[A summary of the following article recently appeared in NACLA Report on the Americas as part of the magazine's Media Accuracy on Latin America project]
"In short, Mr. Chávez's ‘21st-century socialism' looks depressingly like the 20th-century version: a bloated, repressive state headed by a hectoring strongman."
—Editorial in the Washington Post, 17 August 2007 
"In dictatorships we are more fortunate than you in the West in one respect. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and nothing of what we watch on television, because we know it's propaganda and lies. Unlike you in the West, we've learned to look behind the propaganda and to read between the lines, and unlike you, we know that the real truth is always subversive."
—Czechoslovakian novelist and Soviet-era dissident Zdener Urbanek 
Although the New York Times, Washington Post, and most other news outlets claim their reportage and analysis to be "objective," the content of their pages is never neutral; it inevitably supports or undermines the goals of government policy. Because newspapers like the Times and Post constitute a principle source of information about the outside world for so much of the US population, they have the obligation to promote the development of an informed citizenry capable of critically assessing issues of international relevance. Therefore what these papers report, how they do so, and what they omit are questions of fundamental importance for understanding the public response (or lack thereof) to US actions abroad.
These questions become especially important when considering countries like Venezuela where the US government has, or seeks to have, a strong influence upon political and economic development. Since the 1998 election of President Hugo Chávez, Washington has grown increasingly hostile toward the Venezuelan government, supporting a failed military coup against Chávez in 2002 and channeling millions of dollars to Venezuelan opposition groups since then . Media coverage of Venezuela has generally been quite hostile as well, as many independent analyses have pointed out .
This article expands upon earlier critiques of media coverage of Venezuela by comparing media coverage of Venezuela with that of a key US ally in the region, Colombia. I argue that the major liberal newspapers' coverage of these two countries conforms closely to Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's "propaganda model," which predicts that corporate media will demonstrate a consistent bias toward official enemies of the US and, conversely, a consistent leniency or good will toward official friends . Here I focus on coverage in the nation's two leading "liberal" newspapers, the New York Times and Washington Post, arguing that these two papers' coverage of Venezuela and Colombia consistently omits and distorts crucial information that is necessary for readers to gain an understanding of events in these countries. The final section of the article locates the last decade's coverage of Venezuela in the long-term history of US relations with Latin America, underscoring the importance of cultural and political discourses to US power in the region .
Basic Predictions of the Propaganda Model
The propaganda model predicts that the mass media's coverage of news will tend to reflect domestic power interests. Despite some variation, the mass media help "to inculcate and defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state" . When covering US foreign policy, media outlets will present information and analysis that supports the prerogatives of powerful elite groups in the US, which usually means supporting official government goals abroad. As a result, official friends are treated very differently from official enemies. Achievements and violations in the fields of human rights, democracy, and social justice are alternately emphasized, invented, downplayed, or ignored depending on the parties involved and their official standing in Washington .
Colombia and Venezuela, an official friend and an official enemy, offer a concrete opportunity to test the usefulness of the propaganda model for coverage of Latin America. If the model applies, US print media will show contrasting tendencies of favorable coverage toward Álvaro Uribe's government in Colombia and negative coverage of the Chávez government in Venezuela. The Uribe government will be portrayed in a way that makes it look relatively democratic, progressive, and peaceful, while the Chávez government will be depicted as authoritarian, oppressive, and militaristic.
To test this prediction, I will evaluate media coverage of two sets of analogous events which have occurred recently in both these countries, and which have involved issues and events which are at least roughly parallel to one another. Both sets of events have involved government policies which might be seen as attenuating democratic freedoms and increasing government power over opponents:
1. Freedom of speech and the press. In October 2004 the Uribe government closed down a private TV station, Inravisión, whose employee union had opposed certain Uribe policies. In May 2007 the Chávez government revoked the public broadcasting license of RCTV, a private TV station that had supported an abortive military coup against him five years earlier.
2. Presidential term limits. In October 2005 President Uribe won a court case enabling him to amend Colombia's Constitution to seek the presidency for an additional term. Two years later President Chávez proposed a similar measure that was narrowly defeated in a popular referendum.
Though the circumstances of each government action differed between the two countries, each pair of events is similar enough to allow for a controlled comparison of their respective coverage in the US press. If the propaganda model holds, newspaper reports and editorials will show outrage over Chávez's actions while ignoring or downplaying the corresponding events in Colombia.
Test Case 1: Closing Down Opposition Media
On 27 May 2007 RCTV's public broadcasting license expired and the station went off the air, six months after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's announcement that the station's license would not be renewed. RCTV had lent vocal support to a military coup that briefly overthrew Chávez in April 2002, had supported an oil strike designed to bring down the government later that year, and had committed a range of lesser legal infractions of broadcast regulations over the past quarter-century . The station was allowed to continue broadcasting on satellite and cable television, but was effectively excluded from public airwaves.
Coverage of Government Closure of TV Stations in Venezuela and Colombia
in the New York Times and Washington Post*
|Number of Editorials Condemning the Closure
|*Coverage analyzed includes the two-month period starting several weeks prior to the key government action (1 May to 1 July 2007 for Venezuela; 15 September to 15 November 2004 for Colombia). Tallies do not include articles and editorials that alluded to a lack of free speech in either country but which did not explicitly mention the television station closure. "Editorials" includes Op-Ed pieces.
In May and June of 2007 the New York Times and Washington Post featured a total of nineteen articles that dealt with the non-renewal of RCTV's license, in addition to two editorial columns strongly condemning the Venezuelan government's decision (see Table 1). The number of articles alone reflected the outrage at both newspapers over the incident; in addition, all nineteen news articles cast the government's actions in a negative light.
The principal Times correspondent for Venezuela and the surrounding region is Simon Romero. Immediately following the expiration of RCTV's license, the Times published articles by Romero on May 27, May 28, May 29, and June 1 (along with a spate of additional articles in the following weeks), all of which painted a picture of a despotic strongman cracking down on dissenters. Romero's May 27 report described the decisive "shift in media" under Chávez, saying that as a result of this decision and others "a new media elite is emerging," one composed "of ideological devotees to Mr. Chavez [sic]" . Romero obliquely admits that "most news organizations in Venezuela remain in private hands," but dismisses that fact by implying that Chávez is bullying all private news outlets into toeing the Party line . The next day Romero reported that "thousands of protesters" filled the streets of the capital Caracas before "the police dispersed [them] by firing tear gas into [the] demonstrations." The report also quoted a Venezuelan soap-opera star who called Chávez's government "a dictatorship" . On June 1 Romero concluded that after unleashing "chilling threats of retribution, Mr. Chavez seems prepared to harden his treatment of both the protesters and any media organizations that oppose him" . Romero's reports on RCTV are consistent with his other recent reportage on Venezuela, and with other news reports in the Times from the same time period .
The only Times editorial or op-ed focusing on the RCTV affair came on June 6. In a piece titled "Silence = Despotism," former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo angrily condemned the government's decision and located his criticisms within a broader indictment of Chávez. Toledo argued that "President Chavez has become a destabilizing figure throughout the hemisphere" because he "silence[s] anyone with opposing thoughts"—a trend which could spread to other countries if citizens and their governments are not careful. He then implicitly equated Chávez's government with past Latin American dictatorships, urging that "[t]hose of us who confronted authoritarianism in the past must again stand up for continent-wide solidarity" .
The Post's coverage was similar. The paper's primary correspondent in the region, Juan Forero, authored a handful of reports about the RCTV affair. In an article published twice on two consecutive days, once on the front page, Forero wrote that "[o]utlets, particularly television stations, that were once aggressively anti-government have grown docile under threat of sanctions," and cited his source as "press freedom and human rights groups" . In another report later that week Forero matter-of-factly concluded that "Venezuela's government seems intent on taking harsh action against its critics" . During the two-week stretch immediately before and after RCTV went off the airwaves, the Post also featured six "World in Brief" updates that all cast Chávez in a decidedly autocratic light. Several of the updates also portrayed government forces as violently repressive of the protests in Caracas. The May 29 update reported that "[p]olice fired tear gas and plastic bullets into a crowd of about 5,000 people protesting a decision by President Hugo Chávez that forced a television station critical of his government off the air." The report did not mention that many of the protesters had committed acts of violence, although one later update noted that the protests were "sometimes violent" and another said that "[a]t least 30 [protesters] were charged with violent acts" .
Even more so than the Times', the Post's coverage tended to glorify the protesters as heroic freedom-fighters who bravely confronted the tyranny and repression of the Chávez government. The May 27 briefing reported that "Tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets chanting ‘Freedom, freedom!' to protest President Hugo Chávez's decision." The figure "tens of thousands" not only conjures the image of massive, overwhelming popular opposition to the government, but is also a bit suspect in itself given the figure of 5,000 cited for the May 28 protest. A June 16 news report by Pamela Constable likewise cast government opponents in a heroic light:
It was a tiny gesture of protest: a dozen college students flagging down cars for an hour on Embassy Row this month, wearing symbolic white gags across their mouths and holding up posters that quoted Albert Camus and Walt Whitman on the importance of free speech.
But the anger of these Venezuela-born young people—furious at the shutdown of a popular private TV channel in Caracas—reflected the fast-rising political fervor that is gripping Venezuelan immigrants in the United States after years of private frustration over the tightening revolutionary grip of President Hugo Chavez. 
Constable's description is highly reminiscent of reports on Eastern-bloc protesters leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union. Through this veiled comparison to the USSR the Venezuelan protesters are lionized into virtuous freedom-fighters standing up to a brutal and ossified regime.
Perhaps more important than hyperbolic rhetoric and crude comparisons to former dictatorships, though, were the many factual details routinely omitted from news coverage of the RCTV situation. Of all the omissions that characterized most Times and Post coverage, one stands above the rest: the well-documented fact that RCTV had lent vocal support to a 2002 coup against a democratically-elected government. RCTV was frequently described as a "dissident network" or an "opposition TV station" without any mention of its support for the coup . When news reports and opinion pieces did mention this fact, they usually qualified it by saying that Chávez claimed that RCTV had supported the coup. A typical example in the Post reported that "[a]uthorities here say that RCTV supported a coup that dislodged Chávez for two days in 2002" . By framing RCTV's support for the coup as an allegation of the Venezuelan government—which, by definition, has little credibility—press coverage implied that the charge against RCTV can be dismissed as the demagogical ranting of an unscrupulous ruler.
The omission of important details was in part the result of the sources consulted. Each of the reporters and columnists who wrote on Venezuela showed a strong anti-Chávez bias, and usually gave preference to anti-Chávez "experts." The few sources with alternative views on RCTV were consistently marginalized or implicitly identified as too close to Chávez to offer an accurate portrait of events. Among those sources sympathetic to Chávez (or who at least raise some of the inconvenient facts), almost all were members of the Venezuelan government, with Chávez himself often the only one quoted. On May 21 the Post published a short (286-word) response from the Director of Venezuelan National Radio, Helena Salcedo, who pointed out that
the overwhelming majority of the media remain in private hands. Of the 81 television stations, 709 radio broadcasters and 118 newspapers throughout Venezuela, 79, 706 and 118, respectively, are privately owned and operated...
[I]n 2002 [RCTV's] owner, Marcel Granier, actively supported a coup against the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez. In no country would such conduct be permitted by a media outlet; in fact, U.S. broadcasters have faced fines or license revocations for lesser offenses. 
Salcedo raises two important points: that most media in Venezuela is still privately-owned, and that the level of press freedom there is at least as great as in the US. But her credibility is automatically suspect because she is affiliated with the Chávez government, which only gives political power and media access to its "ideological devotees."
Salcedo had written to the Post in response to an op-ed piece by Jackson Diehl from May 14 in which Diehl characterized Chávez as a "dictator." Diehl implied that Chávez had ordered violent attacks on dissidents and that his "problem with Granier and RCTV is political," downplaying the magnitude of RCTV's offense (supporting the military overthrow of a democratically-elected government). Diehl's invective is filled with other distortions and unsubstantiated claims as well: he implies that Chávez enjoys an unfettered "power to rule by decree," that RCTV's license was cancelled "on Chávez's personal order" (in reality, the Supreme Court was also involved), and that "neither domestic nor international institutions matter in a regime that is becoming increasingly personal." In general, the picture is one of a dictatorial tyrant unbound by Constitutional laws or international conventions . Diehl does not comment on the level of respect for domestic and international institutions among those who plotted or supported the 2002 military coup.
Diehl is given regular access to the Post op-ed page, whereas well-respected scholars and journalists with alternative views on Venezuela are not. This differential of access is symptomatic of a much broader phenomenon: the consistent preference of the Times and Post for reporters, columnists, and commentators who oppose the Chávez government. Respected scholars and journalists with alternative views on the RCTV incident were not hard to find, but were seldom quoted in the Times and Post. Among this group was journalist Gregory Wilpert, who noted that
[i]t is generally taken for granted that any silencing of opposition voices is anti-freedom of speech. But is an opposition voice really being silenced? Is this the correct metaphor? Is the director of RCTV, Marcel Granier, actually being silenced? No, a better metaphor is that the megaphone that Granier (and others) used for the exercise of his free speech is being returned to its actual owners—a megaphone that he had borrowed, but never owned. Not only that, he is still allowed to use a smaller megaphone (cable & satellite). 
Like Helena Salcedo, Wilpert offers an alternative, fact-based perspective at least as valid as any presented in the Times or Post. But like a long list of independent journalists and scholars with heretical views on the RCTV situation, Wilpert was not featured in these two papers . The exclusion of such alternative viewpoints along with the absence of important factual and contextual details reflects a consistent trend in press coverage of Venezuela in the past decade.
A comparative look at coverage of Colombia at the time of President Uribe's closing of Inravisión is not possible, since not a single mention of that closing appeared in either of the two newspapers (Table 1). While I have not intended to justify the Venezuelan's government decision regarding RCTV, or to claim that it was popular among Venezuelans (some polls suggest it was not, in part because the channel had featured popular soap operas), the dramatic difference between the papers' outrage over RCTV and their complete lack of attention to Inravisión reveals an unmistakable bias on their part. If anything, fair press coverage should have showed more outrage over the Uribe government's closure of Inravisión, which had done nothing illegal . The fact that not a single article or editorial column even mentioned the event is strong evidence of the propaganda model's applicability vis-à-vis Venezuela and Colombia. In fact, similar examples are available for other US-backed governments as well; media censorship similar to that in Colombia has occurred in recent years in Mexico and other countries ruled by US allies without the US press taking notice .
Test Case 2: Extending Presidential Term Limits
Between 2004 and 2007 both Hugo Chávez and Álvaro Uribe attempted to extend or abolish presidential term limits in their respective countries; Uribe was successful, Chávez was not. The two presidents' proposals differed in three additional respects: first, Chávez included his request within a larger package of social, economic, and political reforms, whereas Uribe did not; second, the Chávez proposal and reforms were defeated by a popular referendum of the entire electorate, whereas Uribe's request was granted by the Colombian Congress and upheld by a Supreme Court ruling; and third, Chávez proposed to eliminate term limits entirely whereas Uribe proposed to extend them. Despite these differences, however, the two presidents' proposals were fundamentally similar in that they both sought to allow the current president to run for office again, in effect representing an expansion of the president's personal power. As such, the two events might be expected to elicit similar reactions from outside observers and therefore allow a viable comparative case study of press coverage.
The Venezuelan referendum occurred on December 2, 2007. In November and December the New York Times published twenty-two news reports mentioning, and eight editorials and op-eds explicitly condemning, Chávez's efforts to extend his powers. Of these 30 total articles, about two-thirds (19) specifically mention Chávez's attempt to abolish term limits; the other eleven state or imply that Chávez was attempting to expand his own powers but without explicitly referring to the issue of term limits (see Table 2, which reflects the smaller figure of 19 plus 11 articles in the Post).
Coverage of Presidential Attempts to Extend Term Limits in Venezuela and Colombia
in the New York Times and Washington Post*
|Number of Articles Mentioning Proposed Extension of Term Limits
|Number of Editorials Criticizing Proposed Extension of Term Limits
|*For Venezuela I have tallied coverage for the two-month period from 1 November 2007 to 1 January 2008. Virtually all news articles and editorials dealing with Venezuela or Chávez have implied that the government is repressive or authoritarian; however, I have included in the above tally only those pieces which have referred to the December 2, 2007, referendum's provisions that would have extended presidential powers. Of the 45 total articles and editorials falling in this category, thirty (67 percent) explicitly mentioned the effort to abolish presidential term limits; the rest described Chávez's alleged efforts to centralize power but without explicitly mentioning the article of the referendum that would have abolished term limits. The tally does not include additional reports and editorials which made vague implications about Chávez's autocratic tendencies but without discussing the December referendum directly.
For Colombia, there were two significant moments: the Colombian Congress's November 2004 declaration that it was extending presidential term limits, and the Colombian Supreme Court's upholding of that decision in October 2005. Thus I have included coverage from 15 November 2004 to 15 January 2005 and from 15 September to 15 November 2005, then divided by two and reported the average (there was a total of four Times and Post articles dealing with the extension of term limits in Colombia during all four months). "Editorials" includes Op-Eds.
In the month prior to the December 2 referendum vote, the Times' Simon Romero authored ten news reports mentioning Chávez's proposal to eliminate term limits. Most of Romero's articles implied that the proposal was wildly unpopular in Venezuela, that large swaths of the public were bravely turning out in public to denounce the government, and that those who protested were confronted with violent government repression. In an article on students who opposed Chávez's proposals, Romero paints a romantic portrait of student leader Yon Goicoechea that recalled stories of underground dissidents under Fascist and Stalinist regimes: "He changes cellphones every few days. After receiving dozens of death threats, he moves among the apartments of friends here each day in search of a safe place to sleep" . Two days before, on November 8, Romero had reported that "a march by tens of thousands of students to the Supreme Court" was met by "masked gunmen" whose bullets injured two people. He made little attempt to avoid giving the impression that the gunmen were sent by the government, simply quoting a government official as saying that "[w]e do not know what faction they belong to" . Romero followed the December 2 referendum defeat with four more articles in eight days, all of which conveyed similar impressions.
Other Times articles and editorial columns were even stronger in their condemnations of Chávez. Op-ed columnist Roger Cohen wrote three columns in eight days calling Chávez a "caudillo" and a "menace" and complaining that "he parades under banners of Jesus Christ and calls Christ the ‘first revolutionary'" . Three days before the referendum Cohen wrote that "Chavez's grab for socialist-emperor status is grotesque and dangerous—as Fascism was—a terrible example for a region that has been consolidating democracy" . The Times editors registered their full agreement with this assessment in two editorials on December 1 and December 4. In the first, entitled "Saying No to Chavez," they expressed shock at the "breathtaking gall of Mr. Chavez's latest lunge for power," echoing Romero's reports that "[t]housands of university students have taken to the streets to protest, facing down armed Chavista thugs." The December 4 editorial compared Chávez to Vladimir Putin of Russia and applauded the courage of Venezuelan voters for having defeated Chávez's proposal . In total, the Times published eight editorials and op-eds condemning Chávez's proposal. But formal editorials were not really necessary; the same opinions were conveyed in standard news articles. The Times' December 4 "Quotation of the Day" came from Chávez, followed by one line of context below the quote: "Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, after voters refused to give him sweeping new powers." Such an assessment had evidently become a truism at the Times; saying it did not constitute an opinion but a universally-recognized fact, and it was taken for granted in editorials and "news reports" alike. Even several articles in the arts, culture, and travel sections of the paper mentioned Chávez's bid to extend his personal powers .
The Post's coverage of the referendum was similar. Correspondent Juan Forero wrote eight reports dealing with Chávez's proposal to eliminate term limits. In his November 29 article Forero opened by saying that the upcoming referendum vote "could extend [Chávez's] presidency for life." In the same piece he interviewed an opponent of the proposal, and then seemed to agree with his interviewee that its passage "would effectively turn Venezuela into a dictatorship run at the whim of one man" . In case Forero's reportage left any doubt about the Post's position on the vote, the editors published two editorials and five op-eds condemning Chávez. Among those given op-ed space were respected scholars and thinkers such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lane (who crudely compared Chávez to Stalin, Mao, and other "high modernists"), and Jackson Diehl, who decried the Venezuelan government's "overt violence that has included the gunning down of student protesters." Diehl also called on Washington to intervene more aggressively in Venezuelan affairs, lamenting (incorrectly) that "[t]he Bush administration seems to have abandoned any effort to influence events in Caracas" .
The Post editors also took their turn. A November 15 editorial headline declared that Chávez's proposal "could complete Venezuela's transformation into a dictatorship." The editors warned that "Venezuela is on the verge of succumbing to a dictatorship that will isolate and retard the country, maybe for decades." The editorial also claimed that the previous week's violent clashes at Venezuela's Central University had been the work of "government-sponsored paramilitary groups" who fired on "tens of thousands" of peaceful student protesters (in fact, eyewitness testimonies suggest that it was at least as likely that the protesters had been responsible for most of the violence, and a conflicting report estimated the number of protesters at 10,000, not "tens of thousands") . After the proposal's defeat on December 2 the editors applauded the courage of Venezuela's "long-beleaguered opposition," calling the defeat "a landmark victory for freedom in a country that stood at the brink of autocracy" .
Like press coverage of the RCTV affair, Times and Post coverage of the December referendum was characterized by the routine omission of important facts and contexts. Much of the coverage implied or even stated explicitly that the referendum if approved would install Chávez as "de facto president for life" . Prior to the vote Jackson Diehl wrote dejectedly that "Chávez will become the presumptive president-for-life of a new autocracy" . The Times' Roger Cohen went a step further, explicitly comparing Chávez to Fascist dictators of the past because of his "grab for socialist-emperor status" . Nor was this type of language limited to editorial columns; news reports often spoke of "constitutional changes that, if approved by voters on Sunday, could extend [Chávez's] presidency for life" . Such reports deliberately distorted the substance of the proposed changes by neglecting to mention that Chávez would still have to be elected for each successive term.
The reports and editorials also declined to give the appropriate international context for Chávez's proposal. None, for example, mentioned that the United Kingdom does not have term limits for the office of prime minister. None mentioned that the United States did not establish presidential term limits until 1951. Only one article noted that President Uribe of neighboring Colombia was at that very same time (November 2007) thinking of extending his own term limits yet again, after already having done so in 2005 . Chávez was regularly compared to the rulers of Russia, China, and other countries seen as antagonistic to the US, but none of the reports compared him to friendlier rulers closer to home.
The opinions of Venezuelans themselves were not worthy of consideration unless they could be cited or twisted to convey an impression of popular opposition to Chávez. Very few reports or opinion pieces mentioned any of the indicators suggesting the Venezuelan people's satisfaction with their government. The major Latin American polling firm, Latinobarómetro, had recently found that Venezuelans had a higher level of satisfaction with the state of democracy in their country (59 percent) than did any other national citizenry in all of Latin America save Uruguay. In 1996, when Venezuela was still ruled by a US-backed oligarchy, only about 30 percent of Venezuelans had reported similar levels of satisfaction . Interestingly enough, most of the prime US client states—for example, Peru, Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Colombia—are all in the bottom eight of the eighteen countries surveyed, with an average of just 26-percent citizen satisfaction . The 2007 Latinobarómetro report was published in November, but not a single article or editorial criticizing the Chávez proposal even mentioned it. In all major US newspapers, only two articles mentioned the poll—and both omitted the above findings and instead cited one of its other results to argue "that Chavez is no more popular in Latin America than President Bush" .
As with coverage of the RCTV affair, the omissions were partially the result of the sources quoted. Coverage demonstrated a consistent preference for critics of the proposal, and the proponents of the reforms were usually government figures. But this time the sources used revealed another interesting pattern: the preference for former supporters of Chávez who had come to recognize their past mistakes, the leftist "converts" who now criticized their president's effort to "turn Venezuela into a dictatorship" . Among those with "unimpeachable leftist credentials" who spoke out against the proposals were former Defense Minister General Raul Isaias Baduel, Chávez's ex-wife Marisabel Rodríguez, and state Governor Ramón Martínez . These three appeared a total of eighteen times criticizing Chávez's proposal. General Baduel in particular was celebrated as a heroic dissident, and was given access to the Times op-ed page the day before the referendum. There he accused Chávez of seeking "absolute control over the people" in the form of a "socialist state," which he argued was "contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society" .
In November 2004 the Colombian Congress approved President Álvaro Uribe's proposal allowing the president to run for an additional term, and eleven months later the Supreme Court declared the constitutionality of the proposal. Although the extension of Colombian presidential term limits differed in some ways from Chávez's plan, both cases involved a president seeking to expand his own political power. Judging by the seething indignation over Chávez in Fall 2007, one would expect at least some level of outrage over Uribe's earlier actions from people like Simon Romero, Juan Forero, Jackson Diehl, Charles Lane, Roger Cohen, and the editors of the Times and Post.
With a few possible exceptions, that indignation was simply not present. In a total of four months comprising the bulk of the controversy in Colombia (November 15, 2004, through January 15, 2005, and September 15 through November 15, 2005) the Times and Post mentioned President Uribe's proposal only four times: two news reports appeared in the Times, along with two "World in Brief" blurbs in the Post. No editorial columns criticized the proposal (Table 2).
Juan Forero, then writing for the Times, was the only correspondent or columnist who called attention to Uribe's efforts to extend term limits (to Forero's credit, he also reported on Uribe's Fall 2007 plans to do so once again) . But the tone and substance of Forero's descriptions of Uribe in 2004 and 2005 do not compare to the descriptions of Chávez (by him and others) in 2007. In both his articles Forero offers a variety of implicit justifications for Uribe's bid to extend term limits: In December 2004 he wrote that "Mr. Uribe remains immensely popular," adding in October 2005 that he "remains the most popular president in Latin America" . Moreover, Uribe faces a "long, drug-fueled conflict with Marxist rebels" and may need more time to quell the violence. So far his "policies...are starting to pay off," so perhaps we should let him continue in office .
Forero's two reports on Uribe reveal a fundamental difference from those on Chávez: in Uribe's case, the reports offered context which encourages the reader to look more favorably on the president's actions. In the case of Venezuela contextual details like the 2002 US-backed coup against Chávez, the lack of term limits in various Western nations, or the results of popular opinion polls showing significant support for Chávez were all but missing. Moreover, Forero's reports on Uribe represent the extreme end of the mainstream spectrum; more often, reports and editorials have heaped praise upon Uribe for his commitment to democracy and freedom. For the Post editors, "[i]n a region where populist demagogues are on the offensive, Mr. Uribe stands out as a defender of liberal democracy" .
Mr. Uribe's commitment to democracy was revealed yet again in June 2008, when the Colombian Supreme Court sentenced a member of the Colombian Congress to house arrest for accepting bribes from the Uribe government in exchange for supporting Uribe's 2004 Constitutional amendment allowing for presidential reelection . The Times and Post each ran one news article that was mildly critical of the scandal yet nonetheless praised Uribe's allegedly near-unanimous popularity within Colombia. Neither article even questioned the legitimacy of Uribe's immediate proposal to conduct the election again, noting only that the scandal "potentially call[ed] into question the legitimacy of Mr. Uribe's re-election" (emphasis added) . If Hugo Chávez was found to have bribed the Venezuelan Congress to amend the Constitution, of course, the editorial staffs at most major US newspapers would be foaming at the mouth, perhaps while urging US military intervention to overthrow Chávez.
Social Policies and Human Rights Violations of the Two Governments
The preceding test cases are indicative of a much more general trend in US press coverage, one that extends far beyond just the two sets of instances examined above, and far beyond the New York Times and Washington Post. In fact, the central propositions of the propaganda model are evident in most reportage and commentary on Venezuela and Colombia over the past ten years. An exhaustive analysis of all the major US media outlets is beyond the scope of this paper, but the systematic bias of the Times and Post vis-à-vis Venezuela and Colombia becomes even more glaring upon a brief look at how these papers have portrayed the two governments' social policies and their involvement in real or alleged violence against opponents.
Government social spending—money for things like housing, health care, and education—has increased significantly in Venezuela under Chávez. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research observed in late 2007 that
social spending per person has increased by 314 percent over the eight years of the Chávez administration. The proportion of households in poverty has dropped by 38 percent—and this is measuring only cash income, not other benefits such as health care and education. 
Most independent observers also agree that poverty has declined. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported in December 2006 that for the years 2002 through 2006 poverty in Venezuela declined more than any other country in Latin America except for Argentina . Although there is some disagreement over the exact extent to which government policies have reduced poverty, there is little doubt that the Chávez government has done a better job of providing for Venezuelans' basic needs than its predecessors had.
Venezuelans seem to agree on this point. As The Economist (hardly a Chávez sympathizer) noted with reference to the November 2007 Latinobarómetro report, "Some 56 percent of respondents [in Venezuela] said that the distribution of wealth in the country was fair, way above the regional average of 24 percent" . The report itself adds that "Venezuela is the only country in the region where more than half the citizenry thinks that [the distribution of wealth] is fair." In fact, that appraisal understates it: of all the countries surveyed, the next highest level of satisfaction is in Bolivia—the poorest country in South America, and also a US enemy—where 30 percent of the populace believes that wealth is distributed fairly .
But these details received little attention in the Times and Post. Coverage of the December 2007 referendum provides a typical example. Although the proposals included a variety of social reforms such as a reduced workday, a new pension system for workers in the informal sector, and increased power for neighborhood councils, the papers focused only on those measures like the elimination of term limits which could be viewed as expanding Chávez's powers. Of eight total articles by Juan Forero in the Post, six made no mention whatsoever of the social reforms, a pattern that also held true for six out of seven Post editorial columns. In general, the papers have downplayed the social and material gains of the Venezuelan poor and working classes under Chávez, and have even sought to deny those gains completely. Various reports and editorials have contended that Chavismo is simply substituting a new elite class for the old. "While the old oligarchy is undone," the Times' Simon Romero tells us, "a new political elite is emerging" that is "comprised of officials who support Mr. Chavez" .
When the papers have mentioned the government's social reforms, they have almost unanimously implied that the government's motives are cynical and conniving. The "lavish government spending" under Chávez is always portrayed as an attempt to "buy" support among Venezuelans . Government social programs and foreign aid are just veiled campaigns "to dispense patronage," proof that Chávez is "vying for influence" in Venezuela and Latin America (the US and its allies, of course, have nothing but noble attentions) . The Post editors see nothing but a lust for power behind Chávez's social expenditures, criticizing his "use of cash to purchase popular support, or quiescence, at home—and to buy allies abroad" . In the one editorial in which the Post actually mentioned one social provision of the December referenda, the proposed reduction in the workday, they dismissed it as "a populist sop" calculated to buy support for the centralization of political power . In a column entitled "Buying Support in Latin America," Jackson Diehl denies that Chavismo has actually produced real gains for the Venezuelan people. He dismisses Chávez's popular support by explaining that he "successfully mines the populism and anti-Americanism that is a perpetual undercurrent in Latin American politics and that is largely blind to results" . In most articles that even broach the topic of Chávez's popularity, the authors present an image of "poor masses" of Venezuelans who blindly follow a corrupt populist leader irrespective of the actual results he delivers .
Such language reveals an interesting assumption about those Venezuelans who support Chávez: that they are unthinking drones lured in by their ruler's promises of social welfare. The basic implication is that the government's provision of decent housing, health care, education, and other basic services have brainwashed these people and impeded their ability to think rationally, such that they mindlessly support Chávez. The image of Chávez supporters as the "poor masses" who are bought-off by government social spending and who show unthinking obedience to Chávez does a serious disservice both to the grassroots social movements ultimately responsible for impelling many of the government's reforms and to the agency of the population-at-large.
Negative press coverage of Chávez's social reforms, we might safely conclude, springs not from disillusionment over the motives or strategies behind those reforms, but from a strong antipathy on the part of politicians, elites, and pundits to the very fact that Chávez is attempting to reduce social inequalities. In a revealing November 2007 article on the approaching OPEC summit, Post reporter Steve Mufson lamented that "other issues are likely to divert attention from substantive matters at the weekend summit, especially with Chávez in town." Mufson predicted that "the Venezuelan leader is likely to be provocative. This week, he suggested that OPEC nations set aside tens of billions of dollars to subsidize purchases of petroleum by poor nations." Apparently aid to impoverished countries does not qualify as a "substantive" matter, and merely "provokes" unnecessary discord; such frivolity "divert[s] attention" from what Third-World leaders should be worried about—namely, maintaining a cheap flow of oil to First-World countries and enforcing fiscal and economic policies that are favorable to countries like the US at the expense of their own people . Although many Chavista policies have had only a moderate effect as of yet, Chávez is scorned and denounced by the US press because of the mere fact that his government has dared to undertake meaningful reforms. As Bertrand Russell once said of Thomas Paine, "He had faults, like other men; but it was for his virtues that he was hated and successfully calumniated" .
In Colombia, there have been few social gains to report. According to the 2007 Latinobarómetro report, a mere 17 percent of Colombians think that the distribution of wealth in their country is fair . President Uribe has been a staunch ally of the US government and has consequently followed neoliberal economic policies, keeping government social spending to a minimum while maintaining a corporate-friendly atmosphere featuring dramatic social and economic inequality . This inequality is enforced in part through the brutal and longstanding repression of the labor movement (see below, "Violence"). The Times and Post, far from criticizing the inequality in Colombian society, give it a positive spin: "With more secure conditions for investment, the free-market economy is booming" under Uribe, who "stands out as a defender of liberal democracy" .
When the papers have mentioned the Chávez government's social policies—policies which might logically incline readers to look favorably upon Chavismo—they have usually implied that the implementation of those policies has been violent, oppressive, and opposed by much of the population. In an article on rural land redistribution under Chávez, the Times' Simon Romero emphasized the "forced" nature of reforms, which Chávez has carried out "in a process that is both brutal and legal." Romero pointed out that the government has sent "army commando units to supervise seized estates" and implied that it allows squatters to destroy estates' crops and to "threaten to kill anyone who interferes" .
But very few articles even bother to mention the social reforms at all. The general portrait of the Chávez government, affirmed and reaffirmed in numerous news reports and dozens of editorials, is one of an increasingly ruthless and autocratic military regime. In a typical editorial from August 2007, the Post editors characterized Venezuela as "a bloated, repressive state headed by a hectoring strongman." Chávez is "threatening...what is left of democracy in Venezuela," and is using violent repression to eliminate dissent. "Most menacing," the editors tell us, is that "Mr. Chávez wants to establish a ‘popular militia' alongside the regular armed forces." As proof of Chávez's "militaristic formula," the editors cite recent arms purchases from Russia . The Post editors have frequently cast the Chávez government as a violent, heavily-armed regime. On occasions they have even made explicit calls for greater US interference in Venezuelan affairs, advocating "a more active approach" and complaining that "[i]n this post-Sept. 11 world there has been virtually no reaction" from "the United States and other democracies" .
Not only have the Post editors falsely characterized current US policy toward Venezuela as non-interventionist and incited outside intervention (military, economic, and/or diplomatic, it's not clear which) against a democratically-elected government; they have also seriously exaggerated the "militarism" of the Chávez government. Contrary to US government and media rhetoric, Venezuelan military expenditures have actually decreased significantly since the early and mid-1990s. As the group Oil Wars reported in June 2007, "military expenditures were HIGHER before Chávez came to office by almost $200 million per year," and were also higher as percentages of GDP . In contrast, the Post's shining beacon of democracy the United States has gone in the opposite direction, a fact that requires little verification here. US policy toward Latin America has also been further militarized in recent years. As the World Policy Institute reported in 2005, US military aid to Latin America by 2006 had "increased to over 34 times its year 2000 levels" .
Both the Times and the Post have also lent weight to the notion that the Chávez government is anti-Semitic. In early December 2007 the Times used standard hyperbolic language to describe what it called a "police raid...by about two dozen armed security agents" on a Jewish community center that was "ostensibly a search for weapons" . Two months later the Post published an op-ed titled "Chávez's Anti-Semitism" by the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman. Like many attacks on those who criticize the Israeli government's policies, Foxman's column exploited the history of anti-Jewish violence and discrimination to try to discredit Chávez. Foxman cited Chávez's criticisms of Israel and his diplomatic relations with Iran and Syria as evidence that he is an anti-Semite, an extremely crude and disingenuous argument that not only conflates criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism but also trivializes the history of Jewish suffering. Without quoting any specific reports, Foxman also painted a broader picture of brutal government repression of all Venezuelans, not just of Jews. He claimed that "[l]eading international human rights organizations" have implicated government forces in "torture, extrajudicial executions and unexplained disappearances," all of which "go unpunished." Chávez's violent anti-Semitism, he says, is just one sign of "the breakdown of democratic ideals and institutions" in Venezuela .
The crude allegations of anti-Semitism that people like Foxman have levied against Chávez usually cite two specific "raids" on Jewish centers by government forces, the one in December 2007 and another in 2004. In fact, what would be more honestly described as "searches" were each authorized by judicial warrants and occurred in the context of significant anti-government violence. In neither search "was anybody repressed or hurt" . These details were not important for the Times and Post, however, who instead chose to give readers the impression that the Chávez government was sponsoring violent anti-Jewish pogroms reminiscent of those in Nazi Germany.
The implication that Chávez regularly uses violence against opponents is enhanced by his widespread portrayal as confrontational, erratic, and paranoid. A typical Post report from December 2007 said that "Chávez's behavior appears increasingly unpredictable" as he launches "verbal assaults on foes real and imagined" . Numerous articles and columns have focused on Chávez's insults of President Bush, particularly his references to Bush as "the devil" . The implication of irrationality lends weight to the view of Chávez as violent and militaristic, reinforcing the effect of the incidents cited.
Conversely, the violent actions of those who oppose Chávez are routinely downplayed or ignored. In Simon Romero's article on the "brutal" Venezuelan land reform process, he notes at the end of the article that "[a]ctivists here say landowners have struck back." He cites one example of a pro-Chávez proponent of land reform who "was shot in the face" but lived to tell about it. Romero notes that the man "blamed landowners." Here Romero uses a familiar device: presenting evidence of opposition violence as the opinion of Chávez supporters, much like Romero and others did to downplay RCTV's support for the 2002 coup . Even if the Chavistas can be believed, Romero's phrasing—"landowners have struck back"—conveys an image of beleaguered freedom fighters who use violence merely in self-defense against government brutality .
In the case of Colombia, all violence is either attributed to the guerrilla group the FARC or is understood to be reflective of an age-old struggle that no one can control—it is never Uribe's fault . Continual revelations of Uribe's ties to drug traffickers (including legendary Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar ) and right-wing paramilitaries is routinely ignored. In the last several years the papers have applauded President Uribe's "significant achievements reducing violence" and in "improving the country's human rights situation" . They have systematically minimized or ignored the Uribe government's continued role in the violence in Colombia, and the fact that the Colombian government has long had the worst human rights record in the hemisphere (a record which is amply documented in numerous reports by human rights groups) . Included in this trend was the papers' analysis of Uribe's illegal March 1, 2008, military incursion into Ecuador that killed nineteen FARC rebels plus five Mexican students and one Ecuadoran man . While the Organization of American States (OAS) and most Latin American governments condemned the violation of Ecuador's sovereignty, US papers instead condemned Chávez for the regional strife that ensued and uncritically adopted the Uribe government's unsubstantiated claims about the FARC's links to the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments. In the wake of the attack the Post even reported with a straight face Uribe's threat "to seek genocide charges against Chávez" .
The violence that has been "reduced" evidently does not include that committed by the government and its paramilitary allies, who have long been responsible for the majority of civilian deaths. In a June 2008 open letter to Uribe the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) condemned the "almost daily crimes against trade unionists" and said that there had been "no reduction in assassinations and death threats" against activists in 2008. On the contrary, the violence had increased significantly by some measures: thus far in 2008, the letter noted, 26 union organizers had already been murdered, a 71-percent increase from 2007 . Not surprisingly, the ITUC letter (like various human rights reports to the same effect ) did not fit the criteria for publication in US newspapers, where "violence" is defined as what the guerrillas do, not what the government does.
General Trends in Coverage of Venezuela, 1998-2008
To condemn the dramatic disparities and biases in coverage of Venezuela and Colombia is not to justify or excuse all of Hugo Chávez's actions; rather, the point is to demonstrate the US press's systematic failure (or unwillingness) to provide its readers with the information they need in order to decide for themselves what they think about Chávez. As the above test cases suggest, the New York Times and Washington Post have been prime examples of this failure. Upon consideration of the coverage analyzed thus far, several recurring themes emerge in these papers' coverage of Venezuela and Hugo Chávez:
· Chávez as an aspiring tyrant bent on acquiring ever-more personal power
· Chávez as crazed, irrational, and prone to radically anti-US hyperbole
· Chávez's government as violent and repressive
· Chávez's supporters as a mindless horde with unbending, cultish loyalty to Chávez
· Chávez's opponents as heroic, beleaguered freedom fighters
To maintain these caricatures, the papers must omit certain details which might inspire sympathy for the Chávez government. The social programs of the government, evidence of its relatively high tolerance for opposition, Venezuelans' support for Chavismo: all are systematically minimized or excluded from most press accounts. Important contextual details and comparative analogies are likewise absent: for instance, during the RCTV controversy there was little mention of RCTV's support for the 2002 coup against Chávez, and no speculation as to how the US or other Western powers would have reacted had a major TV network supported the violent overthrow of the Bush administration. Moreover, the US government's right to intervene in Venezuelan affairs by supporting the 2002 coup and by channeling millions of dollars to opposition groups is taken for granted; no one questions how the US would react if Chávez were found to be aiding anti-government groups in the United States .
The "experts" selected as sources of information and analysis help guarantee these biases. Rabidly anti-Chávez academics like Wesleyan University's Francisco Rodríguez are frequently quoted in news articles . In December 2007 Mexican historian Enrique Krauze was given access to the Times op-ed page where he decried "Chávez's attempt to give himself nearly absolute power" . The Post featured an op-ed around the same time by Donald Rumsfeld, a man whose human rights credentials are summed up by the fact that he had been singled out for firing from a US administration filled with war criminals. Regular columnists like Roger Cohen and Jackson Diehl are given free-reign to spread lies and distortions about the Chávez government. In major papers throughout the US such "experts" regularly compare Chávez with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden .
Conversely, scholars and journalists with alternative views on Venezuela have been systematically excluded. Among this group are well-established and prominent voices like Noam Chomsky (who "may be the most widely read American voice on foreign policy on the planet today" according to a 2004 Times book review) . Throughout 2006 and 2007 the Times and Post mentioned Chomsky several dozen times, but never quoted him on matters of substance, and none of his writings or comments on the RCTV situation were published. His books were reviewed several times (not always favorably, and sometimes very critically), but most references to Chomsky mentioned his work in linguistics or identified him only as a token far-left commentator without engaging his ideas in any depth. The "excluded" also included well-respected scholars and journalists like Greg Grandin, John Pilger, Gregory Wilpert, Mark Weisbrot, Eva Golinger, Bart Jones, and Christian Parenti—all of whom have published articles, books, and/or interviews on current Venezuelan politics, including the events examined above, but whose work was evidently not deemed fit to appear in the Times or Post . Not that these writers have not tried: Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC, wrote a January 2008 op-ed entitled "Americans Need to Look Beyond the Media on Venezuela" . The piece was distributed all over the country, but appeared only in Charlotte Observer, the Kansas City Star, and a few other small newspapers.
Press Coverage of Venezuela and Colombia in Broader Context
The coverage of the TV station and term limits controversies examined above, along with general coverage of Venezuela and Colombia in the past decade, is consistent with a long-term, systematic trend in press coverage of Latin American governments: official enemies of the US are reviled and their real or alleged crimes elicit outrage, while the crimes of official friends are ignored and their perpetrators praised. This basic propaganda model was particularly apparent in US press coverage of Central American governments and rebels in the 1980s, and seems to hold true for present-day coverage of Latin America as well .
Given the dramatic differences in the press's treatment of Venezuela versus its treatment of Colombia, we can safely conclude that the indignation over the alleged crimes of Hugo Chávez does not derive from any non-partisan or absolute commitment to democracy and human rights. Such indignation is only present when official enemies impinge on those rights, not when official friends do.
The coverage analyzed above has not been produced in a historical vacuum; it falls within a long history of discourses used to describe Latin America from within the United States . Although space constraints preclude a thorough analysis of the extent to which patterns in recent media coverage conform to historical trends in media and political discourse, several common motifs are worth noting:
· The power-hungry strongman. Latin American leaders (especially those antagonistic to the US government) are portrayed as charismatic, apolitical caudillos whose interests lie in maintaining their own power and who have little genuine interest in their people's welfare. The benevolent motives of the US, of course, stand in marked contrast. Media portrayals of Fidel Castro and Cuba are perhaps the best example of this pattern.
· The infantilization/feminization of "the poor masses." Latin Americans themselves are easily seduced by charismatic strongmen, and are "largely blind to results." As such, the US and other mature and responsible world powers must take an "active approach" to ensure that democracy is safe in Latin America. The attitudes and opinions of the masses themselves hold little weight, and are rarely even mentioned unless they coincide with the official line in Washington. As Edward Said noted in the 1970s, the inability of the objects of discourse to speak for themselves is a key assumption of Orientalism. Venezuelans who support Chávez, like other "primitive" peoples with whom the West has come into contact, demonstrate a "rejection of rationalist modes of thought" and therefore require the oversight of a responsible authority like the US government .
· The dichotomization of the natives. Latin American leaders and/or populations are either good (i.e., friendly to the US) or bad. In the Americas this discursive tendency extends at least as far back as 1492, when Columbus distinguished between the friendly, peaceful Arawaks of the Western Caribbean and the vengeful, cannibalistic Caribs to the east; recent examples include the Venezuela-Colombia dichotomy and the distinction between the "moderate" Left in Brazil Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere, and the "aggressive" Left in Venezuela and Bolivia . Just as Columbus justified military attacks on the Caribs to "protect" the Arawaks, these dichotomizations often become a pretext for US intervention of one sort or another.
These motifs, among others, are still apparent in portrayals of Latin America today. They are particularly evident in coverage of Venezuela in the past ten years, as the analysis above demonstrates, and have operated in conjunction with the propaganda model of Herman and Chomsky .
As Herman and Chomsky pointed out in the 1980s, the analysis and exposure of discursive patterns in the Western media is of crucial importance: "It would have been very difficult for the Guatemalan government to murder tens of thousands" of people during the early 1980s "if the U.S. press had provided the kind of coverage they gave to [victims of Soviet repression]." The "constant focus" on the crimes of our enemies "helps convince the public of enemy evil and sets the stage for intervention, subversion, support for terrorist states, an endless arms race, and military conflict..." .
The implications of the present discussion are not easy to determine. What is clear is that by omitting crucial information, distorting current and past political realities, and limiting the acceptable range of debate on current issues, mass media like the New York Times and Washington Post have played a central role in facilitating violence and exploitation around the world. By denying the US public the information and analysis necessary to develop informed opinions about world affairs, they have tended to serve the function of "educating consent" for the policies of Washington toward foreign countries . At the same time that these newspapers have helped undermine democracy abroad, they have also played a key role in preventing the development of a genuine participatory democracy here in the US.
 "Cash-and-Carry Rule: Venezuela's Hugo Chávez Cements His Autocracy with Petrodollars and Another Push For ‘Reform,'" Washington Post, 17 Aug. 2007.
 Quoted in John Pilger, "The Unseen Lies: Journalism as Propaganda," transcript of speech given at Socialism 2007 Conference in Chicago, June 2007, http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/08/08/3056/ (accessed August 9, 2007).
 Bart Jones, "U.S. Funds Aid Chávez Opposition," National Catholic Reporter, 2 Apr. 2004, http://foi.missouri.edu/federalfoia/usfundsaid.html (accessed October 22, 2007); Tom Barry, "The New Politics of Political Aid in Venezuela," Report of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy, 17 Aug. 2007, http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4420 (accessed December 10, 2007); Eva Golinger, "USAID in Bolivia and Venezuela: The Silent Subversion," VenezuelaAnalysis.com, 13 Sept. 2007, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/891/68/ (accessed January 8, 2008); Michael Barker, "Washington Promotes ‘Independent' Media in Venezuela," UpsideDownWorld.org, 18 Sept. 2007, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/896/1/ (accessed September 20, 2007).
 See the following, as well as examples cited below: Robert W. McChesney and Mark Weisbrot, "Venezuela and the Media: Fact and Fiction," Commondreams.org, 1 June 2007, http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/06/01/1607/ (accessed June 10, 2007); Rachel Coen, "U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move," Extra! June 2002, http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1111 (accessed August 10, 2007); Howard Friel and Richard Falk, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (London/New York: Verso, 2004), 162-83.
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002 ). I will limit my analysis primarily to the New York Times ("Times" or "NYT" below) and Washington Post ("Post"), two of the most influential papers in the world and two which are commonly identified as "liberal."
 For the most part, this analysis will sidestep the reasons for US policies toward Venezuela and Colombia, and will likewise refrain from an in-depth analysis of Chávez and his policies. My intention is not to exonerate Chávez or his government from all wrongdoing. My focus is on perception and representation—on the use of available evidence by the media—more than on "what happened," though obviously attention to basic facts and events will be necessary.
 Ibid., xi, lxiii, chapter 1. Herman and Chomsky's argument is much more sophisticated and nuanced than this brief summary implies, but this is the basic idea. See chapter 1 for a detailed discussion of economic, political, and structural forces such as corporate media ownership, advertising, and journalist self-censorship which help limit the range of debate, and which usually ensure that coverage is compatible with elite prerogatives. To be clear, the propaganda model does not simply argue that mass media will serve government interests, but rather the interests of a consensus of political and economic elites (for the case of US policy toward Venezuela and Colombia, though, there may be little apparent distinction). See Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 149-50.
 For background see Gregory Wilpert, "RCTV and Freedom of Speech in Venezuela," Venezuelanalysis.com, 2 June 2007, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2425 (accessed June 9, 2007). These were the Venezuelan government's official justifications of the decision; they are all well-documented, although there is some debate as to whether they constituted a legitimate basis for the license non-renewal. It is difficult to imagine an ABC, NBC, or CBS supporting a military overthrow of the US government and then being allowed to remain on the air, but the fact that the US or other Western governments would have shut down the equivalent of RCTV in their own countries does not in itself justify the Venezuelan government's actions vis-à-vis RCTV.
 Reporters and editors regularly omit the accent mark over the "a" in "Chávez"—perhaps an ironic metaphor for their depth of understanding of Latin America—but rather than cluttering their quotes with "[sic]" brackets I have left the error alone in most cases.
 Romero, "Chavez's Move against Critic Highlights Shift in Media," NYT, 27 May 2007.
 Romero, "Venezuela Police Repel Protests over TV Network's Closing," NYT, 28 May 2007.
 Romero, "Chavez Looks at His Critics in the Media and Sees the Enemy," NYT, 1 June 2007.
 More examples appear below, in the "supporting evidence" section. In many reports it is apparently taken for granted that in Venezuela "dissent is silenced," to the extent that reporters can say so without feeling the need to explain: see Patricia Cohen, "An Unexpected Odd Couple: Free Markets and Freedom," NYT, 14 June 2007.
 Toledo, "Silence = Despotism," NYT, 6 June 2007.
 Forero, "Chávez Raises Volume of Government's Voice," Post, 26 May 2007; "Chávez Amplifies Government's Voice in Venezuelan Media," Post, 27 May 2007.
 Forero, "Protests in Venezuela Reinvigorate Opposition; Rallies by Free Press Advocates Deride Chávez Over TV License," Post, 2 June 2007.
 "World in Brief: Venezuela," 29 May, 3 June, 31 May 2007, respectively. The other reports were from 19 May and 27-28 May.
 Constable, "Venezuelan Emigres Find Common Ground in Anger," Post, 16 June 2007.
 Simon Romero, "Venezuela: Government Sets Sights on Globovision and CNN," NYT, 29 May 2007; "World in Brief: Venezuela," Post, 3 June 2007.
 Juan Forero, "Protests in Venezuela Reinvigorate Opposition; Rallies by Free Press Advocates Deride Chávez Over TV License," Post, 2 June 2007. For similar examples, see "World in Brief: Venezuela," Post, 29 May 2007; Romero, "Venezuela Police Repel Protests over TV Network's Closing."
 "Freedom of Expression in Venezuela," Post, 21 May 2007.
 "Dead Air in Caracas," Post, 14 May 2007.
 Wilpert, "RCTV and Freedom of Speech in Venezuela." Wilpert's analysis is not uncritical of the Venezuelan government's decision, it should be noted.
 See below for more discussion on well-respected scholars excluded from the Times and Post.
 For background on Inravisión and the lack of press attention its closure elicited in the US and Western Europe, see Diana Cariboni, "Easy to See the Speck in the Other's Eye," Inter-Press Service, 30 May 2007, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37957 (accessed June 1, 2007).
 On the Mexican government's 2007 closure of the radio station Radio Monitor, see Scott Liebertz, "Monitor Radio vs. RCTV: Where's the Outcry over the Closure of Mexico's Populist Radio Station?" Counterpunch.org, 11 July 2007, http://www.counterpunch.org/liebertz07112007.html (accessed July 12, 2007).
 Romero, "Students Emerge as a Leading Force against Chavez," NYT, 10 Nov. 2007.
 Romero, "Gunmen Attack Opponents of Chavez's Bid to Extend Power," NYT, 8 Nov. 2007.
 Cohen, "Democracy in the Americas," NYT, 6 Dec. 2007; "The Limits of 21st-Century Revolution," NYT, 3 Dec. 2007.
 Cohen, "Shutting up Venezuela's Chavez," NYT, 29 Nov. 2007.
 "A Tale of Two Strongmen" (editorial), NYT, 4 Dec. 2007.
 Mike Albo, "Out of the Blue," NYT, 19 Nov. 2007; Anthony Tommasini, "Berlin and Caracas Show New York a Thing or Two about Music Outreach," NYT, 22 Nov. 2007.
 Forero, "Old Allies Abandon Chávez as Constitution Vote Nears," Post, 29 Nov. 2007.
 See note 3, above. Rumsfeld, "The Smart Way to Beat Tyrants Like Chávez," Post, 2 Dec. 2007; Lane, "Chávez's Vision in the Hills," Post, 29 Nov. 2007; Diehl, "Chávez and the King," Post, 19 Nov. 2007.
 "Mr. Chávez's Coup; A Constitutional ‘Reform' Could Complete Venezuela's Transformation into a Dictatorship," Post, 15 Nov. 2007. For alternative reports on the violence at Central University on November 8, see Kiraz Janicke, "Pro-Chavez Students Blame Opposition Students for Violence at University,"
 "Two Votes; Venezuelans Choose Freedom Over Hugo Chávez," Post, 4 Dec. 2007.
 Diehl, "Chávez and the King." See also Enrique Krauze, "Humanizing the Revolution," NYT, 30 Dec. 2007, on "Chávez's attempt to give himself nearly absolute power."
 Cohen, "Shutting up Venezuela's Chavez." Chávez was frequently compared to autocrats and dictators of past and present: e.g., "A Tale of Two Strongmen"; Lane, "Chávez's Vision in the Hills."
 Forero, "Old Allies Abandon Chávez as Constitution Vote Nears."
 Juan Forero, "Colombia's Uribe Seen as Solidifying Power; Opponents Say Widely Popular President Is Toughening Stance Against Critics," Post, 17 Nov. 2007.
 See 2005 Latinobarómetro report data cited in Venezuela Information Office, "2005 Latinobarómetro Poll Results: Venezuela a Democratic Bright Spot in Latin America," n.d., http://www.rethinkvenezuela.com/downloads/Latinobar.htm (accessed February 3, 2007).
 Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe Latinobarómetro 2007 (Nov. 2007), http://www.latinobarometro.org (accessed December 11, 2007), 81, 88.
 Quote from Chris Kraul, "Monarch's Words with Chavez Start a Battle Royal," Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2007; Chris Hawley, "Chavez's Power Play Has Echoes of Castro; Venezuelan Vote on Sunday Could Lead to ‘Big Headache' for U.S.," USA Today, 29 Nov. 2007.
 Forero, "Old Allies Abandon Chávez As Constitution Vote Nears." On the preference for leftist converts, see Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, 46-47: "the system values highly those who have seen the error of their ways and can now condemn independent minds as Stalin-style apologists."
 Forero, "Old Allies Abandon Chávez As Constitution Vote Nears."
 Baduel, "Why I Parted Ways with Chavez," NYT, 1 Dec. 2007. Asserting the alleged incompatibility of Chávez's reforms with Christianity was also a common theme: e.g., Roger Cohen, "The Limits of 21st-Century Revolution," NYT, 3 Dec. 2007.
 Forero, "Colombia's Uribe Seen as Solidifying Power." The Post's "World in Brief" updates appeared on 12 Nov. and 20 Nov. 2005, but were unsigned.
 Forero, "Colombia Passes Change in Charter Permitting President to Run Again," NYT, 2 Dec. 2004; "Colombian President Scrambling in Fight to Run Again," NYT, 8 Oct. 2005.
 Forero, "Colombia Passes Change in Charter Permitting President to Run Again."
 "Assault on an Ally: Why Are Democrats So ‘Deeply Troubled' by Colombia's Álvaro Uribe?" Post, 6 May 2007. The editorial's title contains an interesting assumption: that media and politicians should automatically lend their support to "allies" of Washington. See also Barry McCaffrey, "Keeping Faith with Colombia," Post, 20 Nov. 2007.
 Augusto Bohorquez, "The Colombian FTAs: Bargaining with the Thief," ZNet (online), trans. La Chiva, 16 July 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/18200 (accessed July 20, 2008).
 Simon Romero, "Colombian President Seeks Replay of '06 Vote," NYT, 28 June 2008 (quote); Juan Forero, "Colombia's President Seeks Referendum on Disputed '06 Reelection," Post, 28 June 2008.
 Mark Weisbrot, "Venezuela Forum: Progressive Change in Venezuela," The Nation, 6 Dec. 2007, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071224/weisbrot (accessed December 20, 2007).
 ECLAC, "Social Panorama of Latin America 2007" (summary), http://www.eclac.org/publicaciones/xml/9/30309/PSI2007_Sintesis_Lanzamiento.pdf (accessed January 13, 2008), 10-11.
 "A Warning for Reformers: The Latinobarómetro Poll," The Economist, 17 Nov. 2007. Percentage signs (%) have been replaced with the word "percent."
 Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe Latinobarómetro 2007, 36-37. My translation.
 Romero, "Building a TV Station and a Platform for Leftists," NYT, 16 June 2007. See also Romero, "Chavez's Move against Critic Highlights Shift in Media."
 First quote is from "Saying No to Chavez" (NYT).
 Steve Mufson, "Oil Price Rise Causes Global Shift in Wealth; Iran, Russia and Venezuela Feel the Benefits," Post, 10 Nov. 2007. On the tendency to attribute good intentions to US policymakers, see Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, lxi; Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, 49-50, 162.
 "Cash-and-Carry Rule."
 "Mr. Chávez's Coup."
 Diehl, Post, 26 Sept. 2005.
 Juan Forero, "Chávez Chastened in Venezuela Vote; Rejection of Bid for More Power Shows Limits of Support," Post, 4 Dec. 2007.
 "Uncertainty Hovers Over OPEC Summit; Cartel Contends With Politics, Prices and its Future," 16 Nov. 2007.
 Bertrand Russell speaking about Thomas Paine, quoted in Weisbrot, "Venezuela Forum: Progressive Change in Venezuela."
 Corporación Latinobarómetro, Informe Latinobarómetro 2007, 37.
 Gary Leech, "Colombia Could Learn from Venezuela's Social Policies," Colombia Journal, 26 June 2006, http://www.colombiajournal.org/colombia239.htm (accessed January 5, 2008).
 "Assault on an Ally" (Post).
 Romero, "A Clash of Hope and Fear As Venezuela Seizes Land," NYT, 17 May 2007.
 "Cash-and-Carry Rule."
 "Venezuela's ‘Revolution,'" Post, 14 Jan. 2005.
 Oil Wars, "Venezuelan Military Spending: Busting another Anti-Chavez Myth," 11 June 2007, http://oilwars.blogspot.com/2007/06/venezuelan-military-spending-busting.html (accessed November 1, 2007).
 Frida Berrigan and Jonathan Wingo, "THE BUSH EFFECT: U.S. Military Involvement in Latin America Rises[,] Development and Humanitarian Aid Fall," World Policy Institute, 4 Nov. 2005, http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/MilitaryAidLA110405.html (accessed July 29, 2006; emphasis in original).
 Simon Romero, "Venezuela: Raid on Jewish Center Condemned" (World Briefing), NYT, 5 Dec. 2007.
 Foxman, "Chávez's Anti-Semitism," Post, 8 Feb. 2008.
 James Suggett, "Anti-Semitism or Anti-Imperialism in Venezuela?" Venezuelanalysis.com, 12 Feb. 2008, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3148 (accessed February 15, 2008).
 Juan Forero, "Chávez Bluster Surges Ahead of Referendum; Some Observers Link Talk to Tight Contest," Post, 1 Dec. 2007.
 For example, Mansur Mirovalev, "Venezuela's Chávez Talks Arms and Oil with Russians," Post, 30 June 2007.
 Romero, "A Clash of Hope and Fear As Venezuela Seizes Land."
 On the tendency to minimize the culpability of leaders of friendly nations, and to imply that the violence is out of their control, see Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, especially Chapter 2.
 Luis Hernández Navarro, "Álvaro Uribe, señor de las sombras y Los Pinos," La Jornada (Mexico), 18 Mar. 2008.
 McCaffrey, "Keeping Faith with Colombia."
 For indices of reports, see Human Rights Watch, "Colombia," http://hrw.org/doc?t=americas&c=colomb (accessed February 7, 2008); Amnesty International, "Colombia," http://www.amnestyusa.org/By_Country/Colombia/page.do?id=1011135&n1=3&n2=30&n3=885 (accessed February 1, 2008); see also "Statement from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America, May 1, 2002," http://www.ciponline.org/colombia/02050103.htm (accessed July 15, 2008); Amnesty International, "Amnesty International Report 2007: State of the World's Human Rights: Colombia" (excerpt), n.d., http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/americas/south-america/colombia#report (accessed July 17, 2008); and the 2008 version, http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/regions/americas/colombia (accessed July 18, 2008).
 "Ecuador Considers Bringing Charges Against Colombia," Democracy Now! 25 Mar. 2008. For analysis of media coverage of the incident, and of the subsequent allegations by Uribe and his allies of financial links between the FARC and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela, see Stephen Lendman, "The New York Times v. Hugo Chavez," Countercurrents.org, 1 Apr. 2008, http://www.countercurrents.org/lendman010408.htm (accessed May 10, 2008).
 Monte Reel, "Heated Words in Wake of Colombian Raid," Post, 5 Mar. 2008.
 ITUC, "Colombia: No Reduction in Assassinations and Death Threats," UpsideDownWorld.org, 19 June 2008, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1339/61/; ITUC, "Asesinatos, atentados y amenazas de muerte contra los sindicalistas no disminuyen en Colombia" (letter to Uribe), 15 June 2008, http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/Asesinatos__atentados_y_amenazas_jun_08.pdf (both accessed July 15, 2008).
 For example, Amnesty International, "Amnesty International Report 2008," http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/regions/americas/colombia (accessed July 18, 2008).
 Some indication of the likely reaction was apparent in the papers' outrage over the Venezuelan government's alleged funding of the Argentine presidential candidate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. See "Cash-and-Carry Rule" (Post).
 As of February 2008, Rodríguez had appeared in the Times at least five times in the past year.
 Krauze, "Humanizing the Revolution." For a scathing critique of Krauze's most famous work, Mexico: A Biography of Power, see Claudio Lomnitz, Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthropology of Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 212-227.
 For particularly absurd examples see Michael Rowan and Douglas Schoen, "Will Chavez Pull the Trigger?" Los Angeles Times, 13 Nov. 2007, and the articles analyzed in Coen, "U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move."
 Samantha Power, "The Everything Explainer," NYT, 4 Jan. 2004 (review of Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company).
 A July 2006 Grandin op-ed was published in the Times, and the two papers featured a combined two letters from Chomsky and Grandin in 2006 and 2007. Nothing by these commentators (including quotes) referencing RCTV appeared in either paper. For examples of commentaries on Venezuela, its coverage in the US press, and the events discussed, see Grandin, "Free Speech Alive and Well in Venezuela," Alternet, 22 June 2007, http://www.alternet.org/story/54645/ (accessed June 24, 2007); Grandin, "Venezuela Forum: Chavismo and Democracy," The Nation, 6 Dec. 2007, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071224/grandin (accessed December 19, 2007); and John Pilger, "The Old Iran-Contra Death Squad Gang is Desperate to Discredit Chavez," Guardian, 17 Aug. 2007.
 ZNet, 18 Jan. 2008, http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16238 (accessed January 18, 2008).
 For in-depth analysis of the propaganda model in US press coverage of Central America in the 1980s, see Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, and Chomsky, Necessary Illusions.
 For three insightful studies of images of Latin America in US political discourse, see John J. Johnson, Latin America in Caricature (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1980); Frederick B. Pike, The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992); and Tony Platt, et al., Tropical Gulag: The Construction of Cold War Images of Cuba in the United States (draft document) (San Francisco: Global Options, 1987); the latter study, examining media portrayals of Cuba in the 1980s, provides particularly useful context for understanding recent coverage of Chávez.
 H.A.R. Gibb quoted in Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 106; see also 48-49, 102-110, and the Introduction and Chapter 1 (pages 1-110) more generally for the basic patterns and tendencies of Orientalist thought.
 This dichotomy is beyond the scope of this paper, but is worth tracing. For an example, see Alexei Barrionuevo, "Brazil Discovers an Oil Field Can Be a Political Tool," NYT, 19 Nov. 2007. For the Arawak-Carib dichotomization, see Peter Hulme, "Tales of Distinction: European Ethnography and the Caribbean," in Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting and Reflecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era, ed. Stuart B. Schwartz (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), 169-71, 190.
 For those who will criticize this analysis as too "mechanistic" or simplistic, or who view this argument as a form of "conspiracy theory," see the counter-argument in Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, lx. The biases of press coverage, they argue, are actually in large part the result of "market" forces, determined by advertisers' prerogatives, the "profit orientation" of corporate media, etc.
 Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, lxiii.
 See, for example, Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand, and Ricardo D. Salvatore, eds., Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Durham: Duke UP, 1998). See particularly the essay by Salvatore and its discussion of "representational machines." See also Said's Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993).
 "Educating consent" is a paraphrase of Antonio Gramsci, though other scholars like Chomsky and Herman (and mainstream commentators like Walter Lippmann) have described a variation on the same theme, the "manufacture of consent" (Lippmann's phrase). Gramsci, "State and Civil Society," in Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 259; Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, lix.