Reflections on a House Divided

The Price of Dubai Fatigue

Sometimes the Bad Man is right next door:
And now, a real threat emanating from foreign ownership – from a gas station near you, and a man who hates free markets, supported Saddam, and thinks the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran is a fine thing indeed.
From: Hugo The Boss
Media criticize ‘greed’ of energy executives, but go easy on Venezuela’s oil strongman

By Dan Gainor
The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow
 Oil prices began to spike in 2005 and the news media eagerly criticized the “greed” of oil companies and their executives. Reporters complained about “jaw-dropping profits” or that oil firms were “taking spending money out of our pockets and making the country poorer.”
     But there was one oil man the network news shows went easy on – despite a career filled with human rights violations, radical rhetoric, crackdowns on the free press and an attempted coup that cost dozens of lives. He directs operations for the fifth-largest oil-producing nation in the world and controls one of the most common company names in the gasoline industry – Citgo. He’s Hugo Chavez, the openly anti-American president of Venezuela.
     While broadcast reporters worried about dangers of foreign firms running American ports, they paid little or no attention to Chavez and his latest threats to cut off oil to the United States. According to the Feb. 21, 2006, Financial Times, Chavez “insisted the U.S. would receive ‘no more oil’ if it ‘crossed the line’ in its supposed efforts to undermine his ‘revolution.’” That new threat was acknowledged only by CBS. But all three networks ignored much of the truth about Chavez and his control of the second-largest oil supply in the Western Hemisphere.
    Chavez has actively promoted anti-American protests and has funded left-wing revolution throughout Central and South America. Experts estimate he spent $1.5 billion each year from oil profits to support regimes like Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Despite that, only 40 percent of the stories made any attempt to label his politics for what they really are. Roughly 12 percent of the stories called Chavez a “leftist,” while others simply referred to him as a “Bush critic” or an “arch enemy of the Bush administration.”

     Chavez himself has put it in harsher terms. A Feb. 5, 2006, Reuters report quoted him saying: “The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush.”

     Chavez is far more danger than “critic.” He has repeatedly sided with a rogues’ gallery of America’s enemies including Castro and Saddam Hussein, and recently has supported the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons. Now, as oil has become even more essential to American security and prosperity, he sits atop roughly 14 percent of U.S. crude oil imports.
    The Chavez regime’s human rights record is notorious – so much so that several left-wing civil rights groups have complained about his actions. In its 2005 annual report, Amnesty International complained of deaths, detentions and torture. “There were violent confrontations between supporters of the opposition and the security forces throughout the country. Scores of people were killed and injured. Hundreds more were detained amid allegations of excessive use of force and torture and ill-treatment.”

     That was only the beginning. The analysis continued: “There were reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Relatives and those who witnessed abuses were threatened and intimidated. The lack of independence of the judiciary remained a concern. Attempts were made to undermine the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders.”

     The report went into more detail about the government excesses. “There were continuing reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects by members of the police. Relatives and witnesses who reported such abuses were frequently threatened or attacked. No effective protection was granted to them despite calls by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the authorities to do so.”

     The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took a similar view of the many abuses rampant in Venezuela. Their 2004 report identified “two issues of great importance relating to the independence of the judiciary, the provisional status of judges, and the failure to comply with constitutional rules in appointing judges, as a mechanism for guaranteeing their impartiality and independence.” It went on to explain that 84 percent of all judges were appointed temporarily, leaving them at the whim of the government.

     Human Rights Watch also released a June 2004 report on the issue of the judiciary titled: “Rigging the Rule of Law: Judicial Independence Under Siege in Venezuela.” According to that analysis, “When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías faced a coup d’état in April 2002, advocates of democracy in Venezuela and abroad roundly condemned the assault on the country’s constitutional order. Today Venezuela faces another constitutional crisis that could severely impair its already fragile democracy. This time, though, the threat comes from the government itself.”

     Even Freedom House, a group founded by Eleanor Roosevelt more than 60 years ago, complained about Chavez’s actions with the courts. “The Chavez government has made one of its central focus points the control of the judiciary, and they have accomplished it through a variety of means.” Freedom House showed how bad things really were. “Widespread arbitrary detention and torture of suspects, as well as extrajudicial killings by the often-corrupt military security forces and the police, have increased as crime continues to soar,” said Joseph McSpedon, senior program manager, in his testimony to Congress Nov. 17, 2005.

     Reporter Bill Whitaker of the “CBS Evening News” showed how far the networks went for “balance” that downplayed Chavez’s human rights violations. Whitaker’s Dec. 15, 2002, piece detailed the ongoing attacks on political opponents. “Three anti-Chavez demonstrators were gunned down last week. Everyone wants peace, but Chavez supporters insist he must stay.”
If It Walks Like a Duck: If you put together what the broadcast media have said about Hugo Chavez, he has clamped down on protest, free speech, the Catholic Church and is now considering staying in office as long as he wants. This coming from a man who openly used violence to try and take over the country. There are terms that accurately report those kind of actions. “Dictator” would be one.
    Label Consistently: Conservatives wouldn’t pretend to group Hugo Chavez with Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Walter Mondale. Why do network reporters? Is assuming dictatorial powers the same thing as creating “left-wing” movies like “Brokeback Mountain?” Clearly, there is no similarity. It is up to reporters to use accurate and specific terms to make that obvious.
    Look at Threats: The ports controversy should have the media looking more aggressively for potential security threats. They could find plenty to report about Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Reporters should examine the looming threat of an oil cutoff coupled with a leader even the networks sometimes admitted was “anti-American.”
Worry about Human Rights: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have all expressed strong concerns about abuses in Chavez’s Venezuela. But just 10 percent of stories included any information about human rights violations. The term “human rights” was all but ignored. It’s a concern the network news reporters should include when they are covering Chavez.

 (C) David Aronin 2006