As tensions in Venezuela increase between Russia-backed Nicolas Maduro and U.S.-backed Juan Guaido, the reality of opposing interests between the United States and Russia is becoming increasingly salient in each country’s media coverage.
Media coverage concerning Venezuela is highly polarized in America and Russia; each country’s respective outlets provide a biased perspective on the conflict
— Forbes (@Forbes) January 25, 2019
On February 23, aid trucks caught fire on a bridge when they were stopped before reaching their destination in Venezuela. American media coverage immediately began blaming the Maduro regime for burning trucks full of humanitarian aid. Outlets, pundits and government officials denounced Maduro for deliberately burning millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid that could have reached Venezuelans in need.
However, as a recent New York Times exposé revealed, this narrative was entirely false. The piece explained that the trucks actually burned as the result of a stray molotov cocktail thrown by an anti-Maduro protestor who unwittingly set the truck ablaze.
A Venezuelan opposition journalist, however, claimed that the aid trucks were being burned by pro-Maduro forces. This lie was propagated by American media outlets and officials including Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the head of USAID, Mark Green.
The exposé does not explain why media outlets, including The New York Times, propagated this falsehood for nearly a week before correcting the record.
Masked thugs, civilians killed by live rounds, and the burning of trucks carrying badly-needed food and medicine. This has been Maduro’s response to peaceful efforts to help Venezuelans. Countries that still recognize Maduro should take note of what they are endorsing. pic.twitter.com/KlSebd2M5a
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 23, 2019
Before the Times’ stunning piece, independent journalist Max Blumenthal and Russian state propaganda networks had already reported the truth. The case of the burning aid trucks serves as a prime example of what happens when biases undermine critical journalism.
American media’s coverage of Venezuela had significant effects on real-world policy. Following the humanitarian aid burning, the Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions on Venezuelan officials, claiming that “Maduro-controlled groups…set some humanitarian aid trucks ablaze.” Statements put out by the State Department, Juan Guaido, and other government officials further illustrate the damaging and far-reaching effects poor reporting has on global affairs.
In contrast, Russian state media have been unyieldingly pro-Maduro. Despite reluctance by Russian state media to criticize the regime or its policies, a slew of articles reveal negative attitudes toward American involvement in the country and toward opposition leader Juan Guaido. While Russia Today does not have the same influence on American policymakers and leaders as American media, all press continue to play an important part in Venezuelan politics.