Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 29, 2013

Letter to the New York Times ombudsman on Hugo Chavez

Filed under: media,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 3:31 pm

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

After reading the hatchet job on Hugo Chavez by Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Cristina Marcano in last Tuesday’s op-ed page, I decided to check the paper’s archives (I am a subscriber) to see if there is a general trend.

I was shocked to discover that a certain Francisco Toro blogs at http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/. He can best be described as having the same relationship to Venezuela that someone like the Miami expatriate community has to Cuba: frothing-at-the-mouth hostility. I suppose that the paper might excuse itself for offering him a blog to spout his propaganda if it didn’t have such a terrible record in its Venezuela reportage.

In doing a bit of digging on Mr. Toro, who received an MSc from the London School of Economics, I discovered that he resigned his from his reporting job in January 2003. Frankly, he should have never been hired in the first place. This is the letter he sent to his editor Patrick J. Lyons:

“After much careful consideration, I’ve decided I can’t continue reporting for the New York Times. As I examine the problem, I realize it would take much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict of interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don’t think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands. For better or for worse, my country’s democracy is in peril now, and I can’t possibly be neutral about that.”

I don’t know. It seems to me that any newspaper trying to persuade the world that it is impartial would have questioned Mr. Toro’s credentials from the get-go. But then again, hiring him was not the first instance of assigning someone to cover Venezuela with a clear animus toward Hugo Chavez.

In 2003 Al Giordano of Narco News provided this background (http://www.narconews.com/Issue30/article584.html) on Juan Forero, Mr. Toro’s predecessor:

•  Also last April, New York Times reporter Juan Forero reported that President Chávez had “resigned” when, in fact, Chávez had been kidnapped at gunpoint. Forero did not source his knowingly false claim. Forero, on April 13, wrote a puff piece on dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona – installed by a military coup – as Carmona disbanded Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitution and sent his shocktroops house to house in a round-up of political leaders in which sixty supporters of Chávez were assassinated. Later that day, after the Venezuelan masses took back their country block by block, Carmona fled the national palace and Chávez, the elected president, was restored to office.

•  Forero – who, Narco News reported in 2001, allowed US Embassy officials to monitor his interviews with mercenary pilots in Colombia, without disclosing that fact in his article – was caught again last month in his unethical pro-coup activities in Venezuela. Narco News Associate Publisher Dan Feder revealed that Forero and LA Times reporter T. Christian Miller had written essentially the same story, interviewing the same two shopkeepers in a wealthy suburb of Caracas, and the same academic “expert” in a story meant to convince readers that a “general strike” was occurring in Venezuela. The LA Times Readers Representative later revealed that Forero and Miller interviewed the shopkeepers together. Neither disclosed that fact.

Now I understand that the NYT hires people like Toro and Forero for a reason. It has the same relationship to the U.S. State Department that Pravda had to the Kremlin. I suppose that the only solution to such incestuous ties is to work for the transformation of an economic system that allows—as A.J. Liebling once put it— freedom of the press to be guaranteed only to those who own one.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect


  1. Good work

    Comment by kannan srinivasan — January 29, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  2. Great stuff.

    Comment by Clifford Saint Claire the Beloved — January 29, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

  3. Francisco Toro writings are like a cross between those of the National Enquirer meets Gossip Mag and morphs into a type of Voltaire Network/PressTV conspiracy theories and “Chronically Clueless” rants ( his main writings are at the Caracas Chronicles) than anything else for those who us keep up on the many aspects of the Bolivarian revolution and the opposition to it.

    But he is even farther away than the 90 miles link, he does travel a lot but last time I heard he was in Japan.

    Rojo Rojito


    Comment by Cort Greene — January 29, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

  4. It goes far beyond the NYT. The Nation posted a notoriously bad hit piece about Chavez several years ago, as does the Guardian from time to time. Chavez is one of the great examples providing that there is no such thing as a mainstream progressive media organization in the US. You can publish something positive about al Qaeda in US media before you can say something favorable about Chavez. It is an iron clad rule.

    Comment by Richard Estes — January 29, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

  5. What is the essence of Chomsky’s suit against Chavez? Is he trying to display some anti-state bona fides?

    Comment by kjs — January 30, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  6. Thank you for writing this letter. It frustrates me to no end that someone like Toro is given so much opportunity to spin his lies and dishonesty about Venezuela.

    Comment by pcv — January 30, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

  7. I should add that I myself have been pondering for over a year now how best to get Francisco Toro removed from his current position as a contributer to the New York Time’s Latitude blog. After adopting a temporary strategy of compiling in the comments section a list of the lies contained in each of his posts, I had to stop out of fear that all my efforts were doing was driving traffic to the site. I think I’ll penn my own letter to the Omsbudsman to make sure he gives this matter a well-deserved look.

    Comment by pcv — January 31, 2013 @ 12:23 am

  8. Oh, here’s a link to Toro calling someone an “asshole” in the comments section YESTERDAY for no reason at all. The dude is unhinged.

    Comment by pcv — January 31, 2013 @ 12:28 am

  9. Hugo Chavez, the people of Venezuela and Citgo were the only ones who helped impoverished Americans who can’t afford heating oil. Connecticut, where I live, has seen deep cuts to local assistance programs and with the brutal winter and hurricane Sandy damage, if it wasn’t for Chavez, many would freeze to death in their own homes. Chavez has my respect, not criticism. He cares certainly more than our government does.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — February 4, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

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