By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 29, 2021)
The establishment media was horrified when the “Stop the Steal” mob stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, and the sentence was swift: President Donald Trump, with his baseless fraud allegations and refusal to concede defeat, was responsible for the mayhem.
Corporate outlets have summarily denounced Trump’s bogus claims of vote fraud, though for years they have faithfully echoed similarly spurious accusations made about elections held by official enemies. But the media make no effort to account for years of hypocrisy and double standards.
Venezuela’s Dec. 6 parliamentary election offers an instructive case study, with corporate journalists unquestioningly repeating Trump officials’ unsubstantiated allegations of “fraud” there, at the same time that they debunked Trump’s virtually identical claims vis-a-vis the US election. And the right-wing violence that was rightly portrayed as a threat to democracy in the US was heartily endorsed as a democratic campaign in Venezuela, where it served Washington’s foreign policy goals.
The media’s uncritical echoing of fraud allegations is in turn used to justify the continuation of Washington’s regime-change policies. Early signs point to this dynamic continuing in full force under the new Biden administration.
Who needs ‘evidence’?
On Dec. 5, 2020, NPR allowed opposition politician Juan Guaidó to claim to be the rightful president of Venezuela “because Maduro’s 2018 re-election was rigged” — no evidence necessary.
Venezuela’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 6 followed a familiar pattern: The US-backed opposition boycotted the vote, and the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and allies won an overwhelming majority.
Just like in President Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 re-election, opposition candidates failed to counter their hard-line sectors’ calls for abstention, and the government raked in some two-thirds of the vote, albeit with a depressed turnout.
Western media coverage also hit the usual notes, with outlets taking their cue from the US State Department and Venezuela’s self-proclaimed “interim president”, Juan Guaidó, in declaring the internationally observed process a “fraud”.
“Guaidó and his allies declined to seek re-election, saying they didn’t trust the authoritarian Maduro to hold a fair vote,” the Washington Post noted, throwing in a smear against Venezuela’s head of state for good measure.
Apart from the negative portrayal of Venezuelan reality, reporters made no effort to explain how Venezuela’s voting system works (and why vote rigging would be very far from straightforward), much less what this “fraud” consisted of. This stance is hardly new, with coverage looking like a rerun of previous Venezuelan elections, most recently the 2018 presidential election, which the Trump administration pre-emptively refused to recognise months in advance, with unanimous support from politicians and corporate media pundits of all political stripes.
The latest round of reporting on Venezuela stood in stark contrast with the media’s almost instantaneous dismantling of the domestic “fraud” accusations hurled by Trump and his allies about the US’s 2020 presidential vote. While conservative outlets afforded the president some leeway, centrist and liberal corporate journalists were steadfast in fact-checking some described as Trump’s ‘baseless’ claims, ‘torrent of falsehoods” or “false claims of vote fraud”. Venezuela observers would be forgiven for wondering where this sudden quest for ‘evidence’ of electoral fraud had come from.
When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood by the administration in refusing to concede defeat, corporate journalists reminded readers of the lack of evidence surrounding the fraud allegations. Yet when Pompeo declared the Venezuelan elections ‘a fraud and a sham,’ major outlets uncritically echoed the equally baseless official claim.
Similarly, Trump’s allegations that his victory was stolen were immediately picked apart as “desperate” by the New York Times and Washington Post, but Trump officials can routinely claim that Maduro “stole” the 2018 election with no dissent from corporate journalists.
The Trump administration began spinning its fraud stories in Venezuela and at home long before polls opened in either country. But in the US, Trump was confronted about the lack of evidence surrounding his pre-election claims of mail-in vote irregularities. In contrast, no one in the corporate media batted an eye when the administration pre-emptively declared that the Venezuelan elections would be fraudulent.
Automatically rejected elections
Like Trump’s, Venezuelan opposition claims of electoral fraud can be easily debunked. The 2013 contest, in which President Maduro was elected for the first time after Chavez’s death, was followed by violent efforts to challenge the results, leaving eight people dead. Western outlets chose to echo the opposition’s fraud claims, championed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, even though all the “evidence”, much like Trump’s, was easily dismissed by credible sources.
US government and corporate media backing for the Venezuelan opposition in its refusal to acknowledge defeat paved the way for deadly street violence that was eerily reminiscent of the far-right MAGA mobs, who are convinced that Trump’s “landslide victory” was stolen.
Armed and ready with the ‘fraud’ epithet, establishment journalists could disqualify all Venezuelan elections, without the slightest interest in examining the substance behind the allegations. The 2013 violence returned in much bigger and deadlier incarnations in 2014 and 2017. The Western press was happy to fall in line behind the State Department, automatically labelling violent efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government as a defence of “democracy”. The words “coup attempt”, which immediately made headlines and were subject of debate after the Capitol assault has been notoriously absent from the Venezuela coverage.
Beyond endorsing right-wing violence in Venezuela, the baseless claims also served to justify Washington’s violence against the Venezuelan people. Since Maduro’s 2018 victory, deadly sanctions have been justified by his second term being dubbed by Reuters as ‘widely illegitimate’, or his re-election considered ‘fraudulent’ by Guardian.
But in the end, the imperial chickens came home to roost. Regardless of whether Trump is impeached or not, any semblance of impartiality from the corporate media has been shattered. Long used to whitewashing right-wing mobs and baselessly crying ‘fraud’ when it favoured US interests, Western pundits got a small, but bitter taste of their own medicine.
Most of this piece was taken from the media outlet FAIR- Fair and Accuracy in Reporting.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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