The same old media misinformation story repeated in Bolivia

The pattern should be familiar to any observer of the US media. When the US government wants to discredit the leader of a nation that it dos not like, it trumps up some charge, gets some ostensibly neutral party (that is often covertly funded by the CIA or other US government agency) to support the charge, and much of the mainstream US media obediently snaps into line and parrots the charge, providing cover for those who want to overthrow that country’s leader. Then long after the overthrow has occurred, the US media that led the charge quietly acknowledge that the basis on which they called for the overthrow was wrong. But the damage has been done.

This happens over and over again and Glenn Greenwald provides the latest example, in this case the coup that overthrew Evo Morales as president of Bolivia in 2019, forced him into exile, and replaced him with a strongly pro-US leader who has suppressed the indigenous population.

Once he fled, Bolivia’s first-ever president from the country’s Indigenous population was replaced by a little-known, white, far-right senator, Jeanine Áñez, from the country’s minority European-descendent, Christian, wealthy region. Her new, unelected government promptly massacred dozens of Indigenous protesters and then vested the responsible soldiers with immunity. Seven months later, Áñez predictably continues to rule Bolivia as “interim president” despite never having run for president, let alone having been democratically elected.

Prior to the coup, the New York Times played up a report by the Organization of American States (OAS) that claimed that their audit team had found that there was fraud in the elections that resulted in Morales winning. This was trumpeted by US defense secretary of state Mike Pompeo and echoed all across mainstream US media including Mother Jones, once a progressive magazine but now a liberal one, a far cry from its past.

But as usual, the two news outlets most influential in disseminating and ratifying false anti-democratic claims from the U.S. government were the Washington Post and — though they neglected to mention it in their article yesterday on the debunked OAS findings — the New York Times itself. The Post, in its article the day after Morales was forced to leave, ratified the election fraud accusation in its headline: “Bolivia’s Morales resigns amid scathing election report, rising protests.” The article heralded the findings of what it called “the multilateral organization,” noting that the OAS found Morales’s victory “was marred by profound irregularities.”

The New York Times similarly and repeatedly hyped the OAS report as proof that Morales’s victory was illegitimate and the coup therefore democratic. “An independent international audit of Bolivia’s disputed election concluded that former President Evo Morales’s officials resorted to lies, manipulation and forgery to ensure his victory,” its news article claimed, without a syllable of critical pushback until the penultimate paragraph, where it noted that “some economists and statisticians in the United States” had pointed to flaws in the OAS’s data analysis.

But the NYT now admits the correctness of another study that critiqued the OAS audit and that there was nowhere near the level of fraud that would have invalidated Morales’s win. But the evidence that the audit was flawed was there even at the time of the coup, something that the US media conveniently ignored as it pushed the US propaganda line.

All along, there was ample reason to seriously doubt, if not outright reject, the OAS accusations of election irregularities and voter fraud. As CEPR’s Jake Johnston said today in response to the New York Times article:

For those paying close attention to the 2019 election, there was never any doubt that the OAS’ claims of fraud were bogus. Just days after the election, a high-level official inside the OAS privately acknowledged to me that there had been no “inexplicable” change in the trend, yet the organization continued to repeat its false assertions for many months with little to no pushback or accountability.

Yet those reasons for doubting the OAS accusations were barely ever even mentioned, let alone vested with credibility, by the U.S. media or its leading foreign policy commentators. Instead, as the MIT scholars wrote in the Washington Post, “the media largely reported the allegations of fraud as fact.” That’s because whenever it comes to changing a foreign country’s government that is disliked by the U.S., the U.S. media reflexively sides with the U.S. State Department and ceases to report and instead engages in pro-government propaganda.

I have found it a good rule of thumb to never, ever believe the reports in mainstream US media about foreign leaders that the US government either likes or hates. They will have a few facts here and there but will mostly be propaganda consisting of puff pieces about the leaders the US likes or hatchet pieces on those it dislikes. One should be particularly wary of the so-called ‘liberal’ media in the US because they are especially prone to this kind of misinformation. They are always sensitive to the charge that they are not patriotic and so seize upon any reason to support US government actions against another country to deflect that charge.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … US defense secretary Mike Pompeo …

    Pompeo’s checkered career has taken him from the House of Representatives to the CIA to the State Dept, but he has never (dis)graced the Defense Department except for a stint as an Army captain in the ’80s.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    “once a progressive magazine but now a liberal one”

    Can you clarify the difference please?

  3. Mano Singham says

    sonofrojblake @#4,

    Rather than definitions of the two labels, it is better to compare stances on issues. Progressives want far more substantial changes in society ithan liberals do. A rough guide would be that the issues Bernie Sanders stood for (such as Medicare For All) were progressive ones. The issues that Joe Biden (and before him Hillary Clinton) stood for (such as Obamacare) were liberal ones.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 sonofrojblake
    I think in UK terms a US liberal is a bit to the right of Theresa May while a progressive be a main-stream David Cameron-like Tory. Some one like Jeremy Corbyn would be a wild-eyed raving godless Communist.

    If you remember Tony Benn or Ken Livingston, they would be devils incarnate.

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