You're my Hugo, I'll go wherever you go


I've got a new Think Again column here called "Jena, Finally," and a new Nation column called "The Coming Stab in the Back Campaign."

This just in: The president's dispute with Congress about SCHIP is over $30 billion, spread over five years. Meanwhile (and we aren't the first or last to make this connection), "the Bush Administration plans to ask Congress for another $42.3 billion to fund the global war on terror. That brings the total request for 2008 war funding to nearly $190 billion, making 2008 the costliest year, by far, for war funding."

Juan Williams vs. Juan Williams vs. Juan Williams vs. Juan Williams. No wonder this is the man Bush picked to interview him.

And it feels so good. (What do you mean it's your "first" blazer?)

Who's better than Ezra at attacking his advertisers? Nobody of whom I can think, right now. Congrats, seriously.

Greg Sargent identifies one of the fundamental fallacies in the notion that Howie "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz is a halfway honest and intelligent broker in the media wars. In his own coverage of the argument over the MoveOn ad, Howie would rather pass along conservative misinformation than correct it. Howie writes, "The argument that the NYT aided and abetted an alleged smear provided triple bonus points for the right." As Sargent writes, Kurtz does represent the left's position, quoting lefty bloggers and adding that "liberals felt the conservative noise machine had totally bamboozled the media over a non-issue." He does not care to point out that this is a false accusation. Pointing out the truth when it conflicts with a right-wing talking point would somehow indicate liberal bias; and liberal bias, unlike conflicts of interest, really bothers Howie. If media reporters won't bother with the truth, well, how can you expect it anywhere else?

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day, Day 3:

Marty Peretz, 4/28/07:

The first dispatch from Reuters was that 10 people has been killed in a car bombing in Karbala. Ah, insignificant. Why do they even bother telling us? Then, according to the AP, the casualties rose to 30. Just a few minuted ago, Reuters reported that there were "at least" 40 among the dead. Who knows how many injured and maimed. And, to tell you the truth, does anyone really care?

Posted by M. Duss.


Young Eli and I caught Steve Earle's unveiling of his new CD, Washington Square Serenade, at Town Hall last night. He was joined by his luminous-voiced and drop-dead-beautiful wife, Allison Moorer, making a pretty good argument for being a folkie/rock/countryish legend in the getting beautiful women to marry you department. Anyway, Allison did her set and her brave, haunting version of "A Change is Gonna Come" and the two of them had the nerve to sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" about Iraq which was lovely. Steve, I guessed typically, ignored the new CD for quite a while, beginning his set with a Dylan-inspired long rap about Eric Von Schmidt before playing "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," which had nothing really to do with anything but was a lot of fun. The audience was incredibly responsive and knew all the songs the way people do at a Bruce concert. One woman said her boyfriend was not going to get laid unless Steve played "Troubadour." Steve and Allison did a bunch of duets from the new record and Steve did just the right amount of talking and playing. To hold that hall so quiet with just an acoustic guitar on most numbers is something, but Steve never seemed like he had a doubt in the world. And with good reason.

And speaking of Dylan, here's our friend Sean Wilentz on the making of "Blonde on Blonde."

The Altercation Book Club:

In honor of the U.N. meeting, which has made getting around this city difficult and made me late for Steve Earle last night, I'm posting the below from a new book by Bart Jones on Hugo Chávez. I don't really know enough Mr. Chávez to say whether I generally approve or disapprove of him. We disagree about Chomsky, though I loved his line about "the smell of sulfur" last year. And anyone whom George W. Bush tries to overthow in a coup can't be all bad. Part of the reason I don't know much about Chávez is that I've not done any work on it. But another is that I don't trust much of the coverage he receives. Bart Jones helps explain why:

Hugo Chávez was a hated man among some Venezuelans. They believed he was a messianic demagogue, another Fidel Castro who was destroying the country with a half-baked experiment in Communism. But to his supporters, he was a secular savior. He was the first president in Venezuela's history to stand up for millions of poor people who made up the majority of the population. Many blamed a corrupt ruling elite for pillaging the country's vast oil wealth and leaving most people mired in poverty. Now they could scarcely believe one of their own was running the country.

While Chávez's popularity was rising among millions of Venezuelans and he was re-elected with two-thirds of the vote in December 2006, his image in the mainstream media remained mostly negative. The media slanted their coverage to highlight the point of view of Chávez's opponents and downplay the opinion of his supporters.

One way they did so was by the sources they chose. The vast majority of "analysts" cited by major US outlets were Chávez critics as opposed to more neutral observers or those who tended to view Chávez sympathetically. In one study, Latin America specialist Justin Delacour tracked the "independent" analysts most often cited by five major US newspapers: The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Delacour found that the four analysts most often cited were critics of Chávez -- Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, Venezuelan historian Alberto Garrido, newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff, and "pollster" Luis Vicente León. Only the fifth most cited analyst, Larry Birns of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, "could be described as somewhat sympathetic to Venezuela's government." And he was a distant fifth -- he was cited 16 times, while the others were cited a total of 107.

In contrast, eight Venezuela scholars whose articles appeared in the March 2005 issue of the journal Latin American Perspectives and who had a moderate or favorable view of Chávez were not quoted a single time during the nearly two-year period studied. They included Steve Ellner, a respected American political scientist who has lived in Venezuela for nearly three decades. The others were Pomona College professor Miguel Tinker-Salas, Edgardo Lander, Dick Parker, Jesús Maria Herrera Salas, Margarita López Maya, Luis Lander, and Maria Pilar García-Guadilla.

Many of the foreign correspondents had probably barely heard of these experts, since they were so immersed in the world of the opposition. Many simply "parachuted" in to the country for periodic reporting assignments, checked in at five-star hotels, and spent much of their time hobnobbing with the elites and trading observations with one another. Venezuela expert Julia Buxton called it the "Hilton Hotel" brand of journalism. Even many of those stationed full-time in the country were more connected to the upper and middle classes than to the working class in the barrios, where some rarely ventured. Instead they hung out in upscale neighborhoods at trendy restaurants and bars. One wire service journalist's antipathy to Chávez was so blatant, she sported a button above her desk that said saquemos al loco -- let's get rid of the crazy one.

Foreign correspondents regularly ridiculed Chávez among one another and complained about his long speeches. They would groan when he came on television and mock his statements. Some hoped he would lose the presidential election or get thrown out of office so they would not have to listen to his hours-long talks any more. They openly stated that his programs amounted to craziness and seemed to be in lock-step with the opposition's thinking. Most of their sources, of course, were linked to the opposition. At one point, one even repeated in conversation an opposition slogan, opining that Chávez "has to go."

In some news bureaus, shouting matches occasionally broke out between journalists who wanted to present a more balanced portrait of Chávez and those who were clearly on a mission to destroy him. The debate about how to cover the president turned into a constant battle. In the end, the anti-Chávez journalists won out, overwhelming in sheer numbers those who favored a more neutral approach. It wasn't far off from Andrés Izarra's experience working at RCTV.

To many foreign correspondents, Chávez was a laughingstock and a nut. And their copy reflected it. In one typical story sent around the world in February 2003 as the oil strike died, Reuters wrote that Chávez's opponents "accuse him of ruling like a dictator, ruining the economy with anti-capitalist policies, threatening media freedom and trying to make Venezuela a copy of communist Cuba." In normal journalism, that loaded sentence would be followed by an immediate rebuttal giving the other side of the story and what Chávez's supporters thought of him: namely, that his government was the most democratic in the nation's history; that the opposition's coup and oil strike was what was destroying the economy; that the media was arguably the freest in the world, publishing and broadcasting outrageous attacks against the president and encouraging his overthrow; and that Venezuela was a far cry from communist Cuba, with a free press, a largely free-market economy, and a multiparty political system with regular free and fair elections. It even had a recall mechanism to remove the president and other elected officials halfway through their terms.

But the writer didn't provide that information. It was standard operating procedure at Reuters and many international or US news outlets. The opposition to Chávez was highlighted, placed high up in stories, and described in fine detail. The other view favoring him was mentioned lower down or not at all, with little or none of the extensive detail and supporting evidence given to the often spurious opposition charges. The overall impression was that Chávez was a crazed dictator bent on destroying one of Latin America's oldest thriving democracies. As the media watchdog group fair put it, "Hugo Chávez never had a chance with the US press."

Delacour, who sympathized with Chávez, also found the anti-Chávez bent extended to the op-ed pages of US newspapers. In fact, it was even worse. When he tracked the opinion pages of the twenty-five largest-circulation newspapers in the United States during the first six months of 2005, he found that "95 percent of the nearly one hundred press commentaries that examined Venezuelan politics expressed clear hostility to the country's democratically elected president." The views of op-ed writers who viewed Chávez's policies favorably such as the progressive economist Mark Weisbrot rarely appeared. Instead, rabid anti-Chávez critics such as Mary Anastasia O'Grady at The Wall Street Journal and Jackson Diehl at The Washington Post had their own regular columns in which they could constantly bash Chávez from the podium of two of America's most powerful newspapers with little rebuttal to their often specious arguments. No one had a regular column in any newspaper defending Chávez. Newspaper editorial writers across the United States seemed almost universally contemptuous of him. Delacour concluded that

In spite of the fact that recent polls indicate that Chávez's domestic approval rating has surpassed 70 percent, almost all the commentaries about Venezuela represent the views of a small minority of the country, led by a traditional economic elite that has repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government in clearly anti-democratic ways.

In presenting opinions that are almost exclusively hostile to the Chávez government, US commentaries about Venezuela serve as little more than a campaign of indoctrination against a democratic political project that challenges US political and economic domination of South America. The near absence of alternative perspectives about Venezuela has prevented US readers from weighing opposing arguments so as to form their own opinions about the Chávez government.

Some North Americans wanted to see for themselves what was happening in Chávez's controversial Bolivarian Revolution. So they traveled to the country and went on "reality tours" where they visited barrios and other projects that journalists, columnists, and analysts often ignored or had never been to even as they excoriated Chávez. What the visitors found often contradicted the one-sided version provided by much of the media. "All I had heard about Chávez was that he was a dictator," stated Donna Santiago, a Philadelphia beneficiary of a Venezuelan program providing discounted home heating oil. "The man is far from that. He's a really warm person. I wanted to bring him home and stick him in the White House." The coordinator of a Venezuelan community radio station noted that the experience of Santiago wasn't unusual. "People go back to the USA and say, 'I went to Venezuela and saw something totally contrary to what CNN is telling me.'"

From Hugo! The Hugo Chávez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution by Bart Jones.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jason Cravat
Hometown: Montclair

Dear Dr. Alterman:

Not to start an altercation, but in your item about the PBS documentary Lumo, you ought to have mentioned the name of the critic. The New York Times did not "describe it thusly," any more than The Nation or Media Matters for America describes Marty Peretz or the perfidies of the Bush Administration in Think Again or Altercation. The writer was Ginia Bellafonte. And no, I'm not her boyfriend -- I never met or laid eyes on the woman. I just think the habit of citing publications and not writers is wrong, especially when it's done by other idiosyncratic writers.

Eric replies: Guilty, guilty, guilty of unpardonable laziness. Mea culpa.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL

Dr. Alterman,

I'm afraid I must disagree with you and Mr. Brooks about why Sen Clinton is "leading." I'm not convinced that she is in any meaningful sense. Not one vote has been cast. National polls mean precisely zero at this point; they are more a reflection of name recognition than anything else. What do the polls in Iowa say, and how much are they likely to move in the next three months? And if Obama, Edwards, Richardson, ... "defeats" Clinton in Iowa (perhaps only by a point or two), how much does that change the subsequent primaries and elections?

I seem to recall that Howard Dean about this time in 2003 was doing some serious butt kicking. There are several campaigns that are sufficiently well organized and funded that they will be able to transmit their message and be considered. I'm frankly a little bemused that you have drifted towards the MSM's desire to focus on the "horse race" and decide the winner months in advance. That is clearly the MO of Mr. Brooks, a shining example of the brain-dead "conventional wisdom" if there ever was one, and not the insightful Dr. Alterman.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Dr.: How tacky does the presidential campaign of Mr. 9/11 Rudy have to get till it reaches the farcical nature of The Onion?

Would FDR have held a fundraiser at Pearl Harbor with hula dancers and Don Ho?

Eric replies: No way. Don Ho would have been like, five.

Name: David Feurzeig
Hometown: Bloomington, IL

Dr. A., your balanced and nuanced take on Bollinger's framing of Ahmadinejad's speech was spot-on.

Introducing someone by saying in effect "we're so large, we're even going to let an evil hypocritical fathead bastard like yourself address our students" is not only boorish, smug, and destructive of the supposedly open forum so boasted upon. On a realpolitik note, such an insulting introduction immediately makes the in fact execrable Ahmadinejad more sympathetic.

Thus, once again the right wing hawkishness that seems to drive our foreign policy discourse puts domestic political advantage over authentic national interest in world events.

Eric adds: I think I'm gong to go to the below, and even pay up myself, so I thought I'd bring it to everyone's attention. It's a wonderful program that I've participated in myself and would happily do so again:

The Board of Directors of Behind the Book,
a grassroots literacy nonprofit working with low-income students
in NYC public schools,
cordially invites you to its

featuring a private viewing of
The Society of Illustrators' Exhibition
Celebrating the Fine Art of Children's Illustration 2007

October 22nd, 2007
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

The Society of Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street
New York City

Drinks and Hors d'oeuvres will be served.
There will be a Silent Auction of Original Bookmarks by
Leo and Diane Dillon, Ted and Betsy Lewin, Brian Pinkney,
Brian Selznick, Mo Willems, and other notable illustrators.

Tickets are $50 each. Please click here to reserve tickets.
If you cannot attend, consider supporting a teacher's attendance!
Or, making a donation to Behind the Book today.

Behind the Book's mission is to excite children and young adults about reading. Using personalized, curriculum-based programs, we bring authors and books into individual classrooms to creatively engage students with the written word to motivate them to read more. At the same time, we bring a diversity of literature to students who might never have exposure to authors and stories that reflect their experiences, backgrounds, and communities.

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