In the same vein, The New York Times has published a series of controversial op-eds, including one last year from Russian president Vladimir Putin about the tense situation in Syria.
It’s clear what the Times is trying to do with this strategy; presenting an opinion from a polarizing political figure is a surefire way to spark discussion and elevate thinking about a specific issue.
However, the most recent of these installments came last Tuesday, when the Times published “Venezuela: A Call for Peace” from the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro.
The circumstances surrounding Maduro’s rise to power in Venezuela are decidedly complex. After assuming power in the wake of the beloved Hugo Chávez’s death last March, Maduro’s presidency has been marked by a series of protests and criticisms about the country’s government.
“Each victim deserves justice, and every perpetrator — whether a supporter or an opponent of the government — will be held accountable for his or her actions,” Maduro wrote of the recent protests in his country, including those by Venezuelan students.
“Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward. We welcome anyone who sincerely wants to help us reach these goals.”
But despite this call for peace, the rest of Maduro’s op-ed reads like a snippet from Venezuela’s own carefully constructed foreign policy.
The column is fraught with inaccuracies and political propaganda, to the point where it becomes difficult to know whether Maduro wrote this with column with any sincerity of his own or merely as a public relations ploy.
In addition to misleading claims about the role of the Bolivarian revolution in implementing universal health care and education programs, Maduro takes the Venezuelan protesters to task for flouting their own constitution.
“‘Constitutional’ in Venezuela does not mean what it means in the U.S., though Maduro is obviously hoping that readers will not bother to note that detail,” Frances Martel wrote for Breitbart. “To defy Venezuela’s constitution is to defy the structure of a state designed for the benefit of Hugo Chávez, to the detriment of any opposition party.”
In a hurry to present a fresh viewpoint on the Venezuelan crisis, different from the one that American news outlets have been spinning for us, the Times decided to go straight to the source. But what is the point if the source has set a precedent for being disingenuous?
“Time and again, chavismo doesn’t so much bend the historical record as simply ignore it, and government propaganda employs words to mean the diametrical opposite of what the dictionary says they mean,” Venezuelan journalist Francisco Toro wrote in The New Republic. “Big lies are used where small lies would have done the job just as well.”
I can appreciate the intent of the Times in wanting to present differing opinions about the hot-button issues in today’s social climate, but is the shock value of a big-name political figure really the minimum requirement to get published in the Times nowadays?
“Venezuelans have grown used to the tsunami of spin, obfuscation, half-truths, and outright lies that dominate our large and growing state propaganda system,” Toro said. “The Times‘ readers are likely less prepared for it.”
By giving these polarizing figures a public space to express their views, we are responsible for the claims they make. Journalism is not journalism if we simply let whoever we want say whatever they want, regardless of their role in society. Propaganda does not qualify as news.
Even in the opinion section, you need to be held accountable for the words you say.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi
Editor’s note: The opinion presented in this column is the author’s and does not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
Want to join the conversation? Send an email to email@example.com. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.