Based on allegations of drug trafficking, the U.S. government has added Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami to its list of “sanctioned” Venezuelan officials. Unsurprisingly, Westerns journalists uncritically spread the allegations. Borrowing from Einstein, a definition of corporate journalism could be “the practice of uncritically citing the same dishonest sources over and over again no matter how catastrophic the result.”
The targeting of El Aissami is part of the United States’ "regime change" policy toward Venezuela that goes back nearly two decades. It began shortly after the late President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998. As always, the international media’s collaboration with U.S. government objectives is crucial.
In March of 2015, the Obama administration declared Venezuela to be an “extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States.” The U.S. media was truly impressive in the way it maintained a serious tone when reporting that utter lunacy: “a formality required by law in order to carry out sanctions” the New York Times soberly assured its readers. Reflecting and reinforcing U.S. policy, hysterical opponents of Hugo Chavez (and Venezuela’s current president Nicolas Maduro) have long made the international media like the New York Times their stomping ground. Moises Naim, in an op-ed the New York Times ran in March of 2003, said that the Venezuelan government under Chavez was “a threat not just to its neighbors but to the United States and even Europe.“ Naim was a member of the government that perpetrated the infamous Caracazo massacre in 1989, a decade before Chavez first took office. Recently, the western media has falsely depicted Naim as a victim of censorship because broadcasters in Venezuela (where according to an opposition-aligned pollster Chavez remains very popular) passed on a TV series Naim wrote about the life of Chavez. The series has been getting poor ratings in Colombia despite being “heavily promoted” there, according to the Miami Herald.
Since 1998, in all national level elections, 41-63 percent of the Venezuelan public has voted Chavista. The low point was the December 2015 elections when 41 percent voted for the government in the legislative elections. Nothing like 40 percent, or even 4 percent, of the international media’s coverage, has ever come from a Chavista perspective. The "left leaning” Guardian in the U.K., which is about as liberal as a major western outlet can get, was about 85 percent hostile toward Chavismo from 2006-2012. Venezuelans like Naim may fail at TV drama, but they’ve been wildly successful at propaganda outside Venezuela where their perspective has always dominated.
This Reuters article is far from being the worst example of how the media has responded to the sanctioning of El Aissami. Venezuelan officials are quoted by Reuters denying the allegations. Over the years, journalists have actually told me that this is how they provide “balance” in their articles: by including quotes from a government that has been relentlessly lied about and demonized in the western media. Hugo Chavez, who decisively won clean elections with very high turnout against opponents with ample media support in Venezuela, was dismissed by Bernie Sanders as a “dead communist dictator.” That tells you how well most western media consumers are equipped to evaluate statements by the Venezuelan government.
Reuters bolstered the Trump administration’s allegations against El Aissami by quoting David Smilde – a U.S. academic hostile the Venezuelan government. Smilde said the U.S. blacklisting would be “a gift” to Nicolas Maduro’s government and added that “to be clear, El Aissami and others should be held responsible for their actions. However, it should be understood this process has pernicious unintended consequences. I think we are effectively witnessing the creation of a rogue state."
Smilde’s concern that U.S. belligerence might actually help Maduro is a U.S. establishment-friendly critique – the typical “independent” view that supports the basic stance of U.S. elites: El Aissami is guilty and must be “held accountable” by the world’s most dangerous rogue state. Of course, Smilde didn’t mean the Unites States when he fretted about a “rogue state” being created. U.S. aggression has killed about two million Iraqis since 1990. U.S. officials lied about the existence of Iraqi WMD while Saddam Hussein, a monstrous dictator, was telling the truth. Obama, in true rogue state fashion, ensured that Bush-era torturers went unprosecuted while also appointing himself a global executioner through his drone assassination program. In the past half century, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have lost their lives thanks to the Unites States’ savage opposition to progressive reform in the region. In Syria, the Obama administration sided with al-Qaida to pursue its geopolitical objectives. A track record of horrific brutality and deceit never undermines the credibility of U.S. officials in the eyes of corporate journalists and the academics they typically turn to for analysis. By contrast, anyone like El Aissami who is denounced by the Imperial Rogue State will struggle to ever clear his name. The facts are irrelevant. Chavez was a “dictator” declared the Imperial Rogue State. The corporate media repeated (or otherwise strongly insinuated) it endlessly. Case closed.
The U.S. Office of the Inspector General conceded that the Bush administration provided “training, institution building and other support” to groups involved in a military coup that briefly ousted Chavez in April of 2002. An outlet that lacks to courage to state that fact directly could find many independent journalists with years of experience in Venezuela to explain: Rachel Boothroyd-Rodas, Tamara Pearson, Ryan Mallette-Outtrim to name only a few. In fact, Mallette-Outtrim just wrote a devastating response to an Islamophobic article a Washington-based outlet, The Hill, published about El Aissami. But even when corporate journalists know independent journalists, and maybe even respect them, there is always an excuse to turn to someone like Smilde.
It is fascinating to watch the media attempt to shield itself, and U.S. officialdom generally, from the harsh re-evaluation that Trump’s presidency should provoke. Adam Johnson wrote brilliantly about one technique deployed by the U.S. media to avoid looking in the mirror and to avoid acknowledging the ample common ideological ground between Trump and the more conventional members of U.S. political class. The idea that Imperial Rogue State must be not only believed but obeyed runs deep in the international media – even with an “Insane Clown President” in the White House.
Joe Emersberger was born in 1966 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, where he currently lives and works. He is an engineer and a member of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union.