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Venezuela: a study in opinion manufacture

Philip Roddis

My previous post on Venezuela claimed media on both sides of the Atlantic to have a long and unbroken record of backing US aggression on the global south. Of scores of examples I might have given, I chose the Observer’s 2003 call for ‘decisive action’ against Iraq.

I stand by the general claim but it needs refinement. Today’s Observer runs an editorial on Why Venezuela needs consensus, not conflict. It opens with the image shown above, of an anti Maduro rally (or to be pedantically accurate, one in support of a Juan Guaidó “recognised” by the USA – dutifully followed by that long list of leaders beholden to Washington and Wall St. – as president). Note the absence of faces. So what? So former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, a man of proven courage and principle, posted a few days ago this picture:

It too has been widely circulated to show mass domestic opposition to Maduro. But, as I point out in my previous post, Murray wisely invites us to look closely at those it depicts. Do they seem ill fed and dressed in rags? Or are these the faces of those who have done very well from their country’s ruthless subordination to El Norte, via domestic comprador classes? The faces, in fact, of those who feel most threatened by the Chavismo project of social justice.

I mention this because corporate media – and, for reasons I’ll get to, liberal media in particular – avoid active whoppers when they can. Such lies have clear dangers. But the pictures above, or to be precise the contexts in which they are fed to us, underpin a passive lie. For one thing the second of them shows hands only, making it hard to assess – is someone at GMG shadowing Murray? – the socio-economic status of those present. For another, as the sole image in today’s editorial, it is one of many receiving far wider circulation in Western media than those showing support for Maduro. Upshot? We are subconsciously – and this is where propaganda operates – primed to see a nation united against its leader. Does it work? Check out the BTL comment, by liberal intelligentsia, below any Guardian opinion piece on Venezuela.{a href=”#1″>1

The two images exemplify a bigger lie – chain of lies in fact – implied by my claim, in that previous post, that corporate media have “abdicated a core duty in their refusal to explore motives that cast a very different light on Western interventions sold to us as humanitarian”.

I might add that, where such abdication provides ideological cover for military assaults of the kind seen in the middle east, those media are parties to what was defined at Nuremberg as “the supreme international crime” of the “initiation or waging of a war of aggression”. Yes, it’s that serious.

Meanwhile, back in Caracas, would we be quite so sure of Maduro as odious tyrant were we to encounter, on a daily basis, images and footage like this??

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Moving on, the Observer editorial tells us in paragraph two that Maduro has “disastrously mismanaged” his country – and in paragraph three that Venuzeula “would be well rid of him” – while cautioning in paragraph four against “US intervention”. Two things about this. First is the mealy-mouthed mendacity of implying that Washington meddling is an imminent possibility, when it is a matter of historic record: on the continent as a whole (plus Central America) and in Venezuela specifically. From murderous and chaos inducing sanctions, to attempted coup on Chavez, El Norte’s inglorious record of installing abysmal regimes to further Wall Street ends is beyond dispute. As is liberal media’s double act of looking the other way, then shedding tears after the fact.

Which brings us to the second point, that hand-wringing and fence-sitting[2] are something of a habit at Guardian Media Group. On this I offer two insights by Noam Chomsky: this one …

The right wing claims the press has a liberal bias, and there’s some truth to that … liberal bias is important in a sophisticated system of propaganda. You don’t express the propaganda: that’s vulgar and easy to penetrate, you just presuppose it. And the presuppositions are instilled not by beating you over the head with them but by making them the foundation of discussion. You don’t accept them, you’re not in the discussion.

… and this, from Understanding Power

So when American dissidents criticize the atrocities of some enemy state like Cuba or Vietnam, it’s no secret what the effects of that criticism are going to be: it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the Cuban regime, for example, but certainly will help the torturers in Washington and Miami to keep inflicting their campaign of suffering on the Cuban population [i.e. through the US-led embargo]. Well, that is something I do not think a moral person would want to contribute to.

Hear hear.

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One last point, for now. The opening paragraph of today’s Observer editorial tells us that:

Nicolás Maduro was re-elected Venezuela’s president last May by fraudulent means, as regional governments and independent observers noted at the time, and his leadership lacks legitimate authority. Maduro, in office if not in power since 2013, has proved himself an incompetent and unimpressive successor to the late socialist president, Hugo Chávez, on whose name and reputation he shamelessly trades.

Now you, your sceptical tendencies confirmed by the fact you give the likes of me time of day, will follow that embedded link. Others will not, and they outnumber you. Taking as read that the link is to evidence of Maduro’s lack of legitimacy, they’ll pass on the detour and stay with the main article, congratulating themselves at its close on being better informed through their diligence. Later, confronted by ‘Maduro apologists’, they’ll cite his lack of legitimacy as proven.

Not you though. You’ll follow through to see that the link is to another Observer editorial, from last May. Like me you’ll read it, and like me you’ll struggle to see a scintilla of real evidence for this putative lack of legitimacy. (For an example of that, Brits might look a little closer home, a few miles across la Manche, to be exact.)

And this – as I’ve commented more than once in the context of Russia, of Syria and of Ukraine – is another staple from the Guardian propaganda toolkit. By repeating unsubstantiated claims, then using them to lend credence to other unsubstantiated claims, our sincere but utterly wrong opinions are daily manufactured.

Till we decide we’ve had enough.

  • [1] Re BTL comment, let me single out that currently fashionable phrase, ‘whataboutery’. I’ve written before on ‘a stubbornly empiricist refusal to join the dots; to view each new situation as isolated and without precedent’. This tendency to view Syria as if Iraq and Libya hadn’t happened, Venezuela as if Chile and scores of other US coups hadn’t either, is reinforced by that ‘whataboutery’ response. Offensive and philistine, it gives those who deploy it immunity from any imperative to study patterns.
  • [2] Fence-sitting and having it both ways cascade through liberal media. As Guardian and Observer are vital to Chomsky’s “sophisticated system of propaganda”, so too are house leftists like Owen Jones and George Monbiot vital to the Guardian. Both damn Bashar Assad to Hell and back – and do the same with those experts, from Mother Agnes to Scott Ritter and Ted Postul, critical of Empire-serving claims against him – but preserve their reputations by winding up lamely opposed to military interventions they do so much to give cover to.