Why the U.S. media spiked Chavez's filthy ravings against Dr. Rice
28.01.05 | A lot of people have seriously wondered why the U.S. news media ignored the weekend's flamingly racist sexually-charged attack against Dr. Condoleezza Rice from the mouth of Venezuela's president. As Miguel has pointed out, there was not a single news report in English devoted to the story, which under other circumstances should be dynamite.
I consulted editors at three major U.S. news organizations, who are responsible for making decisions about which news items to run in their papers or broadcasts. None were significantly ideological, at least, not on the job, and I knew all to be thoughtful, intelligent, detached people who make news decisions for specific reasons. I asked them to tell me frankly why an item of such incendiary quality - Chavez's trash talk against Condoleezza Rice - never made the U.S. print or airwaves.
I got some interesting responses. Number one, the content of the material itself was so repellent to the news agencies themselves that it affected coverage. Also, among them, Chavez is already perceived as a raving lunatic, so what he says carries little weight. Thirdly, U.S. newspapers are hesitant to cover anything out of Latin America because they don't see it as an important place where things are happening. All of those factors combined to create a news blackout, which is very unfortunate because it's likely to lead to worse attacks on women, coarsen the culture, and impel Chavez to do more outrageous things.
Here are the details I learned from three conversations:
The three U.S. editors told me there was a 'disgusting' quality to this story that repelled them. "Sure, we understand the story, but it's not just how we see it - it's how our readers see it," one told me. "If we report sleaze, they're not going to be angry at Chavez, they're just going to see sleaze and say we're (reporting) it because we like it," he said. He explained that Chavez was not a significant character in the minds of U.S. readers, so they were unlikely to direct any negative sentiment at him. "What will happen is, they will say the newspaper is just trying to sink in the gutter to win readers. If Putin talked like this, it would be different, and we'd have to report it. It would be unavoidable. But they'd (readers) know why we had to, too. Chavez doesn't register the same way." Another editor, in television, voiced similar concern about getting mud on them: "If we report it, we have to repeat it (what Chavez actually said). I can't fairly ask a newscaster to repeat it. "
Two editors said Chavez was already considered 'crazy' so there was nothing really new in his sexist attack. "We had him over to the studio a few years ago and everyone thought he was a raving lunatic," another news person told me. "Bully, dope, idiot," - that was the impression he left in the U.S. to people with no predisposition about him one way or another. Since then, expectations remain low. Another editor said that Chavez's statements reinforced that. "Nothing he says is taken seriously, so he must resort to the bizarre to get attention." Which in itself is actual proof of his irrelevancy, he added. "We treat what he says about the same as we treat something from Castro," the first news person said. And a third put it this way: "What does what he says mean to our business readers? If it's about oil, ok, we'd use it, but if he's just a Froot Loop, we have no interest other than it's an oddball story we might use once in awhile. It really has to be about business."
Negative perceptions about Latin America also contributed to the decision to keep this filthy Chavez speech off the U.S. airwaves and newspapers, too. "We are Americans and we like stories about winners," one told me. "Latin America is a story about losers. We'd rather focus on China, another winner. We don't spend too much time on losers. Latin America always finds a way to fall further in our expectations." Harsh words, and not a pleasure to write, but that's their sentiment.
All told, a frank and sad commentary on why Chavez's trash talk shocks, but does not resonate beyond Venezuela. Unfortunately, this U.S. media corralito has mainly served to embolden Chavez, as today's filthy cartoon in the chavista newspaper (unprintable here) VEA showed, and it's clear we can expect more like it. The State Department won't say anything, because their priority now is to make Dr. Rice look tough. "They want to show that 'we don't blink,'" one editor said. But the net impact is very negative for women in general, and particularly to women in Venezuela who have to listen to this garbage from the state's standard bearer. The Afghanistan Taliban was famous for its sickening treatment of women, and now so is Chavez. Unfortunately, it probably means he will do a lot worse to get our attention in the U.S. than just talk dirty about Dr. Condoleezza Rice. We will see.
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On a brighter note, there are a lot of people in the U.S. happy about Condoleezza Rice's success as the first Black American woman Secretary of State. One of my favorite writers, LaShawn Barber, is one of them.
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