Within minutes of the death of death of repressive socialist Hugo Chavez on Tuesday, MSNBC featured ex-Washington Post managing editor Eugene Robinson to fawn over the "quick," "popular" leader. Though Robinson allowed that "freedom of speech suffered greatly" under Chavez, he praised, "He provided medical attention that the poor of Venezuela hadn't received before, and, and, frankly, it was the first time in many decades that a leader had paid that kind of attention to the poor majority in Venezuela." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
With a nostalgic grin on his face, Robinson told guest Hardball host Michael Smerconish about the time he met the "quick-witted" anti-American. "He came to the Washington Post and there were several of us waiting to greet him," the liberal journalist giddily recounted. Robinson continued, "I didn't know if he spoke English at the time, so I introduced myself to him in Spanish when he got to me in the line, and he shook my hand and looked up at me and kind of grinned and said, 'hello, my name is Hu.'"
It's true that Robinson did point out, "The Venezuelan economy suffered greatly. Freedom of the press suffered greatly under Hugo Chavez." But he spent most of his TV time fondly reminiscing.
Additionally, what does it say about MSNBC that Robinson, an extreme liberal, was the first person the network goes to for reaction to Chavez's death?
A transcript of the March 5 segment, which aired at 5:01pm EST, follows:
EUGENE ROBINSON: This is a very big story, actually. Hugo Chavez was a fascinating character who first tried to stage a coup to take power in Venezuela. That didn't work. He was in the wilderness for several years. He came back, he ran for president, and he became an ally of the Castro brothers in Cuba and sort of formed this new leftist axis in South America that's had a lot of influence over the last decade in countries like Bolivia and countries like Ecuador and provided kind of another pole, another sort of not great power but moderate power pole to the counteract the weight of the United States in Latin America.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH: And, Eugene, he was just re-elected this past October, correct?
ROBINSON: Yeah. He was just re-elected. The thing about Chavez that a lot of people in this country didn't understand was that he had genuine popular support in the country, in a divided country, despite a number of his policy that we would consider, because they are, anti-democratic. Because of his, in spite of his economic philosophy which was a kind of very personalized socialism. The Venezuelan economy suffered greatly. Freedom of the press suffered greatly under Hugo Chavez, but he provided services for the poor with a lot of Cuban assistance. He provided medical attention that the poor of Venezuela hadn't received before, and, and, frankly, it was the first time in many decades that a leader had paid that kind of attention to the poor majority in Venezuela, and he was very popular. He would have gone on being re-elected, I'm confident, as long as he lived.
SMERCONISH: What, if anything, surprised you in meeting him? To the rest of us we have only seen him on television. But when you're up close and personal, or you were with Chavez, what surprised Eugene Robinson?
ROBINSON: He's very quick-witted. He-- It was a visit he made to Washington shortly after he became president, and I remember he came to the Washington Post and there were several of us waiting to greet him. He– I didn't know if he spoke English at the time, so I introduced myself to him in Spanish when he got to me in the line, and he shook my hand and looked up at me and kind of grinned and said, "hello, my name is Hu." It just kind of cracked everybody up. He was very loose and quick in that way. He had this odd television show that he did. This was, of course, before he fell ill, but he would do a television show for hours every week. I believe it was on Sunday nights called "Hello Presidente" Hello Mr. President. And it was this stream of consciousness kind of talk show where he would sing and he would just kind of rant for a while and he would joke. He would answer callers. It was just a very kind of odd and idiosyncratic way for the leader of a, you know, an important oil-producing country to act, but that was Hugo Chavez.