Editor’s Note: Explicit Language
Socialism has been blamed for turning Venezuela “into an authoritarian basket case,” but the broadcast news networks rarely admit that. In fact, the networks have even generally avoided identifying the country as socialist. This is especially important since the Obama administration just declared the nation a “national security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials,” according to Reuters.
Venezuela’s leaders have clearly identified themselves as socialists. Late leftist president Hugo Chavez proclaimed, “We're heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it.” Chavez’s successor Nicolás Maduro was elected in in April 2013 also committed himself to pursue “21st century socialism,” according to CNN.
“They call themselves a socialist regime,” Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, president of the free-market organization Atlas Network, told MRC Business. “You have to start by believing what they say.”
Yet the broadcast news networks failed to describe Maduro or the Venezuelan government as socialist or autocratic in more than 87 percent of stories (28 out of 32) about Venezuela’s economy or unrest. MRC Business looked at morning and evening news stories and news briefs between Jan. 1, 2014, and March 8, 2015. Not one of those reports clearly linked Maduro’s or Chavez’s policies to the problems faced by the country.
Chavez pushed Venezuela toward socialism after being elected to power in 1998. In 2015, that’s largely forgotten.
“Chavez advanced a hybrid economic program of nationalizations, socialist economics, free spending social programs, price and exchange controls, and crony capitalism dubbed ‘Socialism of the 21st Century,’” The Heritage Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America Dr. Ray Walser and Research Associate Jessica Zuckerman said March 6, 2013.
The “economic mismanagement and corruption” in Venezuela grew even worse under Maduro, the Telegraph (UK) said Oct. 6, 2013. “Under Mr. Maduro, it has entered an advanced state of decay.”
The Washington Post reported about Maduro’s plans to “restrict profit margins and introduce other changes to the economy.” The government had already “slashed prices at appliance dealers, auto-mechanic stores and toy shops,” the Post said, and “Dozens of businessmen were arrested, accused of speculating and hoarding supplies.”
Instead of producing prosperity, these policies have contributed to inflation, shortages and widespread violence. The Economist magazine identified Venezuela as “[p]robably the world’s worst-managed economy” on Sept. 20, 2014.
In response to these shortcomings, “President Maduro’s government has faced ongoing protests and civil unrest since the beginning of 2014,” The New York Times said.
"We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government's efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela's problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest according to Reuters.
The reason behind the economic and social problems in Venezuela was no mystery to some experts. “Venezuela’s economic collapse has been preceded by blatant disregard for the basic foundations of the rule of law and limited government,” according to The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index Economic Freedom. The New Republic argued on Feb. 18, that democracy in Venezuela was a “myth” and that the country’s “political system tends toward an autocratic regime.”
Clearly, the media were aware of the connection between authoritarian and socialist policies and the unrest in Venezuela. Network coverage failed to reflect it.
Weekend host of Good Morning America Ron Claiborne noted “protests against high crime, inflation and food shortages” on March 16, 2014. But he failed to explain why these problems had occurred. Although he labeled protesters as “anti-government,” he made no mention of Maduro’s political views.
The networks’ failure to describe Maduro as a socialist and autocrat paralleled their coverage of Venezuela’s previous dictator, Hugo Chavez. The media had a history of overlooking Chavez’s left-wing politics in favor of a more sympathetic view. ABC News claimed in a story March 2007, that the anti-American dictator did in fact “like this country,” and also described Chavez as “passionate,” “dignified,” “intelligent” and a coffee lover.
In recent coverage, the networks continued to ignore how both Maduro’s and Chavez’s socialist policies, including nationalization of the oil industry, had hurt Venezuela.
During This Morning Dec. 13, 2014, co-host of the broadcast’s Saturday edition Anthony Mason interviewed Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) founder Tom Kloza about the decline in global oil prices.
Kloza said that “Venezuela probably needs $140 [per barrel of oil] to basically balance its social program. So they are in deep, deep trouble right now.” But neither Mason nor Kloza explained that Venezuela had nationalized its oil industry in 1976 and that oil production has lagged ever since Chavez began the country’s “socialist revolution.”
In contrast to the networks coverage, CNBC.com said in January 2013, that “since 2001, overall oil production has fallen by roughly one-quarter [in Venezula], while since 1997, oil exports have dropped by almost 50 percent. It is no coincidence that these declines coincide with Hugo Chavez becoming President in 1998.”
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) data confirmed net oil exports had fallen from 3.1 million barrels to 1.7 million barrels per day from 1997 through 2013, and said that “President Maduro continued Chavez’s policies.”
The network’s recent coverage of Venezuela proved its unwillingness to expose the consequences of liberal extremism. Rather than examine his own policies, Maduro has blamed his country’s woes on the U.S. for “flooding” the global oil market with exports. American oil production nearly doubled from 2008 to 2015 due to increased use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
On March 2, 2015, the Venezuelan government announced a crudely titled “educational exhibit” called “Fucking Fracking” that denounced U.S. drilling practices, according to Reuters.
This stunt was bookended by two other foreign policy moves by Maduro targeting U.S. interests. At an “anti-imperialism” rally on Feb. 28, Maduro announced the arrest of alleged Americans spies whom he said were guilty of “interference” in his country, according to CNN. On March 3, Maduro demanded that the U.S. reduce its embassy staff from 100 to 17 within 15 days, CNN also reported.
Methodology: MRC Business examined news stories from morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 1, 2014, through March 3, 2015 that mentioned Venezuela. Stories that only mentioned Venezuela only in passing were excluded. Of the 32 resulting stories and news briefs, only four mentioned described Maduro or the Venezuelan government was socialist or autocratic. None discussed the causes of the country’s problems in detail.