… as America debates the possibility of a full-scale ground invasion of ISIS-controlled territory, it’s important to note that much of the ISIS threat — namely that which targets the West — has been habitually overstated by an uncritical media.
In no particular order, here are the ten most bogus ISIS scare stories over the past year:
1. Female genital mutilation edict – July 2014
2. Church-burning in Mosul – July 2014
Why it’s bogus: An intrepid archaeologist, Sam Hardy, called BS and thanks to the magic of reverse image Google search and some prodding by yours truly, it was eventually retracted by several outlets and never mentioned again.
3. ISIS in Mexico – October 2014
Why it’s bogus: Absurd on its face, the story was quickly and roundly debunked.
4. ISIS recruiting emo British teen – December 2014
Why it’s bogus: The person who uploaded the picture admitted on Twitter it was a fake. The media subsequently deemed it a “hoax”.
5. ISIS Caliphate map – July 2014
Why it’s bogus: The original story from ABC News cited a map that had been floating around the Internet for months. To this day, its one and only source is a tweet from a noted white supremacist website Third Position.
6. ISIS beheads Christian children – Aug 2014
Who it fooled: Originally asserted on CNN by self-proclaimed Iraqi-Christian activist Mark Arabo–a grocery story industry lobbyist whose previous media appearance was on a local San Diego news channel to oppose an increase in minimum wage–this story spread among right-wing and Christian media.
Why it’s bogus: After a fairly thorough inquiry, snopes eventually determined the claim was “inconclusive,” having found no independent evidence it occurred.
7. $425m bank robbery – June 2014
8. ‘Over 100 Americans have joined ISIS’ – October 2014
Why it’s bogus: After the FBI admitted there were only “about a dozen” Americans fighting alongside jihadists in Syria in September 2014, several media outlets continued to report “over 100,” despite the government correcting the record several weeks prior.
9. #AllEyesOnISIS “Twitter storm” – June 2014
Why it’s bogus: Yours truly showed that the “Twitter storm” was simply a reposting of weeks- or months-old tweets by an overzealous ISIS fanboi.
10. ISIS’s ebola terror plot – December 2014
Why it’s bogus: “Iraqi media” was the only source for the story, and the Iraqi minister of Health quickly debunked it.
The Consistency of Official Iranian Commentary, Part III: On Khamenei’s Referendum Rhetoric, Reuters is Wrong
Last week, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a meeting of Iranian university students and, in his first public comments on the ongoing assault on Gaza, spoke of his belief in the necessity of continued Palestinian resistance to Israel aggression, oppression, and occupation.
“Don’t the Palestinians have the right to defend their lives and security?” he asked rhetorically, and condemned Western nations like the United States and Great Britain for openly supporting Israel’s assault and justifying “crimes that no ordinary person would.”
In the right-wing Daily Caller, notorious neocon darling Reza Kahlili noted that Khamenei reiterated the call by his predecessor, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, that “Israel must be destroyed,” adding that “until that time with the help of God for this cruel and murderous regime to be destroyed, strong confrontation with steadfast armed resistance is the only solution against this destructive regime.”
Yet the Caller omitted a crucial aspect of Khamenei’s speech – deliberately replaced by an ellipsis linking the the paraphrased Khomeini quote with Khamenei’s endorsement of Palestinian armed struggle – in which the Iranian leader stated that the ideal solution to the current impasse was a democratic vote.
The missing piece, however, was reported by other outlets. “There are logical and practical means to this end, which is for people who live and belong there to pick the government of their choice through a referendum. That would be the end of a usurping fake regime,” Khamenei said, according to a translation by Reuters. Until that time, he continued, “while waiting for an end to this cold-blooded murderous regime, mighty armed resistance is the only way to deal with it.”
Only through a vote by the indigenous population, Khamenei said, will “the usurper and forged regime” of Israel “be practically annihilated.”
Kahlili’s report predictably expunged all mention of a referendum, focusing instead on Iranian military capabilities and nuclear negotiations. More troubling, perhaps, is that “The Young Turks,” a liberal (some might even say, progressive) news and commentary outlet led by host Cenk Uygur, promoted the Daily Caller line in their own round table discussion of the matter. After hearing a portion of the Kahlili article read aloud verbatim, co-host Ana Kasparian described Khamenei’s comments as “extremely violent” and “crazy,” while John Iadarola called such statements “depressing.”
Reuters also quoted Khamenei as saying, “Israel’s annihilation is the only real cure, but that doesn’t mean destroying Jews in this region,” a statement also ignored by the Daily Caller. With this comment, Reuters editorialized, “Khamenei made clear for the first time that he was talking about the dismantling of the state of Israel, not the death of Jews.”
While such clarification is important, the characterization of that distinction as being a new addition to Khamenei’s rhetoric is curious. In fact, this is a distinction made often by Iranian officials when discussing this very topic – and Iran’s official position toward Israel/Palestine. Cursory research into past statements quickly reveals the consistency of such statements and proves the Reuters claim to be, not only sloppy, but ludicrous.
A similar presumption was made last year in the wake of then-newly-inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s insistence that, “when it comes to the settlement and resolution of regional issues,” including the colonization and occupation of Palestine, “we believe that the only path is through the ballot box, through democracy.” International news media declared this to be a breakthrough moment, despite the clear fact that Rouhani’s immediate predecessor, the much-maligned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had made identical statements throughout his eight-year tenure as president.
“We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt,” Ahmadinejad said in comments reported by the New York Times in September 2008. “We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government.”
More to the point, however, Khamenei himself has remained remarkably consistent on this issue, and Iran’s official prescription, for over two decades. In an extensive analysis of Khamenei’s speeches since 1990, published in the Boston Review in November 2013, well-known Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji – no fan of the Iran’s theocratic leadership – revealed the truth: Khamenei has long called for a new, inclusive Palestinian government to supersede the current Zionist one, thereby dismantling what is currently known as “Israel” politically, not violently.
For instance, Ganji notes, on April 17, 1991, Khamenei discussed “his solution for the Palestinian problem and said, ‘The Islamic Republic’s solution is to disband the usurping Zionist regime, forming a government of the Palestinians, and [guaranteeing] peaceful co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in all of Palestine.'” Four months later, on August 19, 1991, Ganji adds, Khamenei stated, “Solving the Palestinian problem entails destroying and eliminating the illegitimate government there, so that the true owners [of the land] can form a new government; Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live side by side… Our view regarding the Palestine issue is clear. We believe the solution is destroying the Israeli regime.”
Nearly a decade later, Khamenei’s position had not shifted. In a speech to the Basij militia on October 21, 2000, Ganji tells us that Khamenei again laid out his vision for the indigenous people of Palestine to choose their own political path forward. “The solution is for the millions of the Palestinians to return to Palestine, the several millions that live away from home to return to Palestine. The indigenous people of Palestine—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—should hold a referendum to decide what kind of a regime they want. The vast majority are Muslims. There are also Jews and Christians that belong there, as their parents also lived there. They can decide the political system that they favor,” he opined.
In March 2002, Khamenei again stated, “Holding a referendum in Palestine among the Palestinians, and all those that became refugees—if, of course, they want to return to Palestine—is a rational solution.” In June 2002, he repeated, “The only solution for the Palestine problem is that the true Palestinians, not the usurping and occupying immigrants, those who live in Palestine and those who became refugees, decide the type of government that they want. If asking for the vote of the people of a nation is a solution for those who claim to be democracy advocates, [then] Palestine is also a nation and must decide [its fate].”
The Palestinian problem has only one solution, and that is what we proposed several years ago. Hold a referendum among the indigenous Palestinians, those who live there, or are in refugee camps, or live elsewhere, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jew, and ask them to decide the government that they want. Regardless of whether that government is run by the Muslims, Jews, or Christians, as long as it is the result of people’s direct votes, is acceptable, and will solve the problem. Without it [the referendum] the problem will never be solved.
That Reuters would now claim Khamenei’s recent comments about Gaza mark a stark break from the past is absurd. In his Friday prayer sermon on June 20, 2008, Khamenei declared, “No, we have no problems with Jews. We have no problems with Christians, and with adherents of other religions in the world. The usurper is just the Zionist regime. This is the position of our state, and that of our revolution and our people.”
Similarly, on September 30, 2011, Khamenei spoke at a conference in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and self-determination, and said, “We neither advocate a classic war between Israel and the Islamic countries, nor throwing the Jewish people into the sea, and neither do we accept mediation by the United Nations or any other international organization. We propose a referendum among the Palestinian people. Similar to any other nation, the Palestinians also have the right to decide their fate and pick the type of government they want.”
Addressing the opening assembly of the Non-Aligned Movement on August 30, 2012 in Tehran, Khamenei once again reiterated Iran’s “just and entirely democratic solution” to the conflict:
All the Palestinians – both the current citizens of Palestine and those who have been forced to immigrate to other countries but have preserved their Palestinian identity, including Muslims, Christians and Jews – should take part in a carefully supervised and confidence-building referendum and chose the political system of their country, and all the Palestinians who have suffered from years of exile should return to their country and take part in this referendum and then help draft a Constitution and hold elections. Peace will then be established.
Regardless of whether Khamenei’s proposals are realistic, idealistic, inevitable or impossible, is irrelevant. That he has consistently called for a referendum to alter the exclusivist and discriminatory political system that controls Palestinian lives and has routinely made distinctions between the Zionist government in Israel specifically and Jewish people in general, is indisputable.
Reuters should get their facts straight.
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Oritz
A brief news story posted by Reuters at 3pm on Friday afternoon reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national is facing criminal charges brought by the U.S. government for allegedly having conspired to export “pressure transducers,” sensors that translate the application of pressure into electrical signals, to Iran in violation with sanctions that restrict trade of scientific equipment and technology to that country.
Cheng was arrested at Heathrow airport two months ago and the indictment was brought by Boston field offices of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice’s Massachusetts District Attorney.
Following the publication of the Reuters report, the news traveled fast with outlets like Bloomberg News, AFP, Telegraph, and BBC all picking it up, and inevitably tying the news to the ongoing international nuclear negotiations taking place between six world powers and Iran.
Pressure transducers have myriad industrial and scientific uses; their use in the translating pressurized gas in centrifuges to an analog electrical signal is but one of these applications. A statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office declares, “Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium.”
Unmentioned is the fact that, not only can transducers be used for thousands of other reasons, but also that Iran’s enrichment of uranium is legal, Iran’s enrichment facilities are under strict IAEA monitoring and inspection, and Iran has never even been accused of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels. It’s like arresting someone over trading light bulbs, which can be used in automobiles, which can be used to run people over.
The prosecution of people accused of breaching the aggressive U.S.-led sanctions regime is nothing new; just last month, Mohammad Reza Nazemzadeh, a prolific and respected medical research scientist in Michigan was inexplicably indicted for trying to send a refurbished coil for an MRI machine to a hospital in Iran. However, certain language used in press reports to describe the indictment of Cheng – in bold below – is curious.
Reuters reported that Cheng had “supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said.”
Bloomberg News used the same formulation:
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Read that again. “Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” The ubiquity of this phrase in the press and political speechifying belies the fact that Iran does not actually have a nuclear weapons program and is thus, not only deliberately deceiving, but patently false.
It should now go without saying that, for years now, the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran’s uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
This assessment has been reaffirmed year after year by the U.S. Director of Intelligence James Clapper, most recently in mid-February before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The intelligence has maintained for nearly seven years a high level of confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Nevertheless, this phraseology goes frequently unchallenged in the mainstream media – despite repeated appeals by ombudsmen and public editors for more careful and measured writing by their reporters.
The reports of the Cheng case, however, are a bit more revealing. The specific claim referencing an Iranian “nuclear weapons program” did not originate with the Reuters wire service or Bloomberg‘s own cribbed report. In fact, the phrase in its entirety came from the U.S. Attorney’s own press release about the indictment, which was posted Friday by the “Boston Press Release Service,” and has still (as of this writing) not appeared on the website for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
That the offending phrase – “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” – was literally copied-and-pasted directly from a government statement by professional reporters for major news outlets, without a shred of skepticism, scrutiny or fact-checking, is sadly par for the course in a media landscape wherein the press simply parrot the government line as a matter of policy.
“The indictment alleges that between in or about November 2005 and 2012, Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S. origin goods, to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the release reads.
The government prosecutor responsible for the indictment is Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who herself has a sordid history of overly-aggressive prosecution, in one case leading to the suicide of computer programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013.
In this indictment, Ortiz has thus made an assumption about Iranian actions and intentions that directly contradicts the consensus of 16 American intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the prosecution itself is part of the Obama administration’s own economic war on Iran.
Just two weeks after Iran and the P5+1 signed their Joint Plan of Action in late November 2013, the U.S. State and Treasury Departments specifically named Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company among companies targeted “for evading international sanctions against Iran and for providing support for Iran’s nuclear program.”
The recent indictment and accompanying press release present a clear indication that the decades-long disinformation campaign about Iran’s nuclear program is far more powerful and sustaining than facts and evidence. And that’s bad news when the propaganda comes straight from the Department of Justice.
The attacks by opposition forces largely integrated by Al Qaeda terrorists can no longer be denied.
What is now occurring is a re-branding of the various terrorist formations covertly support by Western intelligence.
The latest slur of media disinformation consists in providing a “human face” to Al Qaeda.
While the media acknowledges that the Al Nusrah front is integrated by Al Qaeda affiliated rebels, the Islamist rebels affiliated with the New Islamic Front –which has received Washington’s ascent– are now portrayed as “freedom fighters” involved strictly in para-military operations.
According to the media reports:
1. The opposition rebels are predominantly Syrian nationals.
2. They are not targeting innocent civilians.
3. They are acting in a responsible fashion. They are no longer involved in terrorist acts. They are targeting government forces and the pro-government National Defense Force militia, set up in towns and villages across Syria.
The attack on an Alawite village in the province of Hama
A Reuters report pertaining to a recent rebel attack on an Alawite village in the province of Hama suggests that civilians deaths are few in number, largely the result of “collateral damage”, attributable to “neglect” pertaining to the government evacuation programs from the areas of combat.
Read carefully (emphasis added). The Reuters report casually denies the atrocities committed by US-NATO-Saudi sponsored terrorists:
Islamist fighters battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces seized control of an Alawite village in the central province of Hama on Sunday, part of an offensive to try to cut off supply routes from Damascus to the north of the country.
The report denies, despite ample evidence, that the “freedom fighters” killed civilians. Detailed government data on civilian casualties are dismissed;
But the government said the dead were mainly women and children and accused the fighters of committing a massacre on the eve of the resumption of peace talks in Geneva.”
Reuters prefers to quote the “evidence” provided by the fake UK based Syrian Observatory. Those killed were part of the government’s militia forces:
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Islamists killed 25 people in the village of Maan, mainly from a pro-Assad National Defence Force militia.
Residents of Maan, around 5 miles east of Syria’s main north-south highway, are from the same Alawite minority as the Assad family which has ruled Syria for the last four decades.
The Observatory said most women and children had been evacuated from the village before it was taken over.
(Reuters report Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2014
The “freedom fighters” are “overwhelmingly” Syrian national
The Reuters report fails to acknowledge something which is amply documented by media reports and official data: most of the rebels are mercenaries recruited in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not to mention several European countries including Britain and France.
The “freedom fighters” are “overwhelmingly” Syrian nationals according to Reuters:
Rebels fighting to overthrow Assad are overwhelmingly from the country’s Sunni Muslim majority, backed by Islamist and jihadi fighters from across the Islamic world.
“Video footage released on Sunday showed a rebel fighter performing Muslim prayers on top of a municipal building after the seizure of Maan, one of several sites in Hama targeted by the rebels in recent days. Another video showed the dead body of a pro-Assad fighter.
The Observatory said most women and children had been evacuated from the village before it was taken over.
(Reuters report Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2014
Yarmouk: The Palestinian Urban Suburb
A BBC report pertaining to the Palestinian Yarmouk, urban suburb of Damascus, sustains the legend of opposition “activists” and “freedom fighters” coming to the rescue of Palestinians:
The situation has grown desperate since last summer when the Syrian army blocked regular supplies to the camp in an attempt to force out rebels [Al Qaeda terrorists supported by US-NATO] holed up inside.
Activists’ videos and photographs have shown little children crying in hunger and with visible signs of malnutrition. Residents told the BBC that recently there have been about 100 deaths from starvation.
The strategy of the Al Qaeda rebels advised by Western and Israeli Special Forces has been to block the supply routes of food and essential commodities. And then the media comes in and blames the government:
“Babies also died because there was no milk. Their mothers couldn’t breastfeed them because they were sick and undernourished.”
Palestinians in Yarmouk say they have resorted to eating boiled herbs and plants found growing near their homes.
The insinuation is that government forces –which have acted in support of the Palestinians– are responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Yarmouk.
At the same time, the BBC refutes its own lies. It acknowledges that the Syrian authorities supported the Palestinians from the very outset:
The unofficial camp was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.
Although the Syrian authorities did not give citizenship to refugees, they had full access to employment and social services. Many say they had relatively good lives compared to their counterparts in other Arab countries.
Yet the BBC in its coverage of Yarmouk, insinuates that the terrorists integrated by Western advisers had the support of the Palestinians against the Syrian government and that ultimately the “freedom fighters” allowed the supply routes to be opened to the United Nations relief programs led by the UNRWA:
Armed rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad moved into the camp and found support among some Palestinian groups.
After months of negotiations, a deal was struck at the end of last year between the Syrian authorities and Palestinian representatives to allow food to be delivered to the camp. BBC, February 10, 2014.
Israeli forces have assaulted two cameramen working for Reuters news agency in the occupied West bank, forcing them to strip on the street.
Yousri Al Jamal and Ma’amoun Wazwaz said on Thursday that an Israeli military patrol stopped them as they were on their way to a checkpoint in the West Bank city of al-Khalil, where a Palestinian youth had been earlier killed by Israeli forces.
The cameramen added that the Israeli troops punched and hit them with the butts of their guns after they made the cameramen get off their vehicle, which was marked as belonging to “TV.”
The two were also wearing blue flak jackets with the word “Press” printed on them.
The soldiers who attacked the Reuters employees accused them of working for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization which documents human rights violations in the occupied West Bank.
However, the cameramen said the forces did not give them the chance to show their identification cards and made them strip and kneel down on the road.
Wazwaz was overcome by the fumes and taken to a hospital after the Israeli forces dropped a tear gas canister and ran away from the scene.
According to the cameramen, two other Palestinian journalists working for local news agencies were also arrested by Israeli soldiers at the same location.
Stephen J. Adler, chief editor of Reuters News said, “We deplore the mistreatment of our journalists and have registered our extreme dismay with the Israeli military authorities.”
The Israeli military has offered no explanation for the attack on the journalists and says it will investigate the issue.
On Thursday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager on his birthday after he allegedly threatened them with a toy gun in the occupied West Bank.
When recycling decade-old allegations, lies, and threats that preceded invasion and occupation, sometimes sloppy mistakes happen.
In a short report posted this afternoon, Reuters quotes U.S. State department spokesperson Victoria Nuland praising the detrimental and destructive effects of its sanctions regime against Iran and claiming once again that Iran is building nuclear weapons, despite her own government’s assessments that this is not the case.
Nuland is thrilled that “the Iranian currency has dropped to a historic low today against the dollar,” as she believes “this speaks to the unrelenting and increasingly successful international pressure that we are all bringing to bear on the Iranian economy” which she adds is “under incredible strain.”
While much can (and should) be discussed regarding the continued collective punishment of Iranians over its wholly legal, safeguarded and monitored nuclear program, the real gem of the Reuters piece comes in the last paragraph. Reporter Arshad Mohammed, whose article was edited by both Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman, shorthands Nuland’s own imperious demands to the Iranian government:
Catch that? The “international community” is trying to “intensify pressure on Baghdad” so that Iran won’t choose to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Apparently, either these fine Reuters staffers are unaware that Tehran is the capital of Iran, or – perhaps more plausibly – they merely forgot to replace the Iraqi capital with the Iranian one when reusing these old propaganda talking points about a Middle Eastern country supposedly building weapons of mass destruction.
- Tehran court finds Reuters guilty over defamation of character (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A court in Tehran finds London-based Reuters news agency guilty over a report describing a group of female Iranian martial artists as “assassins,” Press TV reports.
A jury member at a Tehran penal court told Press TV on Sunday that the news agency was found guilty of propagating against the Islamic Republic and disseminating false information to disturb public opinion.
The court is supposed to issue its ruling in October. Reuters can appeal the verdict.
Reuters appeared in a court hearing in Tehran on Sunday after young Iranian girls training in Ninjutsu filed defamation charges against Reuters in February for describing them as killers-for-hire.
Reuters showed a number of Iranian girls training in martial arts in a city near Tehran, claiming Iran was training more than 3,000 female ninjas to kill any possible foreign invaders. The distorted Reuters report was picked up by other British media outlets.
The news agency also accused the Iranian government of training assassins.
The martial artists filed a lawsuit against Reuters shortly after the report became viral on the Internet.
The Iranian girls, accused by Reuters of being assassins, say the damage has already been done and they are now taking legal action against the agency for defamation of character.
Following the strong reaction of Iranian media to the report, Reuters made changes to parts of the report after a long delay. It refused to apologize for slander.
By Keane Bhatt | NACLA | June 19th 2012
The presidential candidate of Venezuela’s coalition of opposition parties, Henrique Capriles, hosted a rally on June 10 to formally initiate his campaign against President Hugo Chávez. “Hundreds of thousands” of Venezuelans—according to Reuters, the Associated Press, and The Miami Herald—flooded the streets of downtown Caracas to support his candidacy.
The “good looks of the bachelor candidate” helped attract a huge crowd to the event in which Capriles walked or jogged six miles to register with electoral authorities, “burnishing his image of physical fitness,” per Reuters’s account. He “exuded youthful energy,” said the AP, and had won praise for being an “energetic and dedicated leader” as the governor of Miranda State, according to The Miami Herald.
All three news outlets contrasted Capriles’s vigor with Chávez’s frailty (he is recovering from an undisclosed form of cancer), while conveying Venezuelans’ disgruntlement. Even some Chávez supporters “have grown tired of a murder rate that rivals some war zones, sputtering public services such as electricity and periodic shortages of staple goods,” asserted Reuters. It was only natural, then, that a marcher was quoted stressing, “It’s time for a change.”
The AP, for its part, quoted a housewife who would vote for Capriles “because of his reputation as an efficient administrator and out of fear that Chávez will ruin the economy and drive millions of Venezuelans to emigrate if he is re-elected.” The AP used the housewife’s ominous prediction as the final sentence for its report: “If Chávez emerges as the winner in October, he’s going to destroy this country.”
Censure for Chávez has so thoroughly permeated Venezuela’s body politic, apparently, that even communists oppose him: “Chávez was the great hope for our cause, but we’ve given up on him because he has turned his back on the people even as he claims to be the voice of the people,” The Miami Herald quoted the secretary general of the Bandera Roja (Red Flag) Party as saying.
So it came as no surprise that just one day later, the U.S. press reported that Chávez’s own rally to officially inaugurate his presidential campaign attracted a crowd an entire order of magnitude smaller than that of Capriles. The AP’s headline, “Chavez rallies thousands launching re-election bid”—a figure also used by NPR and the Los Angeles Times—implied that the number of pro-Chávez participants could have been anywhere between 20 to 500 times smaller than the number present at the previous day’s pro-Capriles rally. The AP’s Fabiola Sanchez cited a higher estimate of “tens of thousands” in the body of her piece, but even this number (also used by The Miami Herald) amounts to just a fraction of Capriles’s “hundreds of thousands” of supporters.
Reuters went further in minimizing Chávez’s support. Correspondent Brian Ellsworth provided a sinister explanation for a 66-year-old pro-Chávez retiree’s observations, as she danced in the city square during the rally. “Look at this sea of people; look at the happiness,” she urged. “For every person that came out yesterday, we’ve brought out 10, 20, 30 more. And that’s going to be reflected in the election.” But Ellsworth countered this with circumstantial evidence that the event was little more than a Potemkin spectacle:
Hundreds of buses that ferried his followers to Caracas stood parked in side streets. . . . Critics accuse Chavez allies of using state resources to swell demonstrations and forcing government employees to attend. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said the ruling Socialist Party had ordered ministries to help bring 120,000 people to the march, citing what he called an internal party document.
Reuters provided no follow-up on the veracity of the unnamed critics’ accusations, nor did it verify the existence of the internal party document that Leopoldo López cited. This lapse in journalistic ethics is even more remarkable considering that in relying upon López’s hearsay for the final word on Chávez’s mobilization, Reuters displayed exactly the same flaw as Fox News’ coverage of Venezuela in 2005. (López, as I will mention in further detail below, is a long-time collaborator of Capriles, and played a crucial role in the short-lived coup government that overthrew Chávez in 2002.)
Ellsworth’s article also failed to include any estimate of the number of participants at Chávez’s rally, despite a widely–distributed Spanish-language dispatch by Reuters itself, which stated in its first paragraph that Chávez was “accompanied by hundreds of thousands of sympathizers.” Although the Spanish news website Público.es and Britain’s The Guardian corroborated this estimate, no major U.S.-based news source used it to describe the number of participants in Chávez’s rally.
Far more troubling than partial reporting on the popularity of the two candidates is the U.S. media’s superficial portrayalof Capriles as simply a “a polite, non-confrontational politician,” above the fray of Chávez’s insults and negativity. “I want to be everybody’s president, not the president of a single group,” the AP quoted Capriles as saying. “I am not anybody’s enemy,” he continued. “I’m the enemy of problems.”
At times, Capriles deviates from this persona, as when he referred to poll numbers—many of which consistently show Chávez leading by double-digit margins—as the work of “immoral mafiosos,” according to Reuters. More importantly, his political record betrays far-right tendencies that contradict his inclusive, conciliatory image. As the BBC notes, Capriles “was involved with a group of other young politicians in setting up in 2000 a new opposition party Primero Justicia.” In the lead-up to the 2002 coup d’etat against Chávez, which killed dozens, Primero Justicia indirectly received hundreds of thousands of dollars and training from a foreign government—in this case, the United States, through the National Endowment for Democracy, an agency largely financed by Congress. Leopoldo López and Leopoldo Martinez, two of Primero Justicia’s other top leaders, went on to play key roles in the 2002 coup government of Venezuelan business magnate Pedro Carmona. López—who Reuters deemed fit to comment on the supposedly authoritarian nature of last week’s pro-Chávez rally—himself signed on to Carmona’s 2002 decree to abolish the General Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution.
During this U.S.-backed two-day coup, hundreds of anti-Chávez demonstrators destroyed cars outside the Cuban embassy in the Caracas municipality of Baruta. They also cut off water and electricity to the building. Capriles, then the mayor of Baruta, was filmed approaching the Cuban ambassador and reportedly asking for proof that there were no Chávez administration officials who had sought refuge inside the embassy. The Cuban embassy later released a statement condemning Capriles’s behavior: “The immediate responsibility of Mr. Capriles Radonsky and other Venezuelan state authorities was demonstrated when they failed to act diligently in order to prevent an increase in the aggression to which our embassy was subjected, causing serious damage and endangering the lives of officials and their families in clear violation of national and international law.”
It is in this light that Chávez’s public broadsides against Capriles become more understandable. The Miami Herald quoted Chávez at his June 11 rally as saying, “We have made the vital strategic decision that every time there’s aggression from the imperialists and the bourgeoisie . . . we will respond by deepening the socialist revolution.” But the Herald leaves out any background information about the 2002 coup d’etat, in which the military reportedly threatened to bomb the presidential palace. Only within this context does the Herald’s quotation of Chávez make sense: “‘Their plan is the imperialist project from Washington,’ he said. ‘They are the puppets of imperialism…and now they hope to trick the people to take back the Miraflores [presidential palace]. But they’ll never get it back.’”
The truly remarkable aspect about Capriles’s candidacy is that more than a decade of aggressive poverty reduction and social spending has created a political climate that has forced an otherwise reactionary opposition to fully endorse Chávez’s social programs in order to be viable with the Venezuelan public. Ten years after the Cuban embassy fiasco, Capriles says he would be “mad” to end Chávez’s Barrio Adentro program, which dispatches Cuban doctors to poor neighborhoods in Venezuela to provide residents with free healthcare. Capriles reassured Venezuelans by saying “the missions belong to the people,” and on a separate occasion announced, “I want to expand them.” In a fairly stunning transformation, the opposition—rather than plotting coups and carrying out debilitating oil strikes—has rallied around Capriles, who has publicly modeled his platform after that of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who the AP said “financ[ed] expansive social programs . . . that made him popular among the poor.”
As all of the press coverage duly notes, Capriles has an uphill battle, and the poll numbers are not in his favor. It’s hard not to see why. As journalist Stephanie Kennedy notes in the Huffington Post, Venezuela was ranked the “happiest” country in South America by Columbia University, which she attributes, in large part, to serious improvements in Venezuelans’ material conditions under the Chávez administration:
The country currently boasts the highest minimum wage in Latin America and its latest bill for workers rights hails in a new era of legal protection and social security to a large part of the population who had up until recently been labouring within informal and vulnerable frameworks. Domestic workers, voluntary full time carers of family relatives and housekeepers now too have rights and a state pension, whilst peasants, fisherman and others practicing the more traditional trades, who have always been omitted from formal registers, will now enjoy the same rights as their urban peers. There are local clinics where people had never seen a doctor before, new brick-layered houses for people who had been living in cardboard slums, and subsidized food products and medicines.
A leader seeking reelection with a track record of spearheading the policies listed above can surely afford some bravado on the campaign trail.
- Henrique Capriles, Chavez Challenger, Leads Massive March In Venezuela (huffingtonpost.com)
- With song and dance, Venezuela’s Chávez launches reelection bid (miamiherald.com)
Reuters has failed to provide its viewers with a solid explanation on the publication of a manipulated report by the London-based news agency on female Iranian ninjas.
On February 18, Reuters showed a number of Iranian girls practicing martial arts in a city near Tehran, claiming Iran was training more than 3,000 female ninjas to kill any possible foreign invaders.
The report claimed that the athletes are undercover assassins in the service of the Islamic Republic.
Following Press TV’s contact with the Tehran office of the British news agency, Reuters posted an advisory with some corrections on February 26 but refused to apologize for slander.
Editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said that the error “was promptly corrected the same day it came to our attention,” but failed to mention the eight-day interval between the first publication of the story and the posting of the advisory with minor corrections.
During the eight-day interval, the distorted Reuters report was picked up by other British media outlets, thus adding to the damage already caused by the misleading report.
The advisory was posted in Reuters Video Point, which is an accompanying website for Reuters broadcast video service.
The athletes have condemned the report, saying the misleading report can definitely be a problem to their professional sport career.
“It can harm our chances to travel to other countries to take part in global tournaments and international championships because Reuters is considered by many to be a reliable source,” Raheleh Davoudzadeh said.
Akbar Faraji, who established Ninjutsu in Iran over 22 years ago, condemned the British media accusations, saying his students will pursue their legal action against Reuters to the end.
“We have filed a defamation lawsuit against Reuters and we intend to pursue it as far as necessary because it is a matter of reputation,” he said.