Stenographers for Power
The reasons for the reluctance of the media to use the word “coup” can be found in official announcements from the government. With all the credibility of an armed man in a mask repeatedly shouting “this is not technically a bank robbery,” national security advisor John Bolton told reporters on April 30, “This is clearly not a coup,” but an effort by ”the Venezuelan people” to “regain their freedom,” which the US “fully supports.” Likewise, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that what we are seeing in Venezuela “is the will of the people to peacefully change the course of their country from one of despair to one of freedom and democracy.”
Soon after Bolton’s comments, Bloomberg published a series of articles (4/30/19; 4/30/19; 4/30/19), all by different writers, on why the events did not constitute a coup attempt. This, despite Bloomberg’s reporter Andrew Rosati revealing that coup leader Leopoldo Lopez told him and the rest the international media core that he wants the US to formally govern Venezuela once Maduro falls.
Pompeo made waves in April after publicly admitting at an event at Texas A&M University that he was a serial liar, cheat and thief. As CIA director, he declared, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses [on it]!” Nevertheless, the media credulously repeated his astonishing claims, made in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (5/1/19), that Maduro, who has survived multiple coup attempts and assassinations, had been on the airport tarmac on his way to Cuba, “ready to leave” Venezuela for good, only for Russia to tell him to stay. This dubious, unverified and officially contestedassertion made headlines around the world (Daily Beast, 4/30/19; Newsweek, 4/30/19; Times of London, 5/1/19; Deutsche Welle, 4/30/19), with few questioning its credibility.
This is not the first time the media have lined up behind the government on a Venezuelan coup. As detailed in my book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting, the US media also endorsed the April 2002 coup against Chavez, using euphemisms such as “popular uprising” (Miami Herald, 4/18/02), “unrest” (New York Times, 5/23/02) or “Chavez’s temporary downfall” (New York Times, 4/29/02) to frame events more positively. Only after an official White House spokesperson used the word “coup” on April 15, 2002, was the word frequently used in the media, suggesting a close synergy between government officials and those supposedly employed to hold them to account.
After barely 12 hours, the most recent coup attempt appeared to have failed under the weight of its own unpopularity. According to the New York Times (4/30/19), Guaidó failed to attract meaningful support from the military, his co-conspirator Leopoldo Lopez had sought refuge first in the Chilean then in the Spanish embassy, and 25 of his paramilitaries had done the same in the Brazilian one. Guaidó did not win over the Venezuelan majority, who had previously chased his motorcade out of a working class district when he tried to enter. Ordinary Venezuelans continued their lives, or even rushed to the defense of the government. As USA Today (5/1/19) summed up:
Guaidó called it the moment for Venezuelans to reclaim their democracy once and for all. But as the hours dragged on, he stood alone on a highway overpass with the same small cadre of soldiers with whom he launched a bold effort to spark a military uprising.
It appears that the main base of support for the coup was the US government…and the media. The press’s extraordinary complicity, lining up with the State Department’s version of the world in the face of empirical evidence, highlights the worrying closeness between media and government. When it comes to foreign policy, there is often no difference between deep state and fourth estate.