Wednesday, April 27, 2005

NY Times delivers anti-democracy propaganda

Letter to the NY Times Ombudsman April 26
...with response by Ombudsman Byron Calame

Dear Editor,
I read Juan Forero’s article, "US considers toughening stance toward Venezuela," of April 26 with great alarm. The US government is proposing financing private foundations and businesses with tax-payer dollars for the sole purpose of undermining a fellow democratic government. This has happened in the past and is not too shocking to see it again, but what is most alarming is that the Times couldn’t put any names to the American official quotes or provide details about which organizations will be receiving the money. In essence, this is our tax money being diverted to covert operations to undermine democracy with no accountability. You report, " A multiagency task force in Washington has been working on shaping a new approach, one that high-ranking American policy makers say would most likely veer toward a harder line." Why do you not mention any of the task force agencies? How can you not name any of the high-ranking American policy makers or describe what "a harder line" could entail? You take pains to avoid criticism of US administration policy, "United States support for groups that Chavez supporters say oppose the government has been a source of tension in the past. Under the plans being considered, American officials said, that support may increase." Who are these tension-causing groups? Is it so secret you can’t mention them on the pages of the New York Times? Better yet, do you think these groups may have something to do with the cold relationship endured by US ambassador William Brownfield? Isn’t it telling that a sympathetic Congressman, Rep. Delahunt, who respects Venezuelan sovereignty, enjoys multiple visits with Chavez himself while Bush appointees can hardly get their foot in the door? Alas, your lack of substance continues, "Already counternarcotics programs have suffered, American officials noted." What do you mean? Describe which counternarcotics programs and how they’ve suffered! Which American officials should we direct our concerns to?
To finally drive home your GOP-pandering propaganda, your photo and caption has absolutely nothing to do with the article. The story focus is about the US considering financing operations to disrupt a sovereign democracy in response to not getting what the Bush Administration wants; but the editors have allowed a photo of Venezuelan soldiers - which spins the story completely around to make it appear that Chavez is preparing a threat for the US. A complete reversal! Read the headline and look at the photo – it should be US black-ops training in the jungle! How awful of your editors to let this version of a story print. Let us not forget the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The threat is here in our own "elected" government but according to the Times, it has no face and we might never know who’s trying to overthrow Venezuelan democracy. Democracy-loving people everywhere must be pleading - you cannot let this kind of deplorable "journalism" appear on your pages.

On May 24, 2005 Public Editor Byron Calame writes,

I'm sorry for the delay in responding to your e-mail. I became the public editor on Monday.
I share your frustration with the lack of named sources and players in this story, which makes it difficult for you as a citizen to hold them accountable. But I don't think it panders to the Bush administration.
The Times is continuing to search for ways to reduce the number of anonymous sources in the paper and online. A re-reading of your message suggests that there was enough information in the article to confirm you already-held belief that democracy in Venezuela is being threatened by U.S. actions--including some that may be covert. So it would seem to have had some value to you.
I'm unable to recall the online display of the story and the picture you mention, so I can't address that issue. I will pass a copy of this exchange along to a senior editor at to let them know you felt the picture showing Venezuelan military personnel was misleading.

Byron Calame
Public Editor
The New York Times


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