Friday, April 12, 2013

Live From Venezuela, National Public Radio?

So why has the host of national public radio's flagship morning show been in Venezuela all week trashing Hugo Chavez?

Final Maduro rally, Caracas, Thursday - Alex Guzman/AVN
That's right. Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR's Morning Edition, is suddenly in Venezuela. According to the NPR web site, Inskeep, and "a team," are there to cover this week's presidential election, except that there's been very little about the election in the stories Inskeep filed all week. They were all about diminishing the legacy of Hugo Chavez. 

 It's not unusual for Inskeep to provide a non critical platform to conservative viewpoints on Morning Edition; I've been getting regular doses of it myself for the six months I've been doing this Holbrook run, and internet discussion boards are full of examples and complaints about Inskeep being a lap dog for conservatism, but I've never known NPR to take a particular interest in Venezuela.

Inskeep and this "team" are supposedly down there to cover the election to replace Hugo Chavez, which takes place this Sunday, but Inskeep hasn't talked much about the election, and hardly at all about Chavez' successor, interim president Nicolas Maduro, who is running to replace Chavez or even the US-backed, Venezuelan oligarch-backed candidate Henrique Capriles. He's done a lot of trash talking about Hugo Chavez, who, as some of you know, is dead.

Final Capriles rally, Barquisimeto - Ultimas Noticias/agencies
I've been listening to these stories all week while I drive back from Holbrook. They usually come on about the time I'm passing Sky City, the big Indian casino/motel/restaurant/truck stop 50 miles out of Albuquerque.

For his first story Inspkeep dug up Rory Carroll.

Rory Carroll is known to anyone who follows Latin America anything more than halfheartedly, although he is probably unknown to Inskeep's audience. Carroll for years was the Guardian's Latin America correspondent, and although he spent most of that time criticizing Hugo Chavez he was always ready to hop on a jet off to another country and trash any Left leaning populist government that was trying to help poor people get out of poverty.

For years Carroll wrote stories pointing out what was wrong in Venezuela, that were sometimes based loosely in fact but more often in Carroll's imagination, without ever mentioning what Chavez was accomplishing. He did however present the views of the oligarchy, which until Chavez came on the scene ran Venezuela like a plantation. I remember, distinctly, one election day, two or three elections ago, when Rory went out to get the feel of things on the street. He went to a country club overlooking Caracas. I swear to God.

When Inskeep interviewed him in his first instalment from Venezuela this week Carroll repeated the lies and distortions about Venezuela under Chavez that he's known for. Venezuela is being crushed by inflation. Venezuela is being crushed by crime. Chavez crushed the opposition media.

All untrue or misleading. Inflation and crime, for example, are higher in Venezuela than they are in Iowa, but a good reporter might have asked Carroll whether they haven't always been high in Venezuela and whether they aren't lower than they were when Chavez took office. He might have asked whether inflation isn't about one third of what it used to be, before Chavez.

Inskeep didn't question a thing Carroll said. At first it was hard to tell if he was just ignorant, which may well be true, or whether he was intentionally giving Carroll a platform to do a slash and burn on Hugo Chavez.

Inskeep's agenda started to become clear up in a second installment when he interviewed an American NPR reporter about Venezuela, with similar results to the Carroll interview, but it became blatant when he went out, or when he and his "team" did, to one of the big, poor Caracas neighborhoods where, Inskeep said, Chavez' support is based.

All anti Chavez media eventually go down this path. It's like when US reporters say Obama's support, or Democrats' support, is "urban based," which is code for being based in the votes of dark skinned people.

In the case of Chavez they like to stipulate that Chavez' support didn't come from people like you and me, but from the poorer, darker skinned South Americans; not the thinking, rational, light skinned descendants of the European colonizers, not "people," but ignorant, unclean, easily duped masses.

It's class based slander, it's race based slander, but mainly it's just flat wrong. Chavez always enjoyed broad support, among youth, among the educated, among what is generally thought of as the middle class and yes, overwhelmingly among the poor. That broad based support is why he won open and fair elections by wide margins every time he ran for president, from 1998 through last year. In the Inskeep/Carroll/New York Times world view, his support came from the poor masses, and they only supported Chavez because he bribed them with free medical care or housing or education, things poor people don't really deserve and shouldn't really have.

In the installment, in the poor part of town, Inskeep is in this woman's house, in this poor neighborhood, where she has a little store, and he starts making light of what she sells. Doritos. Two flavors of Doritos! Then he just starts making stuff up. He says the selection of goods in the woman's store is limited because of Chavez' policies, but gives no evidence of it. The woman didn't say that.

He says there are rumblings of discontent in the neighborhood, but he never interviews anyone who complains about Chavez or his policies. Instead, he makes the claim that opposition to Chavez in the neighborhood is "whispered" but that no one will voice it out loud. With an ominous tone in his voice, he says bumper stickers and posters in support of Maduro, Chavez' successor, instill fear in the people. But when he reads a couple of them they are nothing but typical campaign ads.

This is crap reporting. This is making stuff up. Finally he talks to a guy on a motorbike who's putting up Maduro flyers. He literally puts words in the guy's mouth, and then, inexplicably, he claims the guy is a member of a Chavez-backed "militia." This is insane. I've followed Venezuela for years. I've heard many, many outlandish assertions about Chavez and his regime but I've never heard anything about any militias. This beats anything Rory Carroll ever did. This is Inskeep initiating a new phase of anti Chavez propaganda, and it's clear that the whole week, the whole trip down there, was nothing but pure crap, pure propaganda, pure Rory Carroll, pure smelling of US State Department, USAID funded crap that seeks to spell out what Hugo Chavez' legacy will be.

USAID is a division of the US State Department, US Aid For International Development, and it has a long history of meddling in Venezuela on behalf of US power and Capital. USAID, aside from perhaps the CIA, is the primary tool the US uses to undermine and destabilize governments, like those of Venezuela, that aren't towing the American, Capitalism line. Through USAID the state department funds political and social movements that oppose governments like Chavez'. It trains those people in things like the media and organizing, and if there isn't an opposition, it starts one. It's a one sided, meddling, imperialist endeavor from start to finish. There's no funding for the side that's trying to find an alternative to Capitalism or that's trying to improve the lives of the working class. There's no pretense of "democracy" or "development." It's all in the aim of thwarting any alternative to Capitalism, and the people of the given country and their well being be dammed.

A leaked Wikileaks cable, to then US ambassador to Venezuela under George W Bush William Brownfield, who's been promoted to assistant secretary of state in the Obama Administration, spelled out in vivid detail the US plan to destabilize Venezuela through USAID.

And I wouldn't be surprised if USAID didn't fund and organize the trip to Venezuela by Inskeep and the "team," and I wouldn't be surprised if Rory Carroll was part of the "team". Carroll isn't the Guardian's Latin America correspondent anymore, and Inskeep never did say how he happened to meet up with Carroll or why he happened to be in Venezuela at this particular time.

Judging by the stories I heard this week, Inskeep talked to three Venezuelans, a banker and two poor people, and he misrepresented what both of the poor people said. He talked to as many reporters, two from NPR and of course Rory Caroll, and he repeated the misinformation Carroll and people like him have been spreading for years, such as that Chavez controlled the media in Venezuela, which is simply a lie. Except for one public TV channel, and a few small community radio stations with tiny signals, the media in Venezuela -- all the newspapers and all of television -- is privately owned, and owned by the oligarchy, and that media did nothing but savagely attack Chavez for every day of his 14 year tenure. Anti Chavez media in the US and around the world always say that Chavez shut down TV stations that opposed him. Here's what happened: one TV station, that hadn't paid its licensing fees in years, that hadn't applied for a new license in years, that for years was given chances to pay, was finally closed by the Chavez government.

Maduro supporter, Chavista red - Reuters
I referred earlier in the week to complaints in conservative US media outlets that Maggie Thatcher's death wasn't covered with the same reverence as the death of Hugo Chavez was, and I've wondered if someone didn't put the word out to NPR, and if something like that didn't prompt Inskeep's bizarre little Chavez trashing safari down to Venezuela. I've also talked about how mealy mouthed NPR is because it fears having its funding cut even further by Republicans, so it might help to keep in mind, too, that it's currently budget time in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, another few hundred thousand or few million or whatever American listeners to NPR have an even more distorted, more inaccurate picture of Venezuela and what was accomplished there by Hugo Chavez and the millions of Chavistas who've participated in the remaking of their economy and society. They won't know that those poor Venezuelans can go to a neighborhood clinic, or that illiteracy in Venezuela has been eliminated. Eliminated. Or that those poor Venezuelans have a sense of dignity they never had before because they've been part of what Hugo Chavez accomplished. Those NPR listeners won't know what's possible under Socialism, and the frame of the debate in America will be a little narrower, squeezed even further into the narrow space between two major, almost identical political parties, and they are that, compared to what else is out there in terms of how we conceive of our lives and of the ways we can live together, and we'll have fewer options, and because we have fewer options we'll have less freedom to choose, here in the land where we glorify freedom and think we're in the freest country on earth, and the possibilities for the future will be a little more limited than they were before.


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