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What a tangled web they weave

By James Dryburgh - posted Friday, 15 October 2010

The United States control over its concerted action with the mass media enables it to demonise such countries, its victims, for ‘‘terrorism, threats to world peace and human rights violations’’ at the very time it rains Tomahawk cruise missiles on them and motivates and finances armed insurrections and violence against them. Ramsey Clark - Attorney-General of the United States during the Johnson Administration.

You may not be interested in international politics, but it is interested in you. Whilst it is not being reported as such, the US is at war with Venezuela, and as the old adage goes “the first casualty of war is the truth”. It’s a war being fought covertly on many fronts, but it’s the battle for global public opinion via international media, that affects us directly. Our media is failing to provide us with truth, let alone balance.

But the media is not solely to blame. The failure is partly due to corruption, vested interests and naivety, but the biggest factor is the inability of our news media to deal with increasingly subtle and sophisticated interference. Increasingly power is wielded not just with violence and money, but with the manipulation of press and television.


Writers such as Eva Golinger and Jeremy Bigwood have proven, via the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the US is corrupting international media to shape and control public opinion on Venezuela. The end game is to justify and effect the overthrowing of the Chavez Government. It’s a simple yet sophisticated strategy fine-tuned over many decades elsewhere in Latin America, and it’s working. Various techniques are used by US Government agencies and private interests to interfere with media and thus our perception of Venezuela.

For many years the US Government has been using the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to funnel financial and logistical support to groups opposed to the democratically elected government of Venezuela. The NED was created to carry out former functions of the CIA, such as supporting political parties, labour unions, dissident movements and news media that align with US interests in dozens of countries.

The NED Board of Directors has included people such as Frank Carlucci, former CIA official and head of the Carlyle Group (an arms contractor for the Pentagon) and Carl Gershman who was deeply involved in the Iran-contra scandal to topple Nicaragua’s democratically-elected government. These and other board members help to explain why the tactics being used in Venezuela have been modelled on those used to overthrow the democratic governments of Chile in the 70s, Nicaragua in the 80s and Haiti in the 90s.

Money flows from the Department of State primarily to the US Embassy, NED and USAID, from where it finds its way to all sorts of organisations within Venezuela, including sympathetic newspapers, radio stations and television outlets. During the 80s the CIA and NED financed Nicaragua’s main newspaper La Prensa during the Sandinista-Contra war. Eva Golinger in The Chavez Code points out that “control of the media was a major tool in the propaganda war intended not only to win over supporters internationally, but also to filter news and information to international press with guaranteed anti-Sandinista and pro-US spin”.

The International Republican Institute has invested heavily in training opposition political parties and local journalists, focusing on the reporting of politicians and political movements. More than 90 per cent of Venezuelan media is privately owned. Much of this private media joined in the coup plotting against Chavez in 2002. During an opposition organised strike at the end of 2002 four television stations in Venezuela suspended all regular programming and commercials and devoted 24 hours a day to opposition coverage and advertisements promoting strikes and demonstrations against the government. The Venevision station even resorted to manipulating video footage during the coup. Reports from these stations were still embraced, as news, by international media.

Selecting the right polling firm to report on election campaigns is also paramount to overthrowing a popular democratic government. How exit polls and predicted results are reported can play a significant role in how people vote. In Nicaragua, Panama, former Yugoslavia and Venezuela the US polling firm of choice has been Penn & Schoen Associates. The firm came under international scrutiny during the 2004 referendum in Venezuela for allegedly producing fraudulent exit poll results, conducted with NED-funded company, Sumate. UK broadsheet The Independent fell for it, and reported merely three to four hours after polls had opened that Chavez was “losing his grip on power” and trailing by a million votes.


The opposition and Sumate refused to accept the final results crying fraud with the intent of discrediting the Chavez victory, even though all other international firms and observers were in line with the official result, which was endorsed by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Carter Foundation.

There are several known cases of governmental release of disinformation to media and congress, and ultimately the public. Just before the referendum for Chavez’s presidency in 2003 the story that Chavez was supporting terrorism in the form of FARC and al-Qaeda camps throughout Venezuela filtered into the international media. Though the allegations were based on comments by an “anonymous” US official, an intelligence report was circulated around Washington provoking US Congress members to publicly claim they had evidence of Chavez supporting FARC terrorists and CNN, BBC and Fox told the world. The only sources for this intelligence were opposition outlets El Universal, El Nacional newspapers and the Globovision television station. Director of Operations at the Pentagon’s US Southern Command later confirmed that they had no knowledge of Venezuela supporting terrorism, but this retraction didn’t make a ripple in popular media and the damage had already been done.

Stories are often reported that heavily favour one side, often with a false impression of balance. Balance can easily be falsified or mistaken by choice of “experts” or by lack of thorough investigation into issues or people and their vested interests. The Chavez Code documents that as far back as 2005, of 50 articles published in major US newspapers in the first few weeks of that year more than 85 per cent of the consulted “experts” were connected to institutions or publications of the opposition.

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About the Author

James Dryburgh is a Scottish-born Tasmanian writer. He has lived in Scotland, Spain and Latin America and is Co-editor of Tasmanian Times.

His writing has been published by New Internationalist, Island Magazine, Smith Journal, The Famous Reporter, Green Left Weekly, On Line Opinion, Axis of Logic (USA), Correo del Orinoco (Venezuela) and others. James will be speaking at the World Congress on Rural Sociology in Lisbon this year on the role of media and story-telling in communicating the realities of poor rural communities.

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