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Swiftboat on the Rocks 3: He's not a Dictator?

By       Message Elizabeth Ferrari     Permalink
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Swiftboat on the Rocks 3: He’s not a dictator?

For anyone who hasn’t had time to keep up, the news is that the peaceful, progressive leader of Venezuela lost the vote on constitutional reforms in a transparent and orderly election. (Meanwhile, the ex-KGB violence prone leader of Russia stole an election and for some reason, there is no State Department concern over this. The Cold War must really be over!)

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Why did the referendum in Venezuela garner tens of thousands of words in our press and barely a word about Russia even after it should have been a matter of simple research that Venezuela elections are clean but Russia’s are not?

On Friday, the New York Times printed the implication that the vote in Venezuela would not be monitored. I don’t know if they got that from State, but State was promulgating this falsehood because it appeared in other outlets such as the Chicago Tribune. Of course the election (held on cleaner systems than Florida has seen for a long, bad time) was monitored. The NAACP and the National Lawyers Guild were among the monitoring agencies. Yet, this “not monitored” meme was promulgated all over. In all fairness to the New York Times, they failed to cover Ohio in 2004 just as well.

Saturday, the Washington Post and the New York Times ran dueling hit pieces on Chavez. Between them, they compared him to every modern authoritarian except King Kong. That might have just been burn out. The hit pieces, as I tracked them about a month out from the election, went from being about one a week to one a day in the last week. That’s got to wear on any writer worth their propaganda.

(The smear escalated to the point where they had to drag out an ex-wife, an ex-friend and a bono fide poor person. The bottom of that barrel must be very clean.)

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Sunday, the English language press was treated to an OpEd by Donald Rumsfeld accusing Mr. Chavez of being a danger to democracy. This is the same Rumsfeld who said the problem with Abu Ghraib was digital cameras. I’m not sure why this person isn’t in custody for war crimes, and I’m sure the paper’s readership is wondering why a war criminal is allowed to propagandize on the editorial page. Or, perhaps, we aren’t. We’ve known too many Spaniards, to lift a phrase from the “Princess Bride”.

Whether or not the $8 million tax dollars that USAID sent to the opposition was effective or decisive is difficult to tell. The opposition handed out flyers claiming the referendum would make your children wards of the state. Untrue but most likely, frightening to working people. It may be more important for American citizens to understand that we paid for that disinformation ahead of a democratic election in Venezuela. Is this how we want our money to be spent? And, will we recognize the same tactics when they are deployed against our lawful elections, too? These are questions any American who values their vote might want to ask.

The controlling US government meme in the last week was “president for life” even though the referendum would grant Chavez no such power. But, it was repeated over and over in just about every major American media outlet. My own local Fox News outlet surprised me on Friday night by misreporting this story. This is a station that reports our local high school football game scores. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never heard any local channel pronounce “Venezuela” before. That’s how thick the disinformation was over the weekend.

Whatever the back story is, and there is much good information to suggest a concerted effort to manipulate the vote in Venezuela, we need to attend to how the American media reported Venezuela for the last month. The misinformation was overwhelming and it accessed just about every level of government. It went out over national and local television outlets. There was a chorus of the willing in the print press.

If any of us believe our government will only use these tactics on Venezuela or in other countries and not domestically, we are making a very important mistake.

As for Mr. Chavez, his public image has only been burnished by his gracious response to the outcome of the vote and the world has been reminded that Venezuela is a vigorous democracy. I look forward to the time when the United States can enjoy a gracious leader and a vigorous democracy, too.

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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.

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