3 Tactics Mainstream Media Uses to Attack Hugo Chavez's Legacy
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We’ve all heard Malcolm X’s famous quote about the mainstream media.

Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Today, on the fourth anniversary of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s death, Malcolm’s words are more relevant than ever. 

As millions of people across the world commemorate Chavez and his contributions to the Bolivarian Revolution, a mass movement that empowered Venezuela’s oppressed, mainstream media is shamelessly attacking his legacy. 

Comparing him to U.S. President Donald Trump, corporate news outlets are painting the deceased leader as a paranoid tyrant who crushed all forms of opposition, including journalists. They’re also blaming him for Venezuela’s current economic woes, failing to leave out that the country’s U.S.-backed right-wing opposition is intentionally sabotaging the economy for their own personal gain. 

Mainstream media is also cheerleading a new Colombian television series named “El Comandante,” which attempts to rewrite Chavez’s legacy. Instead of highlighting the Venezuelan revolutionary’s innumerable accomplishments, the series focuses on challenging moments he encountered both in his personal and political life. Sony Pictures, the company producing the series in Colombia, is the same group that produced “The Interview,” a fictional film that depicts the assassination of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un. 

Although mainstream media battled Chavez most intensely during his tenure as president from 1999 to 2013, their war against the socialist leader truly began in 1992. That was the year he led a civil-military rebellion of over 2,000 people against the neoliberal reforms of then-president Carlos Andres Perez.

Michael Parenti, a political scientist and cultural critic, has written extensively about mainstream media’s crusades against revolutionary leaders like Chavez. His most famous piece, “Monopoly Media Manipulation,” outlines common practices corporate news outlets employ to tarnish the reputation of political figures who threaten the global capitalist establishment. 

Here are three tactics that mainstream media use to attack Hugo Chavez, based on the practices outlined in Parenti’s piece. 


Framing

“The most effective propaganda relies on framing rather than on falsehood. By bending the truth rather than breaking it, using emphasis and other auxiliary embellishments, communicators can create a desired impression without resorting to explicit advocacy and without departing too far from the appearance of objectivity.” 

Mainstream media outlets frequently use the framing tactic to attack Chavez. Take the 2002 Venezuelan coup attempt, for example. Corporate media outlets like Globovisión and CNN en Español framed the U.S.-backed right-wing plot to forcibly oust Chavez as a “pro-democracy” movement against “authoritarianism” and “dictatorship.”

Attempting to maintain a false veneer of objectivity, the aforementioned outlets — and others — showed two camps. Protesters defending Chavez and protesters trying to force him out of power. These two sides, however, were covered in completely different ways. Pro-Chavez protesters were depicted as “violent thugs” while anti-Chavez protesters were depicted as “peaceful demonstrators.”

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Nothing exemplifies this tactic more clearly than coverage of an armed clash during the coup attempt. Mainstream media outlets shared a video of alleged pro-Chavez activists firing at opposition protesters from a bridge — those firing were the only ones visible in the video. Evidence later proved, however, that the gunmen on the bridge were in fact anti-Chavez protesters firing at Venezuelan police defending Chavez. 

By framing the 2002 Venezuelan coup attempt in the above-mentioned ways, mainstream media was able to make Chavez and his supporters seem like the oppressors while branding the violent opposition as those who were being oppressed. 


Suppression by Omission

“Some critics complain that the press is sensationalistic and invasive. In fact, it is more often muted and evasive. More insidious than the sensationalistic hype is the artful avoidance. Truly sensational stories (as opposed to sensationalistic) are downplayed or avoided outright. Sometimes the suppression includes not just vital details but the entire story itself, even ones of major import.” 

Mainstream media outlets have also used the suppression by omission tactic to smear Chavez’s reputation. This usually takes the form of not reporting any of his accomplishments or good deeds. 

Throughout his tenure, most corporate news organizations totally ignored the fact that he did the following: brought down Venezuela’s economic inequality rate, reduced poverty, eliminated illiteracy, created mass subsidized food distribution, distributed land to Indigenous communities, reduced homelessness, established universal health care, and redistributed the country’s oil wealth. Almost none of these accomplishments were covered in mainstream media outlets. And if they were covered, vital details about the transformation of millions of people’s lives were left out. 

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Another example of suppression by omission used against Chavez was his visit to The Bronx, New York in 2005. Chavez, concerned about working class families in the area who were left without heat during the winter, sold heating fuel at a 40 percent discount to 75 apartment buildings, helping 8,000 low-income residents survive the cold. The New York Times was one of few mainstream media outlets to cover this act of generosity, receiving criticism from other outlets for allegedly pandering to a “dictator.”

By omitting Chavez’s accomplishments, corporate news organizations are able to convince their audiences that the Venezuelan leader has done more bad than good. Omission of his accomplishments also serves to reinforce their framing tactics — depicting the opposition as a “peaceful” group of protesters who want “positive changes” while painting Chavez as an “evil tyrant” against these “positive changes.”


Follow-up Avoidance

“When confronted with an unexpectedly dissident response, media hosts quickly change the subject, or break for a commercial, or inject an identifying announcement: ‘We are talking with [whomever].’ The purpose is to avoid going any further into a politically forbidden topic no matter how much the unexpected response might seem to need a follow-up query.”

One of the clearest examples of mainstream media using this tactic against Chavez is U.S. foreign policy. Take the example of Fox News’ 2009 interview with Chavez at the United Nations. 

A producer with the network asked Chavez why he was friends with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who allegedly denies the existence of the Holocaust. Chavez immediately turned the tables on him, asking about former President George W. Bush’s war crimes across the Middle East and South Asia.

“Have you not seen the images in Iraq, how Yankee soldiers kill children?” Chavez asked. 

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“Your channel doesn’t say anything about the assassinations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples across America.”

Immediately after Chavez questioned the Fox News producer about these U.S. war crimes, the reporter stopped the interview and the channel quickly ended the segment. Just as Parenti points out, the purpose was to avoid going any further into a politically forbidden topic for mainstream media. In this case, that forbidden topic is U.S. foreign policy, given that most of these outlets are owned by larger corporations invested in the military-industrial complex that have directly benefitted from global war. 

For example, General Electric, the owner of NBC, has a total of 202 military contracts with the U.S. government, according to the Department of Defense. 

By avoiding follow-up on important questions raised by Chavez, mainstream media eliminates the context under which he criticized the U.S. government. By not mentioning his logical critiques of U.S. foreign policy, they paint him as “anti-American” and “confrontational.”

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