guaidó and a small group of soldiers (many of whom later claimed they were tricked into supporting the coup) stood idly on a highway in eastern Caracas, for example, many Western journalists reported excitedly that a major military uprising was well underway.
The Canary spoke to media expert Alan MacLeod about the latest coup attempt, and why mainstream reporting on Venezuela is so bad. MacLeod is a regular contributor to FAIR and is the author of Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting.
An “opposition-led military-backed challenge”? How to “sell regime change to the public”…
When the US and its local allies launched a coup against then-president Hugo Chávez in 2002, the BBC reported it as “Venezuela’s new dawn”. The word ‘coup’ was almost totally absent from its analysis.
Continue reading below...
Framing how readers see things is a very powerful tool of persuasion. The public is much more likely to support a ‘no fly zone’ than a ‘bombing campaign’. And ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ sounds so much better than ‘torture’. The press has been advocating for a coup to remove Maduro for years now. But at the same time, the word ‘coup’ has a very negative inference. Therefore, the media has been trying to convince its readers that what is going on is, in fact, an ‘uprising‘, a ‘high-risk gamble‘, or even an ‘opposition-led military-backed challenge‘. They are trying to sell regime change to the public.
MacLeod also wrote that Western journalists “see themselves as the ideological shock troops in a war against Venezuela and that there is 0 difference between CIA press releases and ‘objective’ international reporting”. And he explained what he means by this:
For my book ‘Bad News From Venezuela’, I interviewed dozens of journalists and experts on the country. What journalists themselves told me was that they see themselves as anti-Maduro activists first and journalists second. They call themselves ‘the resistance’, and claim their number one goal is to ‘get rid of Maduro’. One person I interviewed was Francisco Toro, who resigned from the New York Times claiming ‘too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism’ that ‘I can’t possibly be neutral’. Well, he is who the Washington Post charges with providing America with unbiased, factual reports on Venezuela today.
Are such journalists aware or concerned about their role in supporting destructive Western regime-change efforts? MacLeod continued:
Those working at big media outlets are not worried they are potentially doing the bidding of the US or UK governments, because they overwhelmingly believe they are the world’s strongest force for good. I published an academic study that found that, even when reporting on coups the US was undertaking, the media still presented it as a force for democracy.
Reporting from privilege
Prolific media critic Noam Chomsky once spoke about a ‘filtration‘ system by which certain views are sifted out of public conversation. And this is partly achieved through economic elitism; few people can actually afford to go into journalism, for example, because a career generally requires undertaking an unpaid internship.
So do Western journalists who go to Venezuela tend to come from privileged backgrounds? And do they therefore find it hard to understand the appeal of Chavismo (the progressive political project of Hugo Chávez that the US has been determined to undermine from the start)? MacLeod said:
Definitely. Western reporters are parachuted into a country they do not understand, very often without the ability to even speak Spanish, meaning they cannot speak with the bottom 90-95% of the population that does not speak English. Increasingly, journalists come from an elite background, having attended private school and Oxford or Cambridge universities. This can lead to journalists unable to empathise with or even understand the poor majority. And so ordinary Venezuelans are written off as ‘thugs’ and ‘lowlifes’ by our media.
In this context, MacLeod suggested how readers might actually find the type of honest, balanced coverage that corporate journalists claim to provide:
In general, I would recommend reading from a range of sources from different countries. By doing that, you can really start to see the biases in each source much better and triangulate your own viewpoints. I would also ask readers to seek out reader- or listener-supported alternative media, because there is a world of difference between how alternative platforms like The Canary, the Real News and Democracy Now! and corporate entities present the situation. A lot of the information you can find [in] places like The Canary will never appear in the mainstream press!
Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy (and especially, it seems, Venezuela), it can be impossible to find alternative voices in the corporate media. That doesn’t mean independent media outlets are therefore ‘right’; but it does mean they’re a vital counter-balance to the extremely narrow ‘debate’ framed by corporate outlets. And that’s why their survival is essential.
Featured image via author
Since you're here ...
We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.