Hugo ChavezQuestion: How many US newspapers does it take to predict the Venezuelan presidential election?

Answer: Predict it wrong? All of them!

Maybe it's just because I'm some godless socialist, but I think Hugo Chavez has been pretty good for Venezuela. There is no subject on which the mainstream media are more clearly biased. I get the impression we're supposed to think that Chavez is some evil despot like Saddam Hussein or Charles Taylor. But to me, he seems like a democratic socialist.

I was most struck by this when Chavez tried to get a constitutional amendment to eliminate the presidential term limit. The US media reported that the amendment was to make him "president for life." Amazing. But then, when the amendment failed by a really small number of votes, Chavez was asked if he would contest the results. He replied that he wouldn't because he didn't want the constitution amended unless the country was really behind it. How did the media respond? He must have some evil socialist plot!

Contrast this to President Bush, who at that time had the 50% plus one vote strategy—the idea being that the narrowest of margins gave him a mandate to screw roughly half the nation. In this case, who seems like the statesman: Bush or Chavez? I realize that Bush doesn't set the bar very high. But Bush is always treated with respect by the mainstream media. The same cannot be said about Chavez.

Afterword

Before anyone starts yelling at me that Chavez did this or that: stop! I don't doubt that Chavez is imperfect. I remember his infamous "Bush is Satan" speech at the UN. But that is not what the US media coverage of him is about. Chavez is a socialist. But that isn't it either. He's an advocate of the working class. But that isn't it either. He's nationalized industries and that has hurt profits for various corporations. Bingo!

Further, I really don't want to hear from people who know Chavez only through US media coverage. It is clearly biased. No pretense is made at objectivity. If anyone can send me even to typical he said/she said coverage of Chavez, I will be grateful. And surprised.

Update (7 October 2012 9:05 pm)

Via Corey Robin, Business Week writes:

Under Chavez, poverty fell to 31.6 percent at the end of 2011 from about 50 percent when he first took office. Extreme poverty declined to 8.5 percent from about 20 percent over the same period. Venezuela has the lowest level of inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations.

But coming from Business Week, this is probably meant as an indictment.

Update (7 October 2012 9:13 pm)

Yes! Mark Weisbrot writing in The Guardian, Why the US demonises Venezuela's democracy. The subtitle is, "Venezuela is about to hold impeccably free and fair elections. Yet the US treats it as a dictatorship." Go read it. It's good.

Update (8 October 2012 8:28 pm)

Keane Bhatt has a great article at the North American Congress of Latin America website, A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage. Here's a bit of it, but you should read the whole article (it's pretty short):

Hugo Chávez, as a number of us expected, won the Venezuelan presidential election in yet another landslide yesterday: 55.1% to his opponent Henrique Capriles’s 44.2%.

To understand why Chávez's electoral victory would be apparent beforehand, consider that from 1980 to 1998, Venezuela's per capita GDP declined by 14%, whereas since 2004, after the Chávez administration gained control over the nation's oil revenues, the country's GDP growth per person has averaged 2.5% each year.

At the same time, income inequality was reduced to the lowest in Latin America, and a combination of broadly shared growth and government programs cut poverty in half and reduced absolute poverty by 70%—and that's before accounting for vastly expanded access to health, education, and housing.


Update (9 October 2012 11:26 am)

Mark Weisbrot of one of our favorite places on the net, CEPR, has a really good OpEd in today's New York Times, Why Chávez Was Re-elected. Must reading.

Update (10 October 2012 9:37 am)

Peter Hart has a good article over at FAIR, What Are Enemies For?: Iran Sham Helps PBS Smear Chavez. I saw another article (Can't find link!) where the author claimed that Chavez only getting half the vote should make him humble. That's amazing—it shows a writer not letting the facts get in the way of the argument he wants to make. Chavez won by 10 percentage points, or as we say here in the United States: a landslide.