AP Pays Tribute to 'Master Communicator' and 'Fine Baseball Player' Hugo Chavez
Frank Bajak of the AP lionized Venezuelan autocrat and "fighter" Hugo Chavez minutes after his death on Tuesday, playing up in the second sentence of his item how the "former paratroop commander and fiery populist...outsmarted his rivals time and again." Bajak later hyped Chavez as a "master communicator and savvy political strategist."
The journalist even went so far to point out how the far-left despot was supposedly a "fine baseball player and hoped he might one day pitch in the U.S. major leagues. When he joined the military at age 17, he aimed to keep honing his baseball skills in the capital." Bajak only mentioned Chavez's abuse of power in passing in the 24th and 25th paragraphs of his article:
Critics saw Chavez as a typical Latin American caudillo, a strongman who ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. Chavez concentrated power in his hands as his allies dominated the congress and justices seen as doing his bidding controlled the Supreme Court.
Chavez insisted Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech. But some opponents faced criminal charges and were driven into exile. Chavez's government forced one opposition-aligned television channel, RCTV, off the air by refusing to renew its license.
By contrast, it only took five paragraphs for Reuters' Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis to spotlight how "detractors, however, saw his [Chavez's] one-man style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of opponents as traits of an egotistical dictator whose misplaced statist economics wasted a historic bonanza of oil revenues."
Bajak used much more vague language six paragraphs into his item:
His opponents seethed at the larger-than-life character who demonized them on television and ordered the expropriation of farms and businesses. Many in the middle class cringed at his bombast and complained about rising crime, soaring inflation and government economic controls.
The AP writer later added that "while Chavez trumpeted plans for communes and an egalitarian society, his rhetoric regularly conflicted with reality. Despite government seizures of companies and farmland, the balance between Venezuela's public and private sectors changed little during his presidency. And even as the poor saw their incomes rise, those gains were blunted while the country's currency weakened amid the economic controls he imposed."
Bajak filled the rest of his article with complimentary language about the now-deceased strongman:
...During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice, and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style....
Supporters eagerly raised Chavez to the pantheon of revolutionary legends ranging from Castro to Argentine-born rebel Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Chavez nurtured that cult of personality, and even as he stayed out of sight for long stretches fighting cancer, his out-sized image appeared on buildings and billboard throughout Venezuela. The airwaves boomed with his baritone mantra: "I am a nation." Supporters carried posters and wore masks of his eyes, chanting, "I am Chavez."
In the battles Chavez waged at home and abroad, he captivated his base by championing his country's poor....Chavez also won support through sheer charisma and a flair for drama.....
Chavez wasn't shy about flaunting his government's achievements, such as free health clinics staffed by Cuban doctors, new public housing and laptops for needy children....
Back in October 2012, Bajak and fellow AP correspondent Ian James led their article on the leader's reelection by trumpeting how "Hugo Chavez put to rest any doubts about his masterful political touch in winning a third consecutive six-year term."