How The Associated Press (AP) Gutted Its Own Scoop On The Venezuelan Coup D'etat
By Jared Israel
[Posted 25 April 2002]
Does the Western media deliberately distort the news to serve the interests of the foreign policy establishments of the NATO countries, especially the US?
Based on much research, Emperor's Clothes says: yes, but not entirely.
Journalists sometimes - perhaps often - write accurate pieces. However, when the issues are important, foreign policy stories get edited or replaced, with the end result supporting a slant which is so consistently in tune with the long-term goals of the US foreign policy elite that it is possible, by analyzing news stories, to predict positions which will be adopted by the US government.
That is partly how we made the predictions in the article, "Why Does Washington Want Afghanistan?" Alas, those predictions have proven true. (1)
Every day we test the above-stated thesis using the excellent Lexis search engine. It enables us to scan millions of newspaper articles and TV news transcripts in seconds. We can focus on particular dates or periods of time. We can check for the presence or absence of certain words or phrases. In this way, we can fashion an hypothesis and test it - see if we are right about the line being taken by most or all the media. Or we can just "go fishing" and see what we find.
On April 13th, the Associated Press published what is by far the best - indeed, from what I've seen, the only - mainstream article reporting the massive police terror against pro-Chavez Venezuelans after the recent coup d'etat. It was a scoop.
Below I have posted this dispatch, written by Christopher Toothaker.
Soon after AP sent out the Toothaker dispatch, they released a revised dispatch without Toothaker's account of police terror in poor neighborhoods. The new dispatch, by Andrew Selsky, retained only one thing from the original: the first part of an important paragraph was the same, but the second part was completely rewritten to reverse the meaning.
All the original material in the Toothaker dispatch was removed. AP gutted their scoop.
AP dispatches are sent out to news media "outlets" around the world. Thus by April 14th, most of the important newspapers and TV stations had received two very different AP dispatches. The first (Toothaker) was detailed and refuted the official line on what happened in Venezuela. The second (Selsky) was general and supported the official line.
This is as close to a scientific experiment as one could fashion to test our thesis that key media "outlets" censor themselves to support the US establishment's agenda.
Below is Toothaker's AP dispatch. It is most informative. Indeed, it is the only place, outside the pro-Chavez media and Websites critical of US foreign policy (likes ours) where you will find anything challenging the official story about what happened in Venezuela.
[START TOOTHAKER DISPATCH]
April 13, 2002, Saturday
BC cycle International News
"Screams of pain, agony, sorrow: the dying and the dead in Caracas hospitals"
By Christopher Toothaker
Associated Press Writer
Edgar Paredes frantically pulled his bloodied brother, Luis, from the back of the bloodstained family car and cradled him in his arms, begging for a stretcher at Caracas' Perez Carreno hospital.
His brother was shot Saturday during a protest in which demonstrators began demanding the release of Venezuela's detained President Hugo Chavez - one of countless victims of rioting in the Venezuelan capital Saturday.
"We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there" said Edgar, his clothes soaked in blood as he held his wounded brother. He didn't know who shot him. Police fired repeatedly at protesters in various Caracas slums Saturday and hospitals throughout the city's poorest areas were inundated with victims on Saturday.
Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said there had been nine people killed and about 40 injured in politically related violence Saturday. Cars and ambulances delivered victims in a steady stream at Perez Carreno in La Yaguara, one of Caracas' poorest and most dangerous districts.
"We are at the point of collapse," said nurse Margarita Delgado. "On a normal day we receive 20 or 30 patients here. Today were are receiving four or five times that many."
Screams of pain, agony and sorrow filled emergency rooms. Tearful and frantic family members waited outside, anxious for word of whether their loved ones were still alive. The casualties ranged from a 12-year boy to a 70 year-old woman.
In many cases, traffic jams produced by the rioting and looting, or simply by people fleeing violence, made it difficult, if not impossible, to get the wounded to hospitals. The interiors of many cars bringing in victims were stained with blood.
Already angry about Chavez's arrest, victims were further incensed by the fact that private Venezuelan television and radio stations did not report Saturday's disturbances - or pro-Chavez protests - in poorer areas such as the slums of western Caracas.
"The local media aren't showing what is happening here. They complained about Chavez ... but they are worse," said Hector Flores, 52, a chauffeur observing the events at Perez Carreno. "This (new) government usurped power, and now it is repressing the people."
Tens of thousands of Chavez supporters streamed down from the hillside slums to voice their support for Chavez, gathering in front of the presidential palace. Announcers did urge viewers to stay calm and not be provoked by "rumors" of political unrest.
Shortly after he took office in 1999, Chavez issued a decree requiring all public hospitals to attend to people without insurance. Under previous governments, the poor often were turned away. For such actions Chavez was beloved by many.
Earlier Saturday, a pathologist at the Caracas morgue said 30 bodies had been brought by early Saturday, most with bullet wounds. Chavez tried to violently suppress demonstration against him before he was ousted by the military on Friday.
Tears streaming down her face, Juana Chirinos, 50, watched the ambulances pull in to Pedro Carreno Hospital and muttered repeatedly, "My God. My God."
"While we bring in our dead one after the other, the rich people in the east are having drinks and fanning themselves," she said.
[END TOOTHAKER DISPATCH]
In only one paragraph in the dispatch above does Toothaker conform to the "official" line. That paragraph reads:
"Earlier Saturday, a pathologist at the Caracas morgue said 30 bodies had been brought by early Saturday, most with bullet wounds. Chavez tried to violently suppress demonstration against him before he was ousted by the military on Friday."
The claim that "Chavez tried to violently suppress demonstrations" was broadcast by virtually the entire Western media as if it were a proven fact. By putting this claim immediately after the statement that "30 bodies had been brought [into the Caracas morgue] by early Saturday" the paragraph creates the impression that Chavez caused those 30 deaths.
However, there is a serious problem with the time-line here. The anti-Chavez demonstrations took place on Thursday. Chavez was detained in the Presidential Palace late Thursday and taken away Friday morning.
So is it possible that the bodies coming into the morgue early Saturday could have been those of people that Chavez supposedly tried to suppress with violence on Thursday?
Is the AP telling us that these 30 people were allowed to decompose in Venezuela's tropical climate for about two days, after which they were finally brought to the morgue?
That does not sound plausible.
It seems more likely that an editor tacked the sentence about Chavez using violence onto what was otherwise a very straightforward article in order to support the official US line. After all, everything in the article - except for the sentence about Chavez using violence - contradicts the official US line concerning recent events in Venezuela.
I discovered the Toothaker dispatch Saturday the 13th in the WORLD NEWS section of America Online. They post Reuters and AP dispatches as they come off the wire, so I can sometimes catch these wire services rewriting dispatches to remove information that contradicts the "correct" viewpoint.
Some thoughts about Mr. Toothaker's dispatch:
1) It presents a vivid picture of the profound support Chavez enjoys among impoverished Venezuelans (about 80% of the population).
2) It paints a vivid picture of the police terror Saturday against the pro-Chavez poor all over Caracas. The terror was so common that concerning Edgar Paredes Mr. Toothaker comments:
"He didn't know who shot [his brother because] police fired repeatedly at protesters in various Caracas slums Saturday and hospitals throughout the city's poorest areas were inundated with victims on Saturday."
3) We've posted two articles on Emperor's Clothes with first hand accounts of what happened in Venezuela during the attempted coup. One of the articles, from a Mexican newspaper, includes an interview with Chavez. The other, from an Irish newspaper, is an interview with an Irish filmmaker who was in Caracas during the coup. (2)
Both articles assert that it was pro-Chavez demonstrators, not anti-Chavez demonstrators, who were getting shot on Thursday. Both suggest that the snipers were provocateurs who shot people to provide a justification for the coup d'état. (2)
If this is true then the Western media was lying - an "extreme" accusation, but rendered more believable by the way in which the AP quickly replaced the Toothaker dispatch with a new one which covered some of the same ground but devoid of the vivid details about Chavez's support among the poor and about the massive police terror.
The new dispatch was written by Andrew Selsky. The Selsky dispatch was issued a half dozen times. We have posted the last version in its entirety. (See (3) in Further Reading) However, to save time, below we have extracted the passages concerning how the authorities dealt with the pro-Chavez protesters Saturday.
[START OF RELEVANT EXCERPTS FROM SELSKY DISPATCH]
Headline: "Interim president resigns in Venezuela after thousands protest to restore Chavez to power"
BYLINE: By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: CARACAS, Venezuela
[The article mainly deals with the return of the Chavez government. We've cut all that out.]
Earlier in the day, police drove back smaller groups of protesters from the presidential palace with tear gas, and gunfire was heard in the nearby Catia slum, a Chavez stronghold.
"We want to see Chavez. The Venezuelan people don't buy it that he has resigned," shouted Maria Brito, a 36-year-old demonstrator.
As a massive crowd of protesters approached the palace at nightfall, there was no tear gas, and soldiers on a nearby roof urged the demonstrators on by pumping their fists and waving Venezuelan flags and their red berets, a symbol of Chávez's rule.
Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said at least nine people were killed and 40 wounded in various parts of the city Saturday. Police fired at pro-Chavez protesters in various Caracas slums.
A pathologist at the Caracas morgue said 30 bodies had been brought to the morgue overnight and into Saturday, most with bullet wounds. How the people were killed was not immediately clear.
"We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there," said Edgar Paredes, his clothes soaked in blood as he brought his wounded brother to a hospital. He didn't know who shot Luis, and probably never will. Like most violent demonstrations here, gunfire can erupt from any side, at any time.
In Caracas, downtown shopkeepers hurriedly closed as word of isolated disruptions spread. At least 20 small disturbances were reported in Caracas, the new government said. Unrest also was reported in Maracay, Guarenas, Los Teques and Coro.
About 500 Chavez supporters also marched overnight on the army fort where Chavez was earlier held, facing off with soldiers and tanks, witnesses said. Troops fired rubber bullets, injuring some protesters, said Brito, the demonstrator.
[END OF RELEVANT EXCERPTS FROM SELSKY DISPATCH ]
Note two things.
First, we are told "gunfire was heard in the nearby Catia slum, a Chavez stronghold." If you had not read the Toothaker piece, you wouldn't know it was the police who were doing the shooting.
Second, according to the Selsky dispatch, "At least 20 small disturbances were reported in Caracas, the new government said." This creates the impression that there was a limited popular response to the kidnapping of Chavez. But as we know from the Toothaker dispatch, people were trying to hold demonstrations all over Caracas but were attacked with widespread, virtually random police violence.
Now consider how the Selsky dispatch deals with Edgar Paredes and his wounded brother.
As originally posted by Toothaker, the relevant paragraph begins:
"'We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there,' said Edgar, his clothes soaked in blood as he held his wounded brother."
That part is the same in Selsky. But the the second part of the paragraph is entirely different:
TOOTHAKER DISPATCH: "He didn't know who shot [Luis]. Police fired repeatedly at protesters in various Caracas slums Saturday and hospitals throughout the city's poorest areas were inundated with victims on Saturday."
SELSKY DISPATCH: "He didn't know who shot Luis, and probably never will. Like most violent demonstrations here, gunfire can erupt from any side, at any time."
Quite a difference.
1) The Toothaker ending tells us the Caracas police conducted a murderous campaign of intimidation Saturday. The Selsky story avoids this issue entirely.
2) The Toothaker ending suggests there was so much random police violence it would be impossible to figure out *which* cop shot Edgar Paredes brother.
But the Selsky ending tells us that the residents of poor neighborhoods get shot because of their own propensity for senseless violence. Their demonstrations erupt in random violence and confusion because that is the nature of these Venezuelans: "Like most violent demonstrations *here*, gunfire can erupt from any side, at any time."
Note that nothing in the original dispatch by Toothaker suggests that the demonstrations were violent. Quite the contrary, Toothaker reports that the police launched a virtual reign of terror in poor neighborhoods.
But Selsky takes the violence (which according to Toothaker stems from the police) and blames it on the victims, who, being naturally violent Venezuelans (!), produce "violent demonstrations": "Like most violent demonstrations *here* gunfire can erupt from any side, at any time."
Toothaker quotes three people whose words contradict Selsky's image of "violence-prone slum dwellers."
First, Edgar Paredes: "We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there."
This is the statement of a politically aware person trying to excercise his rights. (Note that in the Selksy dispatch, this is immediately followed by the claim that, "Like most violent demonstrations here, gunfire can erupt from any side, at any time." Thus Selsky obscures the non-violent, politically aware thrust of what Edgar Paredes is saying.)
Second, the nurse, Margarita Delgado:
"'We are at the point of collapse,' said nurse Margarita Delgado. 'On a normal day we receive 20 or 30 patients here. Today were are receiving four or five times that many.'"
In other words, the hospital was not used to dealing with massive violence.
And finally, the remarkable testimony of Juana Chirinos:
"Tears streaming down her face, Juana Chirinos, 50, watched the ambulances pull in to Pedro Carreno Hospital and muttered repeatedly, 'My God. My God.'"
In other words, the rich people, that is, the anti-Chavez people, were not getting shot at.
"'While we bring in our dead one after the other, the rich people in the east are having drinks and fanning themselves,' she said."
The compelling statements by Ms. Delgado and Ms. Chirinos were simply removed in the Selsky dispatch.
HOW NEWSPAPERS DEALT WITH THESE CONTRADICTORY DISPATCHES
We did a search of all English speaking newspapers in the world, looking for the phrase,
"'We are at the point of collapse,' said nurse Margarita Delgado."
Result: Not one newspaper reprinted this phrase from the Toothaker piece.
We searched for ten other phrases from Toothaker.
Finally we tried the sentence, "We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there." This sentence is found in both Toothaker and Selsky.
This search yielded six newspapers articles, three from Australia, one from Canada and two from the USA.
Not one of these newspapers published the Toothaker dispatch.
They all used Selsky.
-- Jared Israel