As already noted on NewsBusters, "20/20" anchor Barbara Walters interviewed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for a segment airing on the March 16 edition of the program. And although she did occasionally challenge authoritarian leader, Walters spent much of the interview discussing important topics such as whether Chavez likes coffee, marriage, and generally regurgitating the Venezuelan President’s propaganda.
Walters, appearing on the Friday edition of "Good Morning America" to plug the interview, even touted a Chavez run for political office in the U.S.:
Robin Roberts: "Did he think he would do very well if he ran for office here in this country?"
Barbara Walters: "He said, ‘You know, if I came to this country, I would run, I could run an election if I changed my name to Nicky Chavez because I am for humanity. I am for disseminating the wealth. I am for helping people.’ He says, ‘I would win.’ So put his name down on the list."
The segment, which aired at 7:13am on March 16, featured an excerpt of Walters’ "20/20" interview. The veteran journalist began the piece with a softball question about Chavez misconceptions. Even a question on the Venezuelan President’s slurs against President Bush was prefaced by noting how "dignified" he is.
Robin Roberts: "Now, Barbara Walters’ exclusive interview with Hugo Chavez. The controversial President of Venezuela. It’s the first time any American journalist has interviewed him since he called President Bush the devil at the United Nations last fall. Remember that? Barbara is here this morning. She pulled no punches asking him about his reputation here in the U.S. Here's a look."
Barbara Walters: "You, Mr. President, do not have the best reputation in our country, you know that yourself. What's the biggest misconception about you?"
[Note: During the interview Chavez responds through a translator]
Hugo Chavez: "I was speaking once with a lady from the United States, and she asked me, ‘Why are you an enemy of the United States? I said, ‘Why do you think that I'm an enemy of the United States?’ ‘I have read the papers. I have seen your picture with Saddam Hussein, with Fidel Castro and with Muammar Gaddafi.’ I say, ‘Well, Fidel is my friend. Hussein, well, I went to Iraq and met him as a matter of state. But maybe you have never seen my picture with John Paul II, the Pope. Two times I visited him. All my pictures with Clinton, both times we met.’ They only publish the pictures to demonize Hugo Chavez."
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."
Walters: "Are there any circumstances under which you would invite President Bush to Venezuela?"
Chavez: "No, never. I said in Buenos Aires that he was a political corpse. Fortunately, he will not remain in office for long."
Walters: "I want to talk to you about Iran. As a close friend of President Ahmadinejad do you support him when he says that he state of Israel should cease to exist. Do you agree?"
Chavez: "No, I don't agree. I do not support any idea of overwhelming any country of the world. It is the government and the elite of the U.S. which is overwhelming all the countries in the world."
With the "tough" portion of the interview over, Walters shifted into a discussion of pertinent topics such as coffee and relationships. And yet, there is no mention of the Venezuelan National Assembly approving an "enabling act" that gives Chavez the power to rule by simple decree. (Perhaps that question appears in the full version airing on "20/20."):
Walters: "I want to ask some questions about your life. Would you like some coffee first? I understand you drink too much coffee?"
Chavez: "Yes, but you didn't drink yours."
Walters: "No, well- You want mine?"
Chavez: "Yes, you didn't drink yours. It must be cold."
Walters: "It is cold."
Chavez: "Yes. Give it to me, I will drink it. Yeah, I will drink it. I drink a lot of coffee beyond any advisable or any medical recommendation. But if I had to quit it, I would quit it. As well as I have quit so many intimate things. I left my home, I left my kids. I see them every now and then. I left what is most dearest to me. I had to abandon them. I do not regret anyway because my life is devoted to the pool of the Earth."
Walters: "You are not married now. Are you -- Do you want to marry, or are you married to the revolution?"
Chavez: "It is very hard to be married. I have been married twice. But, it is very hard. But I have a heart here, a beating heart in my chest. I've got blood running through my veins, you know?"
[Clip of interview ends]
After the interview segment ended, GMA co-host Robin Roberts and Ms. Walters repeatedly reiterated the notion that Americans just don’t understand Hugo Chavez. The "20/20" host, after spouting more Venezuelan propaganda, also noted how Chavez likes to sing:
Roberts: "[Laughs] Barbara, fresh off the plane. He is a very passionate man that's very apparent."
Walters: "Yes, but, you know, when you meet him, when you see him in the navy blue suit and not the red shirt that he's in, um, he's passionate about his dislike for George Bush. He does like this country and he's passionate about his feelings about America. And he feels that with a new president, that we can be friends. He cares very much about poverty. He's a socialist. What he's trying to do for all of Latin America, you know, they've been trying to do it for years, is to eliminate poverty. But this is not the crazy man that we have heard."
Roberts: "I’m going to ask you that. Because a lot of people in this country really don't know how to take him."
Walters: "Well, you know, because you hear him carrying on, ‘He’s a devil. He’s a donkey.’ You know, and I think we have a tendency when we don’t understand someone to automatically think they’re crazy. This is a very intelligent man. Now, you don't have to believe in socialism. It hasn't worked yet, but he says that it will. But, you know, we say that about fidel Castro, who is his political mentor, his political father, he calls him."
Roberts: "So there’s similarities? Because you've spent time with both men. Are there similarities between the two?"
Walters: "Yes, I think there are. I mean, First of all in terms of being socialist, and secondly in terms of their personalities. They’re larger than life. Chavez does a television show every night. By the way he sings. He sang to me. I should have shown it to you but it would have ruined the broadcast. And Castro phoned him last week on his television show. He seems very healthy. Chavez says that Castro is still ruling with his hand on one reign and that Raul has his hand on the other. They're very close friends."
Roberts: "They are. The concerns, though, about Chavez here in this country is the fear that he may cut off oil supply here. Is that a legitimate concern?"
Walters: "Look, he says that we’re trying to assassinate him, that the CIA Is trying to assassinate him. And he has said that we might invade. If we invaded, and he says that that’s not going to happen, those would be the only circumstances he says in which he would cut off oil. But remember, Robin, that he has been selling cheap oil in this country through Citgo, which they own, in the northeast, when there, when there are cold spells like now . He helped in Katrina. Now this could be P.R., But oil is oil. So, so far, no plans to cut it off and that’s good news."
Roberts: " Did he think he would do very well if he ran for office here in this country?"
Walters: "He said, ‘You know, if I came to this country, I would run, I could run an election if I changed my name to Nicky Chavez because I am for humanity, I am for disseminating the wealth, I am for helping people.’ He says, ‘I would win.’ So put his name down on the list."
Roberts: "So many others are running. Barbara, thank you. Insightful as always. Appreciate you coming by and giving us a little sneak peak. And you can see Barbara's full interview tonight on 20/20."
Barbara Walters: Continuing a fine ABC tradition of coddling dictators.
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