What is the U.S. Media up to in its Coverage of Ecuador?

By William K. Black

If the Obama administration wanted to improve relations with Latin America the most obvious move would be to seek closer ties with Ecuador.  Ecuador has been transformed into a nation with a stable political system, a head of state reelected by enormous margins in free elections, substantial economic progress, and a pragmatic development program.  That program embraces policies that even the Washington Consensus praised that focus government expenditures on health, education, and infrastructure.  The policies also champion an idea most identified with the conservative economist Hernando de Soto – making it far easier for entrepreneurs to start new businesses.  President Correa is the leader who continues to surprise his friends and foes by taking steps that make economic sense even if they are identified with the “right” while keeping a relentless focus on the needs of the poor.  That focus on the poor comes from Correa’s Catholic social justice beliefs that the Pope has recently been returning to centrality.

Obama could work with Correa who could in turn play the role of honest broker and help the U.S. reestablish more positive relations with Latin America.  Instead, Obama is continuing the Bush policy of hostility to Correa.  Correa has often been sharply critical of U.S. policy.

Over time, the public has learned that Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have become the leading enemies of privacy and media freedom.  The NSA, the prosecution of whistleblowers, and the many cover ups have, ironically, become public through whistleblowers’ revelations.  This has proved embarrassing to the meme that the Obama administration has been using as its central attack on progressive Latin American leaders – the claim that they are engaged in a war against media freedom.  (It should also be embarrassing that Latin American nations can impose severe liability on journalists found to have committed libel because their libel laws are so similar to the U.K.’s laws and that the Obama administration is eagerly trying to expand media liability for non-libelous publications that disclose the NSA’s massive spying operations on media throughout the world.)  The media are, understandably, useful to Obama and Cameron in leading the attacks on progressive Latin American leaders under this astonishingly hypocritical and facially ridiculous meme that Ecuador, not the U.S. and the U.K., poses the grave threat to global press freedom.

My personal views are that all of these media restraints are unconscionable and should be removed.  I support the broad U.S. constitutional protections for criticisms of “public figures” as the best policy.

The latest attack on Correa opened its U.S. front through a January 14, 2014 AP story entitled “Ecuador Politician Complains of Email Hacking.”

On my first reading I found the story frustrating because I could not figure out what had happened, and assumed that an editor had chopped paragraphs out of the story that had contained the necessary explanations.  On my second reading I realized that the story was actually carefully crafted to obscure and twist the facts necessary to understand the story and to consistently slant the language to convey that whatever was going on there was a clear victim and villain (Correa).  So, I did a bit of background research and read the story a third time with the necessary, but contested, factual background.

Pronouncing guilt without facts

Here is how the AP story starts out.  Notice that the journalist, working from Peru, pronounces the government of Ecuador guilty by the second paragraph, through the use of innuendo.

“LIMA, Peru — Electronic documents published by an Ecuadorean state-run newspaper in a report alleging an opposition politician sought U.S. help to undermine President Rafael Correa’s leftist government were stolen from her email, she and others affected allege.

The case appears to be the first of an Ecuadorean public figure’s electronic privacy being violated for political ends. Press freedom activists called it another sign of eroding civil liberties in this Andean nation.

The victim, Martha Roldos, told The Associated Press she believes someone allied with or in the government is to blame. She said officials are worried about the investigative news agency she hopes to create and are engaging in “character assassination.”

TV spots depicting Roldos as an enemy of the state began airing Monday night on a state-owned channel and an article last week in the government newspaper El Telegrafo presented evidence it claimed “exposed” Roldos’ effort to get U.S. help for hurting Correa’s administration.”

So, someone, and neither Ms. Roldos nor anyone quoted in the story knows who, leaked some of Roldos’ emails to the media, which criticized her based on the contents of those emails.  How does the journalist know who leaked her messages?  Well, she doesn’t.  She simply “believes someone allied with or in the government is to blame.”  That’s it.  I “believe” lots of things but I have never been able to get the AP to print something simply because I “believe” it.

Let’s examine Roldos’ phrase “someone allied with or in the government.”  That could mean about 80% of Ecuadorians because that’s roughly what Correa’s approval rating is.  It is probably true that someone who doesn’t like her or her policies leaked the documents to the media, but that group includes the overwhelming majority of people in Ecuador so it isn’t much forensic help in narrowing the pool of suspects.  To review the bidding at this point in the article, we have no facts demonstrating that the Correa administration had any role in stealing her email messages.  All we have is the personal “belief” of Roldos that someone who supports the Correa administration probably leaked her emails to the media.

The complainants’ personal animus against Correa – oh, did I forget to mention it?

Roldos is a prominent politician who once ran, very unsuccessfully, against Correa and who despises him.  Ah, well not to worry, the AP journalist did not think that alerting the reader to Roldos’ personal animus against Correa would be worthwhile.

First we pronounce Correa guilty

Two paragraphs later in the story, without any additional facts, the villain who leaked her emails to the media is revealed.

“The author of one email cited by the paper, analyst Adam Isacson of the left-leaning Washington Office on Latin America, called the incident an alarming sign that Correa is ‘stooping’ to dirty tricks.”

Isacson, of course, has no factual basis for that claim.  Fortunately, AP journalism does not require any factual basis for attacks on Correa, so Isacson’s unsupported assertion of Correa’s guilt is treated as if it were gospel by AP and the New York Times.

We’re just musing hypothetically about how terrible Correa must be “if” he’s guilty 

But it gets better.  In the very next sentence we read: “‘If indeed it is the government, this is sleazy and anti-democratic in the first order and plainly a violation of human rights,’ Isacson said.”  Notice the “if”?  Isacson has no facts and admits he has no facts, but that admission is only implicit if you read the story very carefully and it came after the journalist uses the fact-free Isacson to personally attack Correa.  Notice also that the journalist uses Isacson’s “if” to allow him to launch a second attack – a trinity – calling the Correa administration “sleazy,” anti-democratic,” and a “violat[or]” of “human rights.”  Wow, and if the journalist is a rapist then he is a terrible person.  Think of the articles we can all write attacking our foes using the AP’s magic “if” to make baseless smears – in an article that the AP eventually retitled to claim that Roldos was the victim of a “smear.”

“Ecuador politician claims email hacking in smear.”

The press smear that falsely denounces Correa for (not) smearing Roldos

One has to admire the chutzpah of the AP, the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s (among many papers) use of classic smear tactics unsupported by any facts to attack Correa for allegedly “smearing” Roldos.  The brazenness of their hypocrisy is matched only by the intensity of their self-satisfaction with their own smear.

I cannot imagine why Correa would be upset with the media given the professionalism and fairness it displays in its coverage of him.  I guess being “thin skinned” is the only possible explanation.

OK, so we get it.  The media really, really, really hate Correa and they will print any attack on him no matter how unsupported by the facts and no matter that the source of the attack has no facts implicating Correa but tremendous personal animus against Correa.

Oh, the criticisms of Roldos were based on facts and were not a smear

So what facts did the emails disclose?  It turns out that the Correa administration is criticizing Roldos for seeking funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  Roldos is seeking funding from NED.  The Correa administration’s criticism of Roldos is not a “smear.”  She is seeking foreign funding from a group that the United States has in fact used to destabilize Latin American nations by funding a wide range of critics of governments the U.S. would like to see fall.

The AP journalist does not deny that fact, but tries to imply that NED has gotten out of the business of destabilizing democratically elected governments that the U.S. administration wishes to remove from power.

“El Telegrafo claimed Roldos’ news agency is a front for political activity. It called the endowment a front for CIA subversion of unfriendly regimes.

The bipartisan-run endowment, funded with U.S. taxpayer dollars, was created in 1983 during the Cold War and has undergone significant change since. Isacson noted that one recent endowment fellow is a Colombian journalist who has exposed abuses by that country’s right.”

Note that the AP does not deny that NED was “a front for CIA subversion of unfriendly regimes.”  Given the NED’s track record and admissions by NED’s leaders it would not be credible to deny that fact.

The July 30, 2013 CEPR article shows in detail NED’s continuing extreme hostility to progressive leaders elected in Latin America, NED’s dishonest statements attacking those leaders, and recent, specific, dishonest NED attacks on Correa.  NED has throughout its history been a virulent opponent of every progressive leader elected in Latin America.  NED’s goal is to seek to remove such leaders from power.  The AP presents NED funding one Colombian journalist “who has exposed abuses by that country’s right” as its sole support for the claim that NED “has undergone significant change” and no longer opposes progressive Latin American leaders.  But CEPR has documented NED’s continuing opposition to every progressive Latin American leader.  The Colombian right includes some of the biggest drug dealers in the world.  The U.S. wants to discredit them, but that does not mean it wants progressive leaders to be elected in Colombia or anywhere else in Latin America.

There was a leak by persons unknown to the media of documents showing that a prominent politician in Ecuador was seeking funding from a notorious U.S. group used to destabilize Latin American governments led by democratically elected progressives.  There have been three attempted coups against those progressive leaders – the coup in Venezuela that was initially successful (which the U.S. rushed to recognize as legitimate), the successful coup in Honduras, and the unsuccessful (probable) coup attempt in Ecuador against Correa.  The United States supported the coup in Venezuela and implicitly supported the coup in Honduras (our reaction was inconsistent and our words and our actions did not mesh).  The (probable) coup attempt in Ecuador failed too rapidly to judge the U.S. reaction.  Roldos is well aware of NED’s disgraceful history in Latin America and the acute threat it poses to Ecuador.

Putting Roldos’ actions in an American perspective

Roldos was not the “victim” of a “smear.”  To put the affair in the U.S. context, it would be as if Mitt Romney, having lost the election to Obama, sought financing from the FSB (the renamed KGB) to create a group tasked to discredit and bring down the democratically elected U.S. government (Obama).  (Romney obviously would not state that task openly.  He’d tell the FSB he wanted funding to create a group of investigative journalists who would investigate the Obama administration’s rampant corruption and abuses of power.  But no one sentient would be fooled.  They would understand exactly the true nature of the deal because of the FSB’s track record.)  That would be a gigantic news story in the U.S. and “Romney the Russian” would be denounced as a traitor.  The newspaper that received the leaked emails that broke the story of Romney’s seeking funding from the FSB would be praised for its actions and the reporters would receive Pulitzer Prizes.  Woodward and Bernstein would be eclipsed because the involvement of a powerful, hostile foreign nation would have made the story far more important than Watergate and on a par with the Zimmerman Telegram (also purloined), which was important to the U.S. entry into World War I.

In the case of Ecuador, however, a purported spokesman for press freedom denounces El Telegrafo for criticizing Roldos.

“Press advocate Cesar Ricaurte of the Fundamedios watchdog group said Tuesday that more serious than the email hacking ‘is that a government newspaper publishes this information with persecution in mind.’”

Right!  If the New York Times were given, and published, the hypothetical leaked documents showing that Romney had sought funding from the FSB for the purpose of discrediting and bringing down the President who beat him in the election I’m sure that the reaction of “press advocates” would have been to denounce the NYT for “persecuting” Romney.  The hypocrisy is palpable and the articles are so tendentious that the journalists involved need to visit a detox center and clear their bile before they destroy journalism in their crusade to save it from Correa.

My Nation, not Ecuador, poses the gravest threat to the media

Journalists cannot possibly believe that Ecuador poses the grave threat to journalism.  One very large nation, my Nation, runs the NSA, is engaged in a unholy war to imprison whistleblowers, asserts the right to bomb journalists as a “legitimate” target of war, and has for decades funded journalists (first directly through the CIA and now through NED) with the express goal of destabilizing and removing from power through disorder and coups governments, even democratically-elected governments, that are viewed as “unfriendly” not to the American people, but to American business oligarchs.

NED’s prime target is journalists, particularly Latin American journalists critical of progressive governments.  U.S. administrations understand and fear the power of journalists.  They do everything possible to use NED funding to suborn journalists and divert their attention away from the United States’ global suppression of journalistic freedom.  On a daily basis they use the NSA to secretly copy the communications of thousands of journalists worldwide in part to prevent whistleblowers from making revelations to the press.  They use NED to suborn journalists and target them at progressive governments rather than at the NSA, the CIA, and NED.  Until Snowden it all worked brilliantly.

Journalists should adopt ethical bans on taking funds from intelligence agencies and NED

There is now no excuse for journalists.  They know they were being played by the U.S. and the U.K.  The question is what journalists will do now that they know.  A good start would be for journalists to establish an ethical prohibition in their profession against taking any funding from intelligence agencies and entities like NED and an ethical requirement to disclose any source of funding relevant to any article or report on which they work.


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