Accuracy in Media

It is not uncommon to see complaints from the right about bias in the pages of the New York Times and other establishment media. But a piece Wednesday on the Salon website hits these outlets from the far left.

The headline: “Why the Bolivia coup is not a coup – because the U.S. foreign policy establishment wanted it” – places the blame on policy makers. But the subhead – “Uniformed generals forced Evo Morales to resign. Isn’t that the definition of a coup? Not to the mainstream media” – more fully explained where reporter Alan Macleod was going with his story.

“Army generals appearing on television to demand the resignation and arrest of an elected civilian head of state seems like a textbook example of a coup,” Macleod wrote in his lead. “And yet that is certainly not how corporate media are presenting the weekend’s events in Bolivia.”

He went on: “No establishment outlet framed the action as a coup; instead, President Evo Morales ‘resigned’ (ABC News), amid widespread ‘protests’ (CBS News) from an ‘infuriated population’ (New York Times) angry at the ‘election fraud’ (Fox News) of the ‘full-blown dictatorship’ (Miami Herald). When the word ‘coup’ is used at all, it comes only as an accusation from Morales or another official from his government, which corporate media have been demonizing since his election in 2006.”

Macleod took particular aim at the Times, whom he said “did not hide its approval at events, presenting Morales as a power-hungry despot who had finally ‘lost his grip on power,’ claiming he was ‘besieged by protests’ and ‘abandoned by allies’ like the security services. His authoritarian tendencies, the news article claimed, ‘worried critics and many supporters for years,’ and allowed one source to claim that his overthrow marked ‘the end of tyranny’ for Bolivia. With an apparent nod to balance, it did note that Morales ‘admitted no wrongdoing’ and claimed that he was a ‘victim of a coup.’ By that point, however, the well had been thoroughly poisoned.”

He also hit CNN for dismissing the election results as “beset with ‘accusations of election fraud,’ presenting them as a farce where ‘Morales declared himself the winner.’” He said Time presented the catalyst for his “’resignation’ as ‘protests’ and ‘fraud allegations,’ rather than being forced at gunpoint by the military.” CBS News, he said, didn’t bother with formalities. Its headline read simply: “Bolivian President Evo Morales Resigns After Election Fraud and Protests.”

Macleod noted that “Delegitimizing foreign elections where the ‘wrong’ person wins, of course, is a favorite pastime of corporate media.”

It is made worse by the media’s tendency to rely too much on “uncritical acceptance of the Organization of American States’ opinions on elections, including in coverage of Bolivia’s October vote, despite the lack of evidence to back up its assertions.”

Besides, he said, “No mainstream outlet warned its readers that the OAS is a Cold War organization, explicitly set up to halt the spread of leftist governments,” and a report from the far-left Center for Economic Policy Research, which Macleod describes as an “independent Washington-based think tank,” that the election results were valid.

Framing matters, Macleod wrote. “’Coups,’ almost by definition, cannot be supported, while ‘protests’ generally should be,” he wrote.

But then he advanced his theory of why the media turned against Morales.

“Morales was the first indigenous president in his majority indigenous nation – one that has been ruled by a white European elite since the days of the conquistadors. While in office, his Movement Towards Socialism Party has managed to reduce poverty by 42 percent and extreme poverty by 60 percent, cut unemployment in half and conduct a number of impressive public works programs. Morales saw himself as part of a decolonizing wave across Latin America, rejecting neoliberalism and nationalizing the country’s key resources, spending the proceeds on health, education and affordable food for the population.”

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