Walters Gushes Over ‘Dignified,’ ‘Warm,’ and ‘Friendly’ Hugo Chavez

On the Friday edition of "Nightline," "20/20" anchor Barbara Walters appeared again to plug her sycophantic interview with Hugo Chavez, the virulently anti-American leader of Venezuela.

According to the ABC host, Chavez, who has called President Bush a murderer and a killer, simply likes to "poke fun at American leaders." During a discussion with "Nightline" host Martin Bashir, she also described the Venezuelan President in glowing, even flowery terms:

MARTIN BASHIR : "You've met him in person, you interviewed him, you spent time for him, for all the kind of brash things that he's actually said, how did you find him as an individual, as a man?"

BARBARA WALTERS: "Well, he was not what I expected. He was very dignified. He was warm, friendly. He likes the U.S. It's George Bush that he doesn't like. He also was very personal. He talked about how hard his life was, that he wished he could be in love but you can't be when you are heading a country."

Walters began the segment, which aired at 11:46pm on March 16, by noting how beloved Hugo Chavez is with the Venezuelan people. What she didn’t mention, however, is his authoritarian consolidation of power, including the fact that the Venezuelan National Assembly just gave him the power to rule by decree. (It’s easy to be popular in a dictatorship):

MARTIN BASHIR: "President Bush has just returned from a tour of Latin America but one country he did not visit is Venezuela and its controversial President Hugo Chavez. But that's exactly where my colleague Barbara Walters has just been and she's come back with a rare and exclusive interview with the outspoken leader. Barbara, good evening."

BARBARA WALTERS "Martin, thank you. Well, Hugo Chavez may be the one world leader with absolutely no fear about provoking the United States. As President Bush toured Latin America, President Chavez was close behind him, with a continental tour of his own, stoking the fires with fierce criticism of the Bush administration and its policies every step of the way. But how does he get away with it? I spoke to him Wednesday in the presidential palace in Caracas. This is Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is so beloved by some of his supporters that they hang pictures of him in their living rooms in the poor barrios that ring the city. He talks to them almost every night on a regular TV and radio show. It's called 'Alo Presidente.' 'Hello President' starring him, usually only him. For at least two hours at a time, occasionally he takes callers. Like Fidel Castro. He calls Castro his political father.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ (talking to Castro via telephone): "How are you?"

WALTERS: "He often uses his show and his frequent speeches to poke fun at American leaders. This week alone, as President Bush crossed South America, Chavez called him among other names a corpse and cosmic dust. But President Bush isn't the only one Chavez attacks. While we are talking about name-calling, you have called our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, illiterate. You said that she suffers from sexual frustration. You are a gentleman. What does it do to say such insulting things especially about a woman?"

CHAVEZ: "Well, that's not exactly what I said. They hung on one word. I would never say or tell a lady in this planet that she has a sexual problem. On the contrary, I have told jokes in relation to her. I once said that maybe she was dreaming of me because she kept on mentioning me all of the time in the Congress of the United States. In Europe, she kept on speak against Chavez, Chavez, Chavez and I said, well, I have to answer in some way. Well, I would like to talk to her but they don't dare talk us to. As a lady, I respect her. For the President of the United States, as a human being, I respect him but they are killing people. They are bombing entire cities in Afghanistan, in Iraq and they do harm, not only to the rest of the world, but to the United States."

WALTERS: "For all his rhetoric, we couldn't help but notice Chavez seems to have softened on at least one point. For the last two years, he's been insisting he's readying for an invasion from the U.S. He doesn't seem as sure now. Let me clear this up. Do you think the United States has plans to invade your country? And if so, are you arming your people?"

CHAVEZ: "First of all, we expect this not to happen. We would have to go to the mountains and fight from the mountains. As Fidel said, if this happens, a 100-year war would begin. However, we don't want this to happen. We will do anything possible to prevent this from happening but we need to get ready. There is a saying that reads 'If you want peace, just get ready for war.'"

WALTERS: "And Martin, let's remember, Venezuela is one of the top five sources of oil for the U.S., which may explain why he feels he can say what he likes."

BASHIR: "Barbara, this was a rare interview with a man who tends to make some fairly outrageous comments but in your interview he sounded vulnerable, maybe fearful of a possible assassination attempt?"

WALTERS: "Well, he is fearful. He survived a coup five years ago and he says that George Bush was behind it. He is convinced that the CIA does want to assassinate him and he says that if he is killed, the responsibility will be on George Bush. So yeah, he does feel that."

BASHIR: "You've met him in person, you interviewed him, you spent time for him, for all the kind of brash things that he's actually said, how did you find him as an individual, as a man?"

WALTERS: "Well, he was not what I expected. He was very dignified. He was warm, friendly. He likes the U.S. It's George Bush that he doesn't like. He also was very personal. He talked about how hard his life was, that he wished he could be in love but you can't be when you are heading a country. And he's had to abandon seeing his children. I mean, it was a side of him that, although he's still very tough and he's very angry, this is a man who has some sentiment and he is not crazy as some people seem to think. Not at all."

Notice how Walters blithely repeated, without the slightest bit of skepticism, Chavez’s accusations about the United States and the CIA.

Walters’ affection for Chavez shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In 2002, she made this absurd comment about freedom in Cuba:

"For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96 percent."

– Barbara Walters narrating her interview with Fidel Castro on ABC's 20/20, October 11, [2002].

The ABC anchor also discussed the Chavez piece on Monday's edition of "The View."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org