Seven years ago, the left's greatest South American hate object, Augusto Pinochet, passed away. Never mind how he used free-market reforms to modernize Chile. Never mind that after 15 years of rule, he allowed a national plebiscite to vote against him, and he stepped down peacefully. The left-wing outrage pulsed on the front pages.
The Washington Post headline for Pinochet in 2006 was "A Dictator's Dark Legacy." Reporters Monte Reel and J.Y. Smith stated his government "murdered and tortured thousands during his repressive 17-year rule ... leaving a legacy of abuse that took successive governments years to catalogue." His death left "incomplete numerous court cases that had sought to bring him to justice." In other words, he was a right-wing dictator.
But for Chavez, about as committed a leftist dictator as you'll find in South America, the Post's headline was neutral: "Anti-U.S. leader had promised revolution: Venezuela's leftist president sought change across region." Reporter Juan Forero said Chavez "went from a young conspiratorial soldier who dreamed of revolution to the fiery anti-U.S. leader of one of the world's great oil powers." Forero also noted right upfront that Chavez had held power since 1999, "longer than any democratically elected leader in the Americas."
Deep inside the paper, in a second story about the "outpouring of grief from the poor masses," Forero added niggling details of that "democracy" in action. "He was able to take control of the courts, the congress, and all other institutions, while forcing some of his toughest opponents into exile." Helluva democracy, that.
In 2006, The New York Times headline screamed Pinochet was a "Dictator Who Ruled By Terror in Chile." Jonathan Kandell of the Times began the article by describing him as "the brutal dictator who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption." He was "never brought to trial." Both the Post and the Times used post-Pinochet government estimates that more than 3,000 people were executed or disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship. But for Chavez, the headline was "Chavez Dies at 58 With Venezuela In Deep Turmoil." Then came this subhead: "Crowds Mass in Capitol, Mourning Populist Who Defied U.S." The first three words of the story were "President Hugo Chavez." He wasn't called a "dictator," although Venezuela was "a country he dominated for 14 years," and his death "casts into doubt the future of his socialist revolution."
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