Bozell Column: Mourning 'Populist' Hugo Chavez

Our left-wing media’s somber, mourning coverage of Venezuelan despot Hugo Chavez once again demonstrates the double standard journalists reserve for dictators.

Seven years ago, the left’s greatest South American hate object, Augusto Pinochet, passed away. Never mind how he used free-market reforms to modernize Chile. Never mind that after 15 years of rule, he allowed a national plebiscite to vote against him, and he stepped down peacefully. The left-wing outrage pulsed on the front pages.

The Washington Post headline for Pinochet in 2006 was “A Dictator’s Dark Legacy.”  Reporters Monte Reel and J.Y. Smith stated his government “murdered and tortured thousands during his repressive 17-year rule....leaving a legacy of abuse that took successive governments years to catalogue.” His death left “incomplete numerous court cases that had sought to bring him to justice.” In other words, he was a right-wing dictator.

But for Chavez, about as committed a leftist dictator as you'll find in South America, the Post’s headline was neutral: “Anti-U.S. leader had promised revolution: Venezuela’s leftist president sought change across region.” Reporter Juan Forero said Chavez “went from a young conspiratorial soldier who dreamed of revolution to the fiery anti-U.S. leader of one of the world’s great oil powers.” Forero also noted right upfront that Chavez had held power since 1999, “longer than any democratically elected leader in the Americas.”

Deep inside the paper, in a second story about the “outpouring of grief from the poor masses,” Forero added niggling details of that “democracy” in action. “He was able to take control of the courts, the congress, and all other institutions, while forcing some of his toughest opponents into exile.” Helluva democracy, that.

In 2006, The New York Times headline screamed Pinochet was a “Dictator Who Ruled By Terror in Chile.” Jonathan Kandell of the Times began the article by describing him as “the brutal dictator who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption.” He was “never brought to trial.” Both the Post and the Times used post-Pinochet government estimates that more than 3,000 people were executed or disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship.

But for Chavez, the headline was “Chavez Dies at 58 With Venezuela In Deep Turmoil.” Then came this subhead: “Crowds Mass in Capitol, Mourning Populist Who Defied U.S.” The first three words of the story were “President Hugo Chavez.” He wasn’t called a “dictator,” although Venezuela was “a country he dominated for 14 years” and his death “casts into doubt the future of his socialist revolution.”

The Times treated readers to Chavez’s vice president Nicolas Maduro, “close to tears and his voice cracking,” breaking “the hardest and most tragic news we could transmit to our people.” The Times not only quoted him, but crying retiree Andres Mejia proclaiming “He’s the best president in history... Look at how emotional I am — I’m crying. I cannot accept the president’s death. But the revolution will continue with Maduro.”


Reporter William Neuman credited the left-wing dictator for having "changed Venezuela in fundamental ways, empowering and energizing millions of poor people who had felt marginalized and excluded."

Here’s another contrast, from PBS. In 2006, the NewsHour turned to John Irvine, a correspondent for Britain’s ITV: “In Santiago, none of the flags are at half-mast, because officialdom here has no interest in marking the passing of Augusto Pinochet. But these on the other hand are die-hard supporters, waiting in the hot sun to file past their hero and thank him for their affluence. For the most part, they are well-off well-wishers for whom Pinochet could do no wrong. But in truth, Pinochet was a polarizer, and these demonstrators are from the other [leftist] end of the spectrum....At times, they clashed with the police, for while they are delighted he’s gone, they're also frustrated he cheated the hangman over his many human rights violations.”

For Chavez, the same show turned again to a British network, ITN, for a very different spin from Matt Frei, with no mention of Chavez opponents: “This feels less like a funeral and more like a celebration of immortality. And every time the camera passes, the exhausted faithful, who have been waiting on their feet for 24 hours, play their part, all this despite the soaring heat....Immortality is the rarest of compliments, and for this crowd, Chavez has joined the top three. What they are saying is that the three most important people in their lives, all dead, are Jesus Christ, Simon Bolivar, and now Hugo Chavez.”

PBS broadcasts that Pinochet “cheated the hangman,” and that Chavez resembles Jesus Christ. There’s your American tax dollars at work, hailing a man who despised and smeared America on a daily basis.

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center