Romero's Folly: NY Times Reporter Calls Chavez's Landslide Electoral Victory a "Stinging Defeat"
By Al Giordano
Imagine if elections for all 50 state governors in the United States were held on a single election day and 74 percent of those seats (or 37 out of 50 governorships) went to one political party's candidates. Imagine also that the victorious party's candidates had won 52.5 percent of all votes to just 41 percent for the opposition (the technical definition of an electoral landslide is a victory of ten percentage points or more).
If a New York Times reporter - or any reporter - then wrote the story of the election results and called it a "stinging defeat" for the victorious party, wouldn't he be laughed off of his beat?
Yet that's what happened today in the pages of the New York Times, only the story was about Sunday's state and regional elections not in the US, but, rather, in Venezuela.
The reporter, Simon Romero, led his story in the morning paper with these words:
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chávez's supporters suffered a stinging defeat in several state and municipal races on Sunday...
Here are the actual results:
Pro-Chávez candidates from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, in its Spanish initials) won in 17 of 23 contests.
And here's a handy map, with the red areas showing the states where pro-Chávez governors won, and the six blue areas won by rival candidates:
Later in the report, Romero noted that the opposition governs now in states containing only one-third of the Venezuelan populace, but forwards a spin along the lines of last spring's Democratic primary contests in the United States, claiming that that it won the states that matter, while the states where the other two-thirds of the population live apparently do not:
"These victories came in the economic and political centers of the country," said Luis Vicente León, director of Datánalisis, a polling firm here. "They represent the most important symbols in terms of cities and population."
Only in the very last paragraph of Romero's report - titled "Venezuelan Opposition Gains in Vote" - does Romero disclose: "In all, pro-Chávez candidates won 17 of the 22 states up for grabs, though some of the victories were in relatively small states in terms of population."
Virtually all other major media reported the story more factually than the Timesman Romero.
The Guardian of London: "Chavez party dominates in Venezuela regional elections."
The Christian Science Monitor: "Venezuela vote emboldens Chávez."
Even Juan Forero - Romero's predecessor as NY Times simulator-in-chief in South America, who now writes for the Washington Post - had to admit it, much as it may have hurt him to type it: "Chávez's Allies Win Big, but Opposition Secures Key Posts."
In a follow-up story later in the day, Associated Press gave hard numbers that show an eleven point victory by the sum total of pro-Chavez candidates over opposition candidates nationwide:
Chavez's gubernatorial candidates together won 52.5 percent of the popular vote on Sunday, while their leading opponents came away with 41.1 percent, according to preliminary tallies with more than 95 percent of ballots counted.
Among major United States media, only the Bloomberg wire agency shared Romero's enthusiasm for the losing side in such a stunning defeat: "Venezuela Opposition Candidates Win Caracas, 3 States."
And while Romero makes a big deal over an opposition candidate winning the mayoralty of the Caracas Municipal District, he fails to disclose that the pro-Chavez candidate won in its largest municipality, Libertador, by more than ten points. That's the borough that contains two-thirds (2,085,488) of the entire Caracas population (3,174,034), according to the 2007 census.
Perhaps the story wasn't so much that Romero got it boneheadedly wrong, but, rather, that the rest of the US media mostly got it right. It wasn't too many years ago that, frankly, most US media outlets offered Romero-type anti-Chávez spin on all stories involving Venezuela. But the rise of Internet journalism has kicked their asses enough times that they know they can't get away with it as before. So, in a way, it's heartening that the Timesman is so isolated today in serving up such distortions as news.
Romero was not totally alone today in his nostalgia for the days when the international press corps routinely lied about events in Venezuela. Phil Gunson - the disgraced British pseudo-reporter caught by this publication years ago not disclosing his conflicts of interest in reporting from the country - filed an identical spin as that of Romero in the Independent of London.
But what are these guys to do when the rest of the international press corps has finally gotten the memo: That there are free and fair elections in Venezuela, and that as in any other democracy on earth, it doesn't constitute a big story when opposition parties win maybe a quarter of the contests.
Yet even after an entire day to check his math, Romero filed a second story - titled as "analysis" - to dig his hole even deeper, in which he calls yesterday's landslide victory by the Chávez forces a "second blow" after last December's narrow defeat of Constitutional Amendments proposed by Chávez.
The man has either an idiot for an editor at the New York Times, or one that encourages such dishonesty. Or perhaps Mr. Romero thought that after reporting on the United States over the past year, this watchdog wouldn't come back to keep an eye on the US press corps in Latin America?
Here's the most interesting piece of data from Sunday's elections in Venezuela: On Sunday, the Chávez coalition won 1.3 million more votes than it had been able to garner in the December 2007 referendum, and the opposition received 300,000 fewer votes than it had gained eleven months ago. These facts demonstrate a consolidation and growth of Chávez's support over the past year, hardly a "second blow," as much as Romero might wish you to believe otherwise.