Venezuela’s left-wing populist president Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday, March 5, after a two-year battle with cancer. If world leaders were judged by the sheer volume of corporate media vitriol and misinformation about their policies, Chávez would be in a class of his own.
Shortly after Chávez won his first election in 1998, the U.S. government deemed him a threat to U.S. interests–an image U.S. media eagerly played up. When a coup engineered by Venezuelan business and media elites removed Chávez from power, many leading U.S outlets praised the move (Extra!, 6/02). The New York Times (4/13/02), calling it a “resignation,” declared that “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” The Chicago Tribune (4/14/02) cheered the removal of a leader who had been “praising Osama bin Laden”–an absurdly false charge.
But that kind of reckless rhetoric was evidently permissible in media discussions about Chávez. Seven years later, CNN (1/15/09) hosted a discussion of Chávez with Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, where he and host John Roberts discussed whether or not Chávez was worse than Osama bin Laden. As Schoen put it, “He’s given Al-Qaeda and Hamas an open invitation to come to Caracas.”