Despite Thuggery, Hugo Chavez Still the 'Friendly' Darling of Network News

"Dignified." "Warm." "Friendly."

Those are not exactly words you'd expect to hear an American journalist use to refer to a Latin American dictator who has been seizing American-owned property this month. Yet Barbara Walters used all three to describe Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, in various ABC broadcasts on March 16.

Even though Chavez has recently assumed "control" of oil fields that were run by Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, ABC, NBC and CBS haven't even reported it. Chavez also plans to takeover private Venezuelan media soon. That hasn't been reported either, let alone criticized.

Despite the fact that Chavez seized power and shut down his opposition in Venezuela, the media rarely portray him as a dictator, preferring kinder words like “controversial” and “populist.” Walters even talked about how "beloved" he is.

“President Hugo Chavez is so beloved by some of his supporters that they hang pictures of him in their living rooms in the poor barrios that ring the city,” Barbara Walters gushed on ABC’s “Nightline” March 16.

The networks rarely criticized Chavez in broadcasts since January 1. Instead they used him as a "critic" of Bush.

“Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez did not mince words. At a rally across a river from Mr. Bush, he called the U.S. president an imperialist and declared him politically dead,” said Jessica Yellin on March 10 “Good Morning America.”

Being uncritical of Chavez is nothing new for the networks. In March 2006, Business & Media Institute analyzed all the ABC, NBC and CBS stories on Chavez since he took power in 1998.

BMI found that the networks downplayed the dictator's radical politics, barely mentioned his connection to Citgo, and none mentioned human rights abuses of his regime.

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