When Frames Go Bad: My Apology to NYT Reporter Jens Erik Gould

    by Benjamin Melançon
    February 1, 2008

    A previous post of mine had an inflammatory headline unjustified by the text: “Lies about Venezuela: If NYT.com ran Related Content“.

    I was guilty of looking at Jens Erik Gould’s article, “Venezuela’s Fateful Choice,” through a frame: that major media coverage overwhelmingly seeks to portray the Venezuelan government as illegitimate and bad. My own view (frame) that the New York Times has that overall frame overrode a good analysis of the article. I apologize specifically to the reporter. Gould’s article, while (despite the headline) primarily about accusations that the Venezuelan government lacks financial transparency, was not by itself part of the anti-democratic, pro-elite frame which I accuse the New York Times of employing against Venezuela. (Broadly, this frame or lens is applied by major U.S. media against the world.)

    On the other hand, Ben Sargent, whose cartoon (“Phony Elections Emporium”) the New York Times ran online and that I also cited, owes Venezuela an apology.


    Further, I was writing as an activist: I was looking to make this point quickly, before the election. I was afraid of what would happen if the referendum on the Constitution went the other way, with a narrow victory for those in favor. I believed, and still believe, that this would have been used as an excuse for destabilizing the Venezuelan government by powerful groups in Venezuela, with the aid of the U.S. government, while the New York Times looks on approvingly.

    (I cannot help wonder what impact a similar understanding might have had on some voters in Venezuela – “do we skip a mixed bag of reforms we seem to be getting on all right without, or risk another imposed crisis?” – given very recent events in Venezuela and their Caribbean neighbor Haiti.)

    My intention with that post was to make it a little more difficult for the New York Times and other media to continue with their frame that Venezuela’s government is undemocratic and bad. The polls I cited had been accurate before, and other polls incorrect; but if my primary motive had been predictive, I would have picked up on and conveyed undercurrents that suggested the close result.


    Of course, the referendum lost narrowly, and Hugo Chavéz quickly conceded on behalf of the pro-reform side. This should have made it impossible for the media to continue with their frame.

    The New York Times editorial the next day, “A Tale of Two Strongmen,” lumped Venezuela’s hard-fought, carefully counted election together with Russia’s spectacle: “Voters on Sunday gave a split decision to two of the world’s most prominent and problematic authoritarian leaders.” (Please note that no political parties have been banned and no chess grand masters, offering themselves as token opposition, have been arrested in Venezuela.)

    Whose frame is overall more correct, or at least proving less impervious to reality?

    Tagged: venezuela

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