Twelve minutes after reporting the news of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez's death, CNN hosted Chavez's close friend and former adviser who lavished praise on his legacy.
For over two minutes, CNN let attorney Eva Golinger strew rose petals on the dictator's record. She gushed that Chavez "has changed the lives dramatically of the majority of Venezuelans. He's altered the country forever." She added that "he's done extraordinary, extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary things for the country." [Video below the break. Audio here.]
"His policies have reduced poverty by more than half, have brought people out of dire circumstances that today enjoy a decent standard of living. His policies have implemented widespread nationally universal health care for all Venezuelans free of charge," Golinger continued in a socialist manifesto.
She acknowledged that "nothing is perfect" but then buffered Chavez's persona:
"[H]e's someone, Wolf, who really gave his life, gave every single part of him, all of his energy, all of his soul to helping the people of Venezuela. So there were those who loved him and there were those who hated him but no one can deny that he dedicated himself to improving his country."
Shortly after that, liberal historian Douglas Brinkley appeared on CNN and lauded aspects of Chavez's character while admitting he couldn't "admire" him because of his conspiratorial beliefs and anti-Americanism.
"He was very charismatic and quite funny. I was surprised by his sense of humor. He also had a great love for Christ," Brinkley referred to his 2008 visit to Chavez's Venezuela. "Chavez was not an atheist, but his Jesus was a radical Jesus who helped the poor. I went to a bunch of villages with him and he is very loved by the poorer people in Venezuela," he kept heaping praise on the dictator.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on The Situation Room on March 5 at 5:06 p.m. EST, is as follows:
WOLF BLITZER: Eva Golinger is joining us on the phone. She's an attorney and writer in New York, has lived in Caracas. She's written a few bestselling books, including "The Chavez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela." I take it, Eva, you were a former adviser to Hugo Chavez?
EVA GOLINGER: Yes. Good afternoon. Yeah. And also a close friend. So obviously this news is very difficult, even though it's been something that we've been expecting to hear in recent days particularly because of the bad turn, the worsening of Chavez's health. So it's terrible news for millions of people in Venezuela and around the world who love Hugo Chavez, have had a very close connection with him for over a decade now. He's been, I think, probably the most I would say, president that's had the biggest impact on Venezuela and has dramatically transformed Venezuela in its history since the times of independence of Simón Bolivar.
He has changed the lives dramatically of the majority of Venezuelans. He's altered the country forever. His policies have reduced poverty by more than half, have brought people out of dire circumstances that today enjoy a decent standard of living. His policies have implemented widespread nationally universal health care for all Venezuelans free of charge and he's done extraordinary, extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary things for the country. Of course, nothing is perfect and there have been adversaries, there have been problems, there have been moments throughout his presidential terms over the past almost 14 years where things haven't gone as great as they could. But I would say overall that Chavez has a very positive balance in terms of his governing of Venezuela and, you know, he shared this very, very close connection with the people of Venezuela, which is something that few leaders are ever capable of doing and he's someone, Wolf, who really gave his life, gave every single part of him, all of his energy, all of his soul to helping the people of Venezuela. So there were those who loved him and there were those who hated him but no one can deny that he dedicated himself to improving his country. He put Venezuela on the map, and he recovered the Venezuelan national identity and the dignity of the Venezuelan people.
WOLF BLITZER: Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian, is joining us on the phone right now. Doug, you went to Venezuela, and you had some face time. You interviewed Chavez back in 2008. I believe you went there with Christopher Hitchens and Sean Penn. Sean Penn a great admirer of Hugo Chavez. What was he like?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well yes. We went, the three of us, and I spent quite a bit of time with him. He was very charismatic and quite funny. I was surprised by his sense of humor. He also had a great love for Christ. And sometimes we equate Chavez with Castro. Chavez was not an atheist, but his Jesus was a radical Jesus who helped the poor. I went to a bunch of villages with him and he is very loved by the poorer people in Venezuela. But I got concerned about his intellect, when in a bunch of interviews – it was one thing to not like the Monroe Doctrine, and we discussed that. And it was another thing to think he was the ghost of Simón Bolivar lived in him. But he didn't believe – he told me that Americans went to the moon, that that was staged in Hollywood. He seemed to me to even question 9/11 and the towers being hit. So I came across – he was very charismatic and liked in Venezuela by the poorer people, but he was anti-American and had too much of a conspiratorial bent for me to admire.
BLITZER: When you say that he was raising questions about 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center by those planes, was he saying that that was just was some sort of a conspiracy that was made up by the U.S.? Is that what he believed?
BRINKLEY: Yes. And that somehow – he was always worried that the United States was up to shenanigans and used our media culture to pull big ones on the world community. And I grew up in Ohio and Neil Armstrong was my hero. So I was sort of a little surprised to hear he didn't go on at some length about Apollo 11 just being a farce. And it made me realize we couldn't take him too seriously. On the other hand, I think our government's done the right thing. We have trade relations. You can fly into Caracas. It's an important country. He's did some good things in that country. But we don't need an embassy or an ambassador there. We just didn't have the right relationship with him. I would also tell you Wolf, the most interesting thing that I found was he wrote regulars to Castro and they would deliver them by courier. So he would have a whole – some day there will be a vast volume, the Castro-Chavez letters all about the socialist revolution of the world. They were almost inseparable, their love for each other.
BLITZER: So Doug, when you hear the vice president today, the vice president Nicolas Maduro, who's the front-runner to succeed Hugo Chavez, make this allegation, this charge that foreign enemies poisoned the former late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and created this severe infection, creating his cancer, I suspect a lot of people in Venezuela probably will believe that kind of ridiculous accusation.
BRINKLEY: Exactly. And around Chavez there's sort of a culture of nuttiness and as I mentioned, this sort of hyper-conspiracy theory. So he's a perplexing figure, Hugo Chavez. I do think that he really deeply cared about the disenfranchised and the poor, but he had turned the United States into being such a boogie man that that – he wasn't a man of great credibility in the end. He loved American sports. The red jackets of Chavez came from the Cincinnati Reds. He was great friends with the Reds shortstop Dave Concepción, who was from Venezuela. And loved American movies, but he just didn't have any use for American government.