Ecuador and the Media’s Selective “Victim” Memes

By William K. Black

In my prior column I discussed the U.S. media frenzy that arose when a leaked emails revealed that Martha Roldos, a leading politician in Ecuador who (very badly) lost an election contest with President Correa, was trying to obtain funding from an infamous United States group that goes by the Orwellian name National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  The U.S. media responded with three memes.  Roldos is the “victim” first of a theft of her emails by someone unknown (but with the U.S. media presenting a fact-free assertion that it was Correa’s administration followed by a “take back” sentence using the magic “if”).  See my first column for the full context.

The second meme is that Roldos is the victim of a “smear” by the media in Ecuador prompted by her leaked emails.  Third, Correa is a terrible leader who buys the support of the indolent poor through social programs and leads a war against press freedom.  In this column I want to point out the mendacity and hypocrisy of these media memes.

The victim meme

Roldos is a prominent politician and virulent political opponent of Correa.  It is likely that she is the “victim” of someone leaking her email to the press.  But the media almost never reports on such leaks through a “victim” meme.  Consider the media meme when a video of Mitt Romney’s famous $50,000 a plate fundraising speech on May 17, 2012 at Marc Leder’s mansion was leaked to the media.  For a delectable bit of irony, recall that Romney’s meme was “victims.”

There were many “victims” of that leak of Romney’s remarks.  A billionaire’s mansion should be his castle, but the vile media eagerly presented the video that invaded Leder’s privacy.  Leder was betrayed by a mere “menial” hired as a waiter to serve the assembled millionaires and billionaires.  The media, however, did not treat Leder as a victim.  Instead, they ridiculed him as a sleazy host of wild sex parties filled with public sex acts that bear Latin names and as a “private equity” guy that specialized in firing tens of thousands of workers and running companies into bankruptcy.

Romney was a “victim” of the leak, but he got scorn instead of sympathy for his complaint that he was the political victim of the “47 percent” of Americans “who believe that they are victims.”

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The mansion was wall-to-wall millionaires and billionaires when Romney spoke, and many of those wealthy guests had their private comments and cheers of support for Romney’s write-off of half of all Americans as indolent whores of the welfare state made public.  They too were treated with scorn by the media rather than as victims.

When the immense cadre of politicians secretly funded by the Koch brothers and their plutocratic allies through “dark money” devices is made public by leaks by U.S. media almost never labels the plutocrats or the politicians as “victims.”  Indeed, the Supreme Court’s (dishonest basis) for the Citizens United decision was that publicity about the source of political funding support would act as a disinfectant.  Leaks to the media are the only way any transparency can be brought to “dark money” funding.

In the United States, the media treats leaks about the secret funding sources and the promises prominent politicians make to those donors as wonderful.  The media reports, accurately, suggest that if there are any “victims” the real victim of these “dark money” funding operations is our democracy.  We want to know that the real Mitt Romney when he is comfortably dining with his fellow plutocrats in a mansion in a gated community in Boca Raton, tells them that if he is elected “my job is not to worry about those people” who earn so little that they do not pay federal income taxes – a group he describes as 47% of all Americans.  The nation would be the victim of any person who became President with that mindset.

Second U.S. media meme: the NED is Ecuador’s friend, fronting for our friendly CIA 

The second media meme is that, El Telegrafo a newspaper in Ecuador owned by the government, was “smearing” Roldos by criticizing her from seeking funding from NED.  NED is Orwellian in both its name and actions in Latin America.  It was designed to pursue the same goals the CIA had followed in Latin America from the time it was created – destabilizing and removing government leaders who were progressives.  Before the CIA was created, the U.S. military removed progressive Latin American leaders by brute force.  Tom Lehrer satirized this brilliantly in his song “Send the Marines.”  In Latin America, NED acts overwhelmingly as an anti-democratic force.  Its function is attacking democratically elected governments run by progressives.  Its goal is to discredit those governments and progressive policies in order to replace those governments and policies with governments and policies that advance the interest of the oligarchs, particularly American and pro-American oligarchs.  The NED proudly trumpets that fact, though it is so tone deaf that it appears not to realize it is doing so.

“[M]ainstream conservative activists and thinkers have been among the most outspoken advocates on behalf of the Endowment. Endorsements of NED have been offered by the leadership of such stalwart conservative organizations as the Heritage Foundation and Empower America, and favorable editorials have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and National Review.”

Heritage is funded by the Koch brothers and their allies.  Empower America (now called Freedomworks) was funded by Scaife and his allies.  The Washington Times is the Moonies, and the National Review is ultra-right wing as is the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal.  Each of these groups named by NED despises progressives as the gravest threat and celebrates U.S. led coups against progressive Latin American leaders of democratic nations that return the oligarchs to power.  The NED brags that these groups are “among [NED’s] most outspoken advocates.”  True; and NED’s boastful admission tells us everything we need to know about NED’s actual mission.

Roldos was seeking funding from the foreign nation that poses the gravest threat to Ecuador’s democracy, economy, and people – the United States.  She was seeking funds from a notorious arm of the U.S., expressly created to allow the CIA to outsource “dark money” activities to it.  NED was designed to attack other nations’ democratically-elected leaders so that the CIA’s “fingerprints” could no longer be used to discredit those attacks on foreign elected officials.  The criticisms of Roldos that I have read are not a “smear.”  They are valid criticisms of her actions.  The “smear” in this matter is by the U.S. media against Correa.

President Obama and the Republican debt hawks can cut some worse than useless funding (NED is outright harmful), advance democracy and economic growth, and improve relations with Latin America.  They should defund all NED activity in Latin America immediately.

Third U.S. media meme: channeling their inner-Romney and (Ayn) Rand

The third media meme was that Correa is a terrible person and we should view the enormous support he has among the people of Ecuador as further evidence of how terrible he is.  The smear article stated:  “Correa’s generous social welfare programs have won him 70 percent approval ratings among Ecuadoreans.…”

Romney made precisely the same charge.  He claimed that 47% of Americans were indolent and supported Obama because he had bribed them with “generous social welfare programs.”  To use Romney’s exact words:

“[T]here are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”

The overwhelming reaction of the U.S. media to Romney’s claim that the non-wealthy Americans had prostituted their votes to favor the President because he has bribed them with “health care,” “food,” and “housing” was to pour scorn on Romney for slandering nearly half of all Americans.  Romney was, of course, endorsing Ayn Rand’s dismissal of most Americans as “moochers” whose views were unworthy of respect and who should be left to die early and painfully as an object lesson.  Catholicism teaches its adherents the opposite.

Ecuador does not have “generous … welfare.”  It cannot possibly afford to provide generous welfare given its economic position and the fact that it lacks a sovereign currency (it uses the U.S. dollar as it currency).  Correa increased government income from oil production by ending the oligarchs’ sweet heart deals and used the additional funds to greatly increase spending on health, education, and infrastructure.  As I have explained previously, even the Washington Consensus favors Correa’s budgetary priorities.

Many people in Ecuador had no effective access to health care before Correa’s reforms.  Even if health care facilities were “only” forty miles away transportation was a mess.  A key railroad had never been repaired and roads were unsafe and often impassable.  Only primary education was available in many areas.  All of this is being transformed under Correa – in ways that are visible to everyone in Ecuador.  This means that your kid has a much better chance of living longer, being healthier, and receiving a better education.  It is now possible to travel – and transport goods – through much of Ecuador.  One of Ecuador’s leading export before Correa was the people of Ecuador.  Ecuador has recently experienced net in-migration.

It is disgusting that in the case of Ecuador much of the U.S. media – with no dissent from any U.S. media (unless you count me as among their number) – channels Romney’s slanders of the American people in order to libel the people of Ecuador as a bunch of moochers.  The people of Ecuador, like the people of the United States, care about their children and their neighbors.  The ordinary person is altruistic, she cares about others.  In Ecuador, as in many nations, some people take seriously the Catholic Church’s social justice teachings and the injunction to focus on the needs of the poor.  Correa is one of those people.  Ayn Rand and the oligarchs famously despise altruism and share Romney’s view that the job of any leader is “not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  For Correa, and any devout Catholic, their faith requires a leader to do the opposite.

Unlike Romney and Rand, when the people of Ecuador see roads, schools, and clinics being built, poverty and inequality reduced, kids’ lives being saved, expanded education, low and declining unemployment, and a growing economy they are delighted and support the head of state that they democratically elected.  That makes them humans with high moral values.

Solano’s slander

This passage:  “Correa’s generous social welfare programs have won him 70 percent approval ratings among Ecuadoreans.…” should be required reading in every journalism program in the world.  It is vital that we learn in any profession from those times when members of our profession bring it into disgrace by their conduct.

I am a lawyer and law professor (among many sins).  We teach our students even today this cautionary tale about the damage lawyers can do to the world and our profession.  In Plessy v Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), which upheld racial segregation under the rationale of “separate but equal,” the Supreme Court upheld Louisiana’s law segregating rail cars against the claim that the law violated the equal protection clause.  The two sentences from Justice Brown’s opinion for the Court that have haunted Supreme Court Justices of conscience for over a century read:

“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Richard Kluger quotes this passage from Plessy in Simple Justice (1976) and then comments:

“Of all the words ever written in assessment of the Plessy opinion, none have been more withering than those … [of] Yale law professor Charles L. Black, Jr., who [said that in] … the two sentences… ‘The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.’”

I would add the curve of dishonesty to Charles Black’s list.  (No, I’m not related.)

Associated Press writer Gonzalo Solano crafted the sentence about the people of Ecuador in which the curves of callousness, stupidity, and dishonesty “intersect at their respective maxima.”  He doubtless had an AP editor.  Journalism students need to read truly terrible acts of “journalism” that cause them to cringe and be determined to never “pull a Solano.”

The wall of shame should not be limited to journalism students.  American and European business schools should add the names of thousands of their graduates to their walls of shame.

Rather than suing the long line of reporters that libel him, Correa should consider creating Ecuador’s wall of shame not only for journalists but corrupt members of the private, non-profit, and governmental sectors.  Perhaps the Chinese government would fund the creation of a Great Wall of shame in Ecuador.

4 responses to “Ecuador and the Media’s Selective “Victim” Memes

  1. Charles Fasola

    I recently spent two weeks in a country with unrivaled natural beauty, extremely friendly inhabitants who seemed hopeful and positive that a better future will be theirs. It’s a place where you can feel secure, and not unsafe in any way. After considerable research and upon physically visiting that place, I’ve made the decision to not only go back in the very near future, but also to become a permanent resident there. That place is Ecuador. It is, in my opinion, everything my home country, the US, is not. Among the most important of those things is the feeling that I live in a democracy; with a government that functions in the best interest of all of the people and which serves public purpose. I certainly never felt during my albeit brief time in Ecuador that I was in the grips of a stasi style police state; as I unfortunately believe I reside in currently. I never felt, for even the briefest moment the slightest fear of the police, which is the only real fear I have now. National Governments which function with public purpose in mind, which are populist and democratic will not nor cannot be tolerated by the corporatist state. Nations that seek to blend socialist and true free-market ideologies, not the corporate welfare state that is anything but “free-market” which exists in the US, must be disabled and replaced by governments that will bow down and serve the US and multi-national corporate interests. Please do not take this in any way as an endorsement of the current capitalist system. Since in the end capitalism and democratic government cannot coexist.

  2. Paul de Pablo

    Correa made “lynching by the press” (defined as repeatedly targeting a person by one or more media outlets in order to ruin their reputation) a crime (…is this not what the government run press did with Ms. Roldos?). The elite police forces were sent to confiscate the computers of a senator because they may have contained copies of leaked emails (… possessing leaked government emails can get you jail in Ecuador) so… 1+1 =? There is a double standard here even if you are correct, that Roldos is unpopular opposition, NED is CIA and that Correa is really a free press champion – something is just not right! As an Ecuadorian citizen I applaud the new infrastructure and attention to the poor and health care, but this cannot come at the expense of basic civil liberties, separation of powers, and freedom of the press. If it does, we will become an (more developed) autocracy and that in Latin American con only look like Venezuela and Cuba, wonderful places to live!

  3. Joe Firestone

    This is a really great post!

  4. I have not seen such persecution as you say Mr. de Paulo. Correa definitely has more power than the rest of us. But he has not used the power he could to suppress freedom as is in place in the USA where your political position is enough reason for accusations and in other countries where targeted attacks assassinate people.