THE HOUSTON Chronicle editorial board got it right today. Hugo Chavez, the dead Venezuelan dictator was "a vitriolic socialist ideologue . . . who used his nation's oil wealth to welcome and abet anti-American terrorists the world over."
His tantrums and tirades were memorable . . . the late dictator . . . quickly morphed into a bully . . . throwback to a leftist revolutionary . . . sumbolized by Cuba's superannuated strongman Fidel Castro . . . . (Editorial, "Strongman's death opens new path for Venezuela," March 7, 2013)
More could have been said, but what was said was right.
Meanwhile, however, the news side -- long a friendly venue for Chavismo -- gave the dead dictator the warmest of goodbyes. He was a "dreamer," said the headline.
The facts of the story were selective, the tone admiring, Mr. Chavez's hard-left ideology all-but-endosed. In snips below, pay special attention to connotative words, which I have italicized. The vocabulary is friendly and uncritically positive, designed to give readers a good opinion of Mr. Chavez.
Rose from poverty in a dirt-floor adobe house . . . unrivaled influence . . . consolidating power . . . wielding the country's oil reserves as a tool for his Socialist-inspired change. . . gift for oratory . . . a dreamer with a common touch . . . not a stock figure . . . mixed ancestry . . . despised a power structure dominated by Europeanized elites . . . hated hunting down guerrillas . . . rose to power in democratic elections . . . upended the political order . . . sought to unite the region and erode Washington's influence . . . "The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species," he said in a 2006 speech . . . succeeded in curbing U.S. influence . . . breathed life into Cuba . . . [Cuba's] revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, was not only an ally but an inspiration . . . forged a Bolivarian alliance . . . applauded when they expelled U.S. ambassadors . . . asserted greater state control over Venezuela's economy . . . enjoyed broad support . . . [he went] into the slums to establish health clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and state-run stores selling subsidized food. . . .
Let's stop here and take note that the slum-visiting, clinic-establishing, food-subsidizing dictator all but destroyed the Venezuela economy, so that the shelves in the stores were often -- in recent times, are usually -- bare.
Cuban doctors -- men and women who had no choice in the matter -- staffed the clinics because Venezuelan doctors had fled the country.
And walking home from the subsidized grocers and Cuban-staffed clinics grew ever more dangerous as street crime soared.
In fairness, the Chronicle story alludes to a few -- certainly not all -- problems in the workers' paradise, but in abstract language, not with the detail and warmth associated with the dictator's alleged good works.
In the first item below, note that Venezuela's current oil production is mentioned, but not how much it has fallen since he came to office, before he fired technocrats in the state-owned oil and gas company and replaced them with political cronies.
One of the world's largest oil exporters, with net exports of 1.7 million barrels per day . . . populist political ascent . . . drawing inspiration from the leftist military officers who ruled Peru and Panama in the 1970s . . . .
The Chronicle saved the worst paragraph in his horrible story for the end.
Private investors, unhinged over Chavez's nationalizations and expropriations threats, halted projects.
What's unhinged about shutting down operations when the government nationalizer knocks on your door? What's the point of continuing? Halting projects is rational, not unhinged.
As for "expropriation threats," they were far more than threats. The government carried them out, often in violation of the laws of Venezuela, international law, and contracts.
Some Chronicle editor should be fired for the story, then fire again for unhinged. He should be marched out the door by rent-a-cops with his Che poster and other belongings in a cardboard box.
Only one paragraph out of the whole miserable story could be said to be fair-minded about the fallen dreamer. Notice that it reports in the words of a critical bystander, sanitized by quotation marks. By contrast, the paeans to the bad man are asserted as truth in the words of the reporter, without attribution and without evidence.
[Quoting Daniel Yergin:] "He leaves behind an economy greatly weakened by spending, intervention, inflation[,] capital flight, and shortages. And, beyond Cuba his effort to create an alliance against what he called 'the U.S. empire' managed to enlist a few countries. Without his charisma and force of character, it is not [at?] all clear how his successors will maintain the system he created."
No mentions of his support for Iran and North Korea.
No mentions of his support for terrorists.
No mentions of his destruction of the liberal order: democracy, the rule of law, and free markets -- the foundations of personal freedom and economic prosperity.
The destruction of the liberal order is the universal ideology of the the world's unending supply of caudillos and other authoritarians. They all try to do it, and when they succeed, they all leave their countries in shambles.
He did it. He succeeded. He left his country in shambles. That's the story.
The Chronicle's news-side obituary of this clownish despot praised him, in effect, for what the writer evidently regarded as his good intentions, without fairly or fully reporting on the extraordinary harm he did to his country and his people.
A few years back the Chronicle employed a leftist reporter in Latin America, John Otis, who might as well have received half his salary from Venezuela's propaganda ministry. When he was let go, I thought the newspaper's love affair with Hugo Chavez had ended.
Oh, by the way, don't look for the offending story on the Web. You'll have to dig up yesterday's newspaper. (_____, "Dreamer leaves Venezula in uncertainty," March 6).