Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The AP, NYT, Haiti, Honduras, and lies

OK, so I can combine two stories: an issue related to the Chomsky talk I mentioned in a recent post (which I’ve since discovered can be watched more easily perhaps here, although you miss the live introduction by Amy Goodman) and contemporary events in Honduras. Both involve media manipulation and misinformation.

I’ve been complaining of how the wire services in particular have been covering the situation in Honduras for weeks now. In truth, I’ve been complaining about their coverage of this part of the world for months. A year and a half ago, when Bolivia’s constitutional convention passed a draft constitution to send to the public for a vote (it passed earlier this year – see here, with some great pictures), the AP reports repeatedly contained the claim that the draft eliminated presidential term limits. (Reuters got it right in this instance.) The document was available to anyone online, and clearly limited presidents to two terms. I emailed AP about the error, and never heard back from them; nor, to the best of my knowledge, was this error, significant to how the document and its promoters would be seen internationally, corrected. I investigated at the time, and found several other recorded examples of AP misreporting, possibly innocent and obviously not so innocent.

One event Chomsky brought up and whose coverage he criticized in his NYC talk last month was the kidnapping of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. It happens that I recently read an article about the AP’s coverage of a series of issues at Media Freedom Intl., sponsored by Project Censored and the media Freedom Foundation. In the piece - “A Study of Bias in the Associated Press” - the authors describe the organization of the AP and analyze through the examination of several issues whether “story selection bias was widespread within US newspapers and if bias was evident within the AP system itself.”

One of the cases discussed is AP coverage of the ousting of Aristide:

On February 29, 2004 AP widely reported that President Aristide was ousted by Haitian rebels and that the United States provided an escort to take Aristide out of the country to a safe asylum. Within 24 hours an entirely different story emerged that placed the US at the center of a forced regime change. Instead of the US being the supportive facilitator of Aristide’s safety, independent news sources though Pacifica radio news were reporting that Aristide was kidnapped by US forces.

AP quickly changed their story. On March 1, 2004 an AP report by Deb Riechman said, “White House officials said Aristide left willingly and that the United States aided his safe departure. But in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Aristide said: ‘No. I was forced to leave.’ ‘They were telling me that if I don’t leave they would start shooting and be killing in a matter of time,’ Aristide said during the interview, which was interrupted at times by static. It was unclear whether Aristide meant that rebels or U.S. agents would begin shooting. Asked to identify the ‘agents,’ Aristide said: ‘White American, white military.’ “They came at night … There were too many. I couldn’t count them,’ he added.”

Another account on March 1, 2004 by AP writer Clive Bacchus stated that “Aristide said he was being held prisoner at the presidential palace in Bangui, Central African Republic, according to Randall Robinson, former president of TransAfrica, a Washington-based group that monitors US policy toward Africa and the Caribbean and supported Aristide. ‘About 20 American soldiers, in full battle gear with automatic weapons, came to the residence … took them to the airport, at gunpoint, put them on a plane,’ said Robinson, who currently lives on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. ‘He said three times before he hung up ‘Tell the world it was a coup, it was a coup.’“

The last AP report of Aristide exclaiming he was kidnapped by the US in a State Department coup was on June 27, 2004. Since then there have been 60 news stories by the AP with Aristide mentioned in the articles. Of these stories none mentioned Aristide’s claim that he was kidnapped by the United States military. None mention the US backing of the coup. There have been no articles examining claims that the US government sent 20,000 M-16s to the Dominican Republic, many of which ended up in the hands of the Haitian rebels, nor about how the US blocked arms sales to Haiti during Aristide’s presidency. Nor has AP covered that Aristide was elected in 2000 by 92 percent of the vote in an election declared free and fair by the Organization of American States.

Continuing stories about Haiti on AP’s wire since June of 2004 say Aristide was ousted by rebel forces with no mention US involvement. AP’s bias in favor of the State Department’s version of the Aristide’s removal is a deliberate re-writing of history and a documented case of AP-sanctioned forgetting.

Here’s the story as told by author Randall Robinson.

(also discussed in his book, An Unbroken Agony:)

Not only has the recent Honduran coup been compared to the Haitian precedent – though with a different response – the coverage has shaped up quite similarly. In these cases, as we’ve seen most recently with reporting, and I use the term loosely, on Honduras, there’s simply no innocent explanation. There is no way so many important elements of the situation could be ignored, and nonsensical and unsubstantiated accusations – not to mention outright lies - repeated, without some degree of bad faith. The pattern, as I have no doubt a later analysis of all of the coverage following Honduras’ return to democracy will show, is too clear to excuse as the result of apathy, lack of resources, or incompetence. This is as true of the New York Times’ own stories as it is of those they pick up from the AP. This evening’s, for example, reports that Micheletti is showing signs of accepting Zelaya’s return to (limited) power...

But the nation is so polarized over the possible return that Mr. Micheletti is reaching out to other regional leaders for help in building support for such a deal, especially among the country’s elite, the officials said.

The elite, of course, is the only group of interest here. If a significant portion of the elite opposes it, that’s evidence enough of “national polarization.”

The officials said Mr. Micheletti warned President Arias that he had not been able to persuade other parts of the Honduran government, or the leaders of the Honduran business community, to go along with the proposal.

And of course they take his word for it. Why the hell should it be considered, let alone of central interest, what the “leaders of the Honduran business community” think? Zelaya is the democratically-elected president of the country. This whole report just shows how very deep the problems go (at least this one, like another recent piece in a different paper, doesn’t premise the claim of national polarization on conversations at the Tegucigalpa Country Club, so I guess we should be thankful for that).

Diplomats close to the negotiations said there was broad opposition to Mr. Zelaya’s return, led by some of the most powerful political and business leaders in Honduras.

Those leaders have felt misunderstood — some would say betrayed — by the international community’s condemnation of last month’s ouster of Mr. Zelaya, whom they accuse of illegally trying to change the Constitution to extend his time in power.

They’ve been doing that since before the coup, and the corporate media has been all too happy to parrot the accusation, which doesn’t even make sense. The oligarchs feel betrayed because they aren’t getting their way? Cry me a river.

The corporate media are a joke. A joke.

In related and more encouraging news, Al Giordano of Narco News has just arrived in Honduras, from where he’ll be reporting.

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