Barbara Walters: Chavez Still Fascinating, But His Harshness Is Edited

The recent setback in Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez’s efforts to proclaim himself ruler for life were stunning to ABC News woman Barbara Walters. "I was amazed that he, that he didn’t get to be president for life."

Perhaps Barbara was shocked that the people would rise up against this charismatic man she’d already wrapped into her special on the Ten Most Fascinating People of 2007. When asked if Hugo’s setback made him less fascinating, Walters said no, that "we try to have people that do positive things." But her actual profile of Chavez (recycling a March interview) turned a bit dreary. Her enthusiasm cooled enough that she actually edited more emotional quotes (both from Walters and Chavez) out of the brief profile.

Here’s the transcript from MRC’s Colleen Raezler:

WALTERS: Earlier this year, I traveled to Venezuela for a rare interview with a man who told me he drinks 20 cups of coffee a day. But his critics aren't worried that President Hugo Chavez has too much coffee. It's that he has too much power. (Man singing in Spanish)

Welcome to [the program] "El Presidente," where millions of Venezuelans tune in for entertainment, information and advice. Your host-- Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. On the show, he shares his favorite books... takes calls from Fidel Castro...

CHAVEZ CLIP: Oye, Fidel. (Fidel) hey.

WALTERS: And insults President Bush. George W. Bush...

CHAVEZ CLIP: You are a donkey, Mr. Bush.

WALTERS: We have heard you call the President of the United States a drunk, a liar, a coward, a murderer. What does all this name-calling accomplish?

CHAVEZ (through translator): I think I'm just saying what many people would like to tell him. I said he was a donkey because i think he's very ignorant about what is actually happening in Latin America and the world.

This is where the editing gets interesting. Notice what's been excised since her enthusiastic interview in March:

WALTERS: As I talk with you, you are a very dignified man, but we have heard you call the President of the United States a devil, a donkey, a drunk, a liar, a coward, a murderer. What does all this name-calling accomplish?

CHAVEZ: Yes, I called him a devil in the United Nations. That's true. In another occasion, another time, I said that he was a donkey because I think that he is very ignorant about things that are actually happening in Latin America, and the world. If that is in excess on my part, I accept. And I might apologize. But who is causing more harm? Do I cause any harm by calling him a devil? He burns people, villages, and he invades nations."

Then Walters offered more of an update:

WALTERS: Hugo Chavez is the most controversial and potentially powerful man in south america. Depending on whom you talk to, he's a buffoon, a political genius, a dictator in the making, or the liberator of South America's poor. He's embraced Fidel Castro as his mentor, Iranian President Ahmadinejad as his ally and socialism as his policy. Socialism has not worked in most countries. Why are you going back to socialism?

CHAVEZ (through translator) No, we're not going back. We're going forward.

WALTERS: But it's still socialism.

CHAVEZ (through translator): Yes. I think that Jesus Christ really preached socialism. He came here to fight for equality, freedom, for dignity.

WALTERS: Chavez says his mission is freeing South America from poverty. He's pushed for higher oil prices and opposed free trade, which he says keeps developing nations poor. Nearly half the country lives in poverty. He's spent billions of Venezuela's oil wealth on health and education for them. On my first visit to Caracas I heard again and again that he is a hero to the poor. Born himself to a poor family, Chavez joined the military. He first tried for power in a coup. It failed, but it made him a national icon. In 1998, he was elected president. A few years later, he was nearly overthrown himself in a coup staged by the country's elite. Since then, critics say, his reforms have threatened democracy, he's closed down a major TV station that opposed him, nationalized key industries, and just this week, with protests on both sides, he tried and failed to change the Constitution, which would give him more power and allow him to be president indefinitely.

WALTERS (To Chavez): To many Americans, you are seen as a man who does not like the United States at all. I know you speak a little English. Yes? Little bit? Would you give a message to the American people in English?

CHAVEZ: I'll try. To the people of the United States, all the women, all the men... we, Venezuelan people, love you. (Singing in spanish)

WALTERS: So far, it's safe to say many are not feeling the love.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis