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Media Responds With Apathy, Disappointment as US-Backed Coup Gov't Concedes Defeat in Bolivia
Across the spectrum, corporate media has endorsed last year's rightwing takeover of Bolivia, refusing to label it as a coup. Coverage of Sunday's historical elections hasn't been much better.
Bolivia's Movement to Socialism (MAS) party is celebrating what appears to be a crushing, landslide victory in Sunday's elections. Although official vote counting is far from over, exit polls show an overwhelming triumph for the socialists, and a repudiation of the right-wing military government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled since the coup last November. At the same time, the corporate press appears less than pleased about the return to democracy for the Andean country.
In order to win outright in the first round, the top candidate needs at least 40 percent of the popular vote and a lead of 10 points over their nearest rival, and multiple polls have indicated that the MAS ticket of Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca has won more than 50 percent, and have achieved a lead of over 20 points on their nearest challenger, Carlos Mesa (president between 2003 and 2005) quite a feat in a five-way election. The MAS is also expected to have won a large majority in the senate.
Añez, who came to power in a coup overthrowing President Evo Morales last November, and whose government has constantly postponed the election throughout the year, knew the game was up and lauded the MAS on their remarkable achievement. "We do not yet have an official count, but from the data we have, Mr. Arce and Mr. Choquehuanca have won the election. I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind," she wrote. Añez decided to drop out of the election herself last month in an attempt to boost Mesa's chances of stopping Arce. However, today Mesa accepted defeat as well. "The result is overwhelming and clear. The difference is wide," he lamented.
Media disappointment at return of democracy
Across the spectrum, corporate media endorsed the events of November, refusing to label them a coup. The New York Times editorial board claimed that the "increasingly autocratic" tyrant Morales had actually "resigned," after "protests" over a "highly fishy vote." The Washington Post did the same. "There can be little doubt who was responsible for the chaos: newly resigned president Evo Morales," their editorial board wrote, as they expressed their relief that Bolivia was finally in the hands of "more responsible leaders" like Añez, (who, at the time, was giving security forces orders to shoot her opponents in the streets). Despite this, The Wall Street Journal's board decided the events of November constituted "a democratic outbreak in Bolivia."
Today, therefore, the corporate press is in a very tough spot, as they have to explain to their readers why the Bolivian people have just handed an overwhelming, landslide victory to a party they have been presenting as an authoritarian dictatorship who were overthrown by popular protests last year.
A number of outlets solved this by simply fastidiously avoiding reporting on the events of November or using the word "coup" to describe them. NPR's Philip Reeves, for example, claimed Morales "resigned" amid an annulled election after "allegations of fraud," leading to an "interim government" (Añez's own public relations-minded phrase for her administration). The word "coup" only appears in the mouth of Morales, someone whose credibility the outlet has spent months undermining. Other organizations like Deutsche Welt and Bloomberg failed to use the word at all in their reporting.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, referenced the coup, but did not use the word, instead describing it as when "police and military leaders suggested he [Morales] leave." It takes great linguistic skill to refrain from using by far the most appropriate word to describe events in Bolivia for what they are: a coup. Indeed, the linguistic gymnastics necessary to avoid using the word would be genuinely impressive were not an exercise in deceit and manufacturing consent for regime change.
CNN at least included the phrase "claims of a coup," but presents it beside apparently equally justified "allegations of fraud among contested national elections." But these two things are nothing like the same. One is a statement of fact while another is a debunked, discredited talking point used to overthrow a legitimate government.
Meanwhile, the BBC's article on the election had an entire section called "why is the country so divided" which did not mention the massacres, the firesale of the country's economy, the repression of media or activists, the persecution of the MAS or the U.S. role in overthrowing the elected government. Instead, it presented Morales himself as the prime agent of polarization, a common tactic among media discussing enemy states.
The New York Times also published a long, in-depth article on the election, yet it appeared that the only MAS "supporters" it was willing to quote were ones who constantly badmouthed Morales, the article also suggesting that MAS' figures might be inflated, despite the fact they have now been accepted by Añez and Mesa as essentially accurate.
As such the corporate press refused to cover the incredible story of nationwide nonviolent resistance to authoritarian rule, forcing a government into accepting its own defeat, reminiscent of Gandhi's campaign against the British in India.