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Hugo Chavez is dead. NPR hardest hit.

Those of us who listen to NPR largely to monitor the bias in the publicly-funded network’s news programming were treated to a whole series of stories about Hugo Chavez and Venezuela this week in advance of that country’s election on Sunday.   While it is easy for NPR to downplay the bias in its reporting on North Korea since few on the American left are foolish enough to openly praise Kim Jong-un, reporting on Chavez and Venezuela poses a large number of challenges for the network, as it tries to appear “balanced” while still advancing its agenda.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, for instance, I heard part of this interview and couldn’t believe what I was listening to, as NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed Rory Carroll, a correspondent for The Guardian who has written a book about Chavez.  The interview began with Carroll making an observation about Chavez’s strong support among poor Venezuelans:

I would say about a third of Venezuelans adored him right through everything. From the beginning, right until the end. And, it’s impressive. I mean, for a guy who’s in power for 14 years? And you would tramp up the barrios — these hillside slums were his bedrock of support — and these people felt that down below in the palace, in Miraflores, there was a guy who was on their side — that he was their champion. He looked like them, he spoke like them. He was them. And that was an incredibly powerful connection that Chavez was able to maintain all through his 14 years in power.

In a subsequent exchange, Carroll related the story of a “clash” he once had with Chavez on television where Chavez responded to the question in part by deploying the rhetoric of race and class which is so popular on the left.  Summing up the encounter, Carroll made it clear he thought Chavez had made a valuable point: “I was a perfect fall guy or rhetorical punch bag, 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.”

As the interview continued, though, Carroll acknowledged that the longer Chavez remained in power, the less enthusiastic he and the staff at The Guardian felt about Chavez’s reign.  Carroll talked about economic stagnation in Venezuela, the rising crime rate, and the fact that the failure of many of Chavez’s policies disproportionately affected the poor.  Carroll answered a question about his declining enthusiasm for Chavez as follows:

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 were kind of beginning 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, internal debate, in my newspaper, because a lot of editors then and to this day feel and felt that we should have supported Hugo Chavez because he was a standard-bearer for the left. Whereas I, very close up, I thought, well, no, actually. Because sadly, he’s running the country into the ground and we have to report that.

In other words, even a reporter for The Guardian feels compelled to actually practice journalism once in a while.  And it was at this point when this interview–and other stories like it during the week–started to get very challenging for NPR and its listeners.

My reaction to the interview–and other stories like it during the week–was rather like Tim Graham’s take at Newsbusters: “Thatcher, Schmatcher. NPR is still obsessing over its loss of leftist Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.”  But when I actually looked up the interview on the NPR website, I saw something else completely.  Even when normally far-left NPR decides to air a mostly positive story about Chavez, it is still not positive enough for its left-wing listeners.

Many listeners were voicing their anger at NPR for daring to mention any of the negative realities of life under Chavez.  One listener wrote:

The tone of this article is most disappointing. Where do I start and is it worth it, given that NPR has become a mouthpiece for North American pursuit of control over everyone, starting from its docile citizens? Or are they simply immoral and prefer to ignore military intervention so they can continue to shop and charge everything on their US bank-issued Chinese-funded credit cards? Just a couple of examples: one is the implication that Chavez acted out of desire and love of power, so he “used his racial heritage to connect with the populace”. Never considered is the possibility that he desired to improve the people’s condition.

Another listener observed

It is disturbing that Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR’s flagship Morning Edition program, is being advised in his reporting on Venezuela by NPR reporter Juan Forero (former NY Times and Washington Post reporter) and Rory Carroll of the The Guardian. Both have a long history of anti-Chavez (and, in the case of Forero, anti-left) reporting. It will be interesting to see if Inskeep can find his way free of these two “minders” to report objectively on the Venezuelan elections.

One decided to employ identity politics to find fault with the interview:  “Rory Carroll isn’t even Venezuelan, yet he gets the first interview with Morning Edition WTF is that about? The guy is a European reporter, so he wrote a book about Hugo Chavez – from a Euro-centric perspective and that is suppose to help us understand what???”  And yet another lamented that we don’t have a Chavez in the U.S.: “I wish we had a leader like him who had the courage to take on the corrupt business interests can to support the poor and the common people.”

If you check out the other stories in the series, you see the same thing, over and over again, listeners complaining that Steve Inskeep and the others dared to report anything negative about Chavez and his legacy.   So while I listened to some of the stories and thought, “there NPR goes again, praising Chavez,” a highly vocal group of the network’s audience was infuriated that there was actually a bit of reporting mixed in with all of the hagiography.  And that tells us something about NPR and its core audience.

NPR’s leftist bias is well-known and has been quite obvious for many years, but reporting on Chavez exposes one of the key fault lines on the American left.  Many of NPR’s listeners consider themselves “liberals” and like to believe that they are open-minded enough to appreciate the “good things” that they think Chavez did while acknowledging that as a leader he was a bit heavy-handed in some respects and ineffective in others.  Those sorts of listeners sympathize with the left, but flatter themselves into believing that they don’t fully identify with it.  Other listeners, though, are unapologetic leftists, and they become infuriated every time NPR makes any sort of accommodation to the “liberals”–or worse, to the “moderates”–in the listening audience.




  1. Kurt, nice piece and thanks for doing “NPR duty”!

    the failure of many of Chavez’s policies disproportionately affected the poor

    And yet some would question the concept of “low-information” voters, and/or, the concept of voters who are bribed or intimidated to vote a certain way. But there’s your proof.

    yet another [NPR lefty] lamented that we don’t have a Chavez in the U.S.: “I wish we had a leader like him who had the courage to take on the corrupt business interests can to support the poor and the common people.”

    What, Obama’s not it? Obama’s not good enough?

    Obama and Chavez are the same: Both were/are self-centered wish-they-were-dictators, who *pretend* to support the poor and common people against “corrupt business interests”, while serving those corrupt interests that the Left favors (some business, some labor, some protestors or abortionists or bureaucrats, etc.).

    Well, maybe Chavez was a little smarter than Obama: Chavez got farther in terms of corrupting his country, shutting down his opponents, etc. I have a slight hunch that Chavez had fewer illusions about himself; that he might have been more clear (with himself) that he was after power.

    But, ’twas ever thus. Leftism is one gigantic trick that the “rent-seeking” aristocracy – those of the rich who live off of their connection with government – play on the poor, to keep them poor (and themselves rich).

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — April 13, 2013 @ 4:11 pm - April 13, 2013

  2. Detroit, Venezuela, Zimbabwe… it’s all the same. People consistently re-elect politicians who then go on to make everything worse.

    “Champion of the Poor” Chavez died with a billion dollar fortune skimmed from the country’s oil revenues. Detroit has had a long succession of corrupt mayors and City Councils, enriching themselves while impoverishing their cities. And yet, the people who suffer most under the mismanagement of these regimes are their strongest supporters?

    Is there any explanation except for abject stupidity?

    Comment by V the K — April 13, 2013 @ 4:23 pm - April 13, 2013

  3. Election results will be interesting. The last poll showed less than 8 points difference between Maduro and Capriles. That was before all the scandels broke. Maduro alleged that there was a plot that the U.S. and the right wing in El Salvador were collaborating to assassinate Capriles to destabilize Venezuela plunging the country into a civil war. That didn´t get too much traction. The other day on Venezuelan tv the likeness of a legislator, the son of the founder of the Republican Party (ARENA) in El Salvador, however, it wasn´t his voice. It was alleged that he was ploting to assassinate Maduro. Thursday he went to Venezuela to appear on tv so they can see and hear and that he supports the democratic process. The origin of this is under investigation. Yesterday it was reported by Colombian authories that the captured a leader of the terrorist group FARC, (which Chavez collaborated with them in their drug trade) in which was discovered an e-mail from Maduro while Chavez was in a coma in which he wanted their cooperation to assassinate Chavez, so that he could assume the presidency before the 30 day period ran out. So the one third of die hard Chavistas will probably stay home since they wouldn´t vote for Caprilles. There just might be enough participation to give him the victory and avoid a runoff.

    The Salvadorian left FMLN support Maduro, because Venezuela has a big investment in El Salvador through ALBA Petroleum and ALBA Agro. As the leftist political analyst, Roberto Cañas said, this past Friday , it is important for Maduro to win He must keep the revolution going that Chavez started; his project to completely integrate Latin America into socialism, through Merco Sur. His fellow leftist analyst, said the interest of El Salvador should not be tied to the interests of the imperialists, This must end.

    Comment by Roberto — April 13, 2013 @ 4:25 pm - April 13, 2013

  4. ILC–Well, as I’m sure you know, many on the far left consider Obama to be “practically a Republican” for not having lobbied for “single payer healthcare” in his first term, among other things. They never grasp the reality that Obamacare was designed to be a bureaucratic nightmare with eventual achievement of that goal in mind.

    Roberto–Thanks for the update on the latest scandal out of Venezuela. That is news to me. I didn’t think there was any reason to suppose the election there will be especially close because I’m sure there are more than enough low-information Chavez enthusiasts out there to tilt the election to his crony Maduro.

    Comment by Kurt — April 13, 2013 @ 5:07 pm - April 13, 2013

  5. Chavez was a “champion of the poor” just as Obama/the Democrat party are. A vote for me means you will remain poor forever…

    Comment by nate — April 13, 2013 @ 9:41 pm - April 13, 2013

  6. […] last, but not least, Gay Patriot points out that Hugo Chavez’s death is hitting NPR […]

    Pingback by Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove — April 14, 2013 @ 10:42 am - April 14, 2013

  7. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief as I see one world leader eulogized as “impressive” and the other one blatantly smeared as “divisive” – when the labels should be switched around.

    Hypocrisy, thy name is socialism.

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — April 14, 2013 @ 5:43 pm - April 14, 2013

  8. A “champion of the poor” always becomes wealthy and yet somehow never actually lifts the poor out of their poverty. Instead a “champion of the poor” makes more poor people by destroying the middle class and investments in their country. Putin, Chavez, Castro and Obama are all so-called “champions of the poor” and the poor never seems to recognize that destroying the wealth of others has a negative effect on themselves. It is all about envy, avariciousness, and greed. These champions are not Robin Hoods, they are just Hoods.

    Comment by Texann — April 15, 2013 @ 12:00 pm - April 15, 2013

  9. In the words of that great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, ¨It ain´t over until it´s over.¨ Enrique Capriles is demanding a recount. Even before the polls opened, a Capriles spokesman, said he had evidence that 7 million votes were already in the system. (There was no absentee voting.) Yet the Iris Varela, (president?) CNE C(omision Nacional de Elecciones) also said in response said that elections in Venezuela are the most transparent in the world. Then she played a clip from the elections that elected Chavez for another six year term in which Jimmy Carter proclaimed that the elections were open and honest. We know that Jimmy Carter´s word is as good as gold. Fool´s gold that is.

    Comment by Roberto — April 15, 2013 @ 1:59 pm - April 15, 2013

  10. “As the interview continued, though, Carroll acknowledged that the longer Chavez remained in power, the less enthusiastic he and the staff at The Guardian felt about Chavez’s reign.”

    But this will not diminish the enthusiasm that the right-thinking folks at the Guardian will feel for the next tyrant to come along. No matter how many new Stalins come along and prove to be, well, Stalins, our leftist friends will continue to support them.

    Comment by pst314 — April 16, 2013 @ 3:12 pm - April 16, 2013

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