Thatcher, Schmatcher. NPR is still obsessing over its loss of leftist Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday's Morning Edition, anchor Steve Inskeep reported from Caracas and interviewed Rory Carroll, a journalist with a new book on Chavez called "Comandante."
Inskeep somehow downplayed Chavez's iron grip on the country's press organs, because hey, the love of the poor people was genuine: "Well, let me ask about ordinary Venezuelans, because this obviously was a man who had the machinery of the government in his control, had a lot of television stations, had a lot of talent in producing propaganda. But isn't it true that he also had genuine, bedrock support, even love, among a lot of Venezuelans?"
Carroll agreed: "Oh, without a doubt. I would say about a third of Venezuelans adored him, right from the beginning, until the end. And it's impressive."
But the oddest part of the interview came when Carroll recalled that Chavez reveled in his skin color, and that the author's white skin made him a perfect "stand-in agent of imperialism":
INSKEEP: Now, you also said that one of the ways that Chavez connected to the poor was that he looked like them. What did you mean by that?
CARROLL: That his skin was brown, that he had indigenous and African slave ancestry, and he was very proud of it, and I think rightly so. And he would often allude to this. He - one time, when I was on his television show, I had a sort of clash with him. I asked him a question which he didn't like. And in a long, long answer to me, he at one point showed his arm and said, look at the color of my skin. Look who I am.
I am of this land, and this is my heritage - meaning that he was not of the pale-skinned elites, or these kind of blond, blue-eyed Venezuelans who had so often certainly dominated media and business. And he felt that the color of his skin showed that he was one of the people.
INSKEEP: And I guess if he's talking on television with a pale-skinned guy like you, he wasn't going to miss the opportunity to point out the contrast.
CARROLL: I was a perfect fall guy in the sense that, yes, I'm Irish, freckly and blond - or ginger, if you like. I was, in that sense, a perfect foil as a stand-in agent of imperialism.
That is just one of those classic leftist NPR moments. Carroll is not a total shill for Hugo Chavez, but then he told Inskeep that when he felt the need to point out Chavez was ruining the country, his leftist editors started debating the point:
INSKEEP: Well, when I was thinking about this assignment that you received in 2006, and continued for about half a dozen years, you write for The Guardian, which is one of the famous liberal newspapers of the world. And I wondered if your paper was sympathetic to Chavez as a figure of the left, at least at the beginning.
CARROLL: Well, it's a good question. Yes, at the beginning, and I think most liberals and right-thinking people would have been, in his first couple of years in power. There was plenty of reason to give him any benefit of the doubt. Now, over time, when he became a bit more oppressive, shutting down television stations, and when the wheels kind of began to come off the economy in some ways, I, in my own reporting, became very critical, just reflecting what I saw on the ground.
And this prompted quite a debate in my newspaper, because a lot of editors feel and felt that we should have supported Hugo Chavez, because he was a standard-bearer for the left. Whereas I, just very close up, I thought, well, no, actually, because, sadly, he's running the country into the ground, and we have to report that.
Inskeep just had to change the subject: "As incompetent as you say that Chavez's economic management proved to be, Chavez was a great showman." Carroll agreed: "He was extraordinary as a showman."