The open letter printed below, which was sent to the New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan was signed by more than a dozen experts on Latin America and the media. Signatories to the letter, released on May 14, signatories included academic Noam Chomsky, filmmaker Oliver Stone, Venezuela Analysis founder Gregory Wilpert and several other experts. To join the campaign, visit New York Times Examiner.
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Dear Margaret Sullivan,
In an April 4 column, you observed: “Although individual words and phrases may not amount to very much in the great flow produced each day, language matters. When news organizations accept the government’s way of speaking, they seem to accept the government’s way of thinking. In The Times, these decisions carry even more weight.”
In light of this comment, we encourage you to compare the New York Times’s characterisation of the leadership of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and that of Roberto Micheletti and Porfirio Lobo in Honduras.
In the past four years, the NYT has referred to Chavez as an “autocrat”, “despot”, “authoritarian ruler” and a “caudillo” in its news coverage. When opinion pieces are included, the ,em>NYT has published at least 15 separate articles employing such language, depicting Chavez as a “dictator” or “strongman”.
Over the same period ― since the June 28, 2009 military overthrow of elected president Manuel Zelaya of Honduras ― NYT contributors have never used such terms to describe Micheletti, who presided over the coup regime after Zelaya’s removal, or Porfirio Lobo, who succeeded him.
Instead, the paper has variously described them in its news coverage as “interim”, “de facto” and “new”.
Lobo assumed the presidency after winning an election held under Micheletti’s coup government. The elections were marked by repression and censorship, and international monitors, like the Carter Center, boycotted them. Since the coup, Honduras’s military and police have routinely killed civilians.
Over the past 14 years, Venezuela has had 16 elections or referenda deemed free and fair by leading international authorities. Jimmy Carter praised Venezuela’s elections, among the 92 the Carter Center has monitored, as having “a very wonderful voting system”. He concluded that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”.
While some human rights groups have criticised the Chavez government, Venezuela has had no pattern of state security forces murdering civilians, as is the case in Honduras.
Whatever one thinks of the democratic credentials of Chavez’s presidency ― and we recognise that reasonable people can disagree about it ― there is nothing in the record, when compared with that of his Honduran counterparts, to warrant the discrepancies in the NYT’s coverage of the two governments.
We urge you to examine this disparity in coverage and language use, particularly as it may appear to your readers to track all too closely the US government’s positions regarding the Honduran government (which it supports) and the Venezuelan government (which it opposes) ― precisely the syndrome you describe and warn against in your column.
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus, MIT
Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center
Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center
Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University
Mark Weisbrot, Ph.D, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pomona College
Katherine Hite, Professor of Political Science, Vassar College
Steve Ellner, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, Universidad de Oriente
George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University
Daniel Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Gregory Wilpert, Ph.D, author of “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power”
Joseph Nevins, Professor of Geography, Vassar College
Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University
Steven Volk, Professor of History, Oberlin College
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University
Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America
Chris Spannos, New York Times eXaminer
Michael Albert, ZNet
Oliver Stone, Film Director, “South of the Border”