One Newspaper, Two Elections: The New York Times on America 2004, Venezuela 2013

In November 2004, 50.7% of the American population voted for George W. Bush; 48.3% voted for John Kerry.

The headline in the New York Times read: “After a Tense Night, Bush Spends the Day Basking in Victory.”

The piece began as follows:

After a long night of tension that gave way to a morning of jubilation, President Bush claimed his victory on Wednesday afternoon, praising Senator John Kerry for waging a spirited campaign and pledging to reach out to his opponent’s supporters in an effort to heal the bitter partisan divide.

“America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens,” Mr. Bush told a victory party that was reconstituted 10 hours after it broke up inconclusively in the predawn hours. “With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans, and I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president.”

Flanked by his wife, Laura, and their daughters, Barbara and Jenna, and Vice President Dick Cheney and his family, Mr. Bush stood smiling and relaxed on a stage at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to thank the campaign team that helped him to a decisive victory, outline his agenda and, 78 days before his second inauguration, speak somewhat wistfully of eventually returning home to Texas.

The Times “News Analysis” read as follows:

It was not a landslide, or a re-alignment, or even a seismic shock. But it was decisive, and it is impossible to read President Bush’s re-election with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country – divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.

Fast forward to 2013. Tonight, 50.6% of the Venezuelan population voted for Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro; 49.1% voted for his opponent Henrique Capriles.

The Times headline this time: “Maduro Narrowly Wins Venezuelan Presidency.”

And here’s how the article begins:

Nicolás Maduro, the acting president and handpicked political heir to Hugo Chávez, narrowly won election to serve the remainder of Mr. Chávez’s six-year term as president of Venezuela, officials said late Sunday. He defeated Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who ran strongly against Mr. Chávez in October.

Election authorities said that with more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Maduro had 50.6 percent to Mr. Capriles’s 49.1 percent. The turnout, while strong, appeared to be somewhat below the record levels seen in October, a sign that Mr. Maduro may not enjoy the same depth of passionate popular support that Mr. Chávez did.

Update (1 am)

Nathan Tankus just pointed out on Twitter another point of comparison I missed: “I love the focus on ‘hand picked successor’. Pretty sure ‘son of former president’ sounds more nepotistic.” Nathan then updated that the phrase was “hand picked political heir,” which makes the comparison even starker!


  1. PhilPerspective April 15, 2013 at 1:07 am | #

    You should submit that as a LTTE.

  2. Bruce Bernstein April 15, 2013 at 1:22 am | #

    excellent piece Corey.

  3. Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 15, 2013 at 1:25 am | #

    You could probably find a thousand more examples of Venezuela coverage just like this. To me it’s infuriating.

  4. Alex K. April 15, 2013 at 2:12 am | #

    But it’s not a fair comparison. US candidates do not seek to win the popular vote nationwide. They fight for the states that matter. Had Bush actually carried Florida in 2000 by a margin of 100,000, he would still have lost the popular vote.

    With Maduro in charge of the vote counting, it is not unthinkable that about 200,000 votes were stolen. (Assuming 19 million eligible voters, 75% participation, 1.5-ppt gap.)

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 15, 2013 at 2:41 am | #

      It’s not a question of who won. To the New York Times, the one election is “the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country.” The other election is “a sign that Mr. Maduro may not enjoy the same depth of passionate popular support that Mr. Chávez did.”

      Actually, though, I am a little shocked by these results. A week ago Maduro was 9 points ahead in opinion polls. What happened to that huge lead??

      • Alex K. April 15, 2013 at 8:00 am | #

        I think the NYT compared Bush’s 2004 result with his own in 2000; and Maduro’s 2013 with Chávez’s 2012. I agree that the NYT’s “center-right” inference was rather weak. Yet its Venezuela logic is more sound. Chávez beat Capriles 55-44% just half a year ago. If Maduro can only manage 50.6% vs 49.1% now, it seems popular support for his party is waning.

    • Geoff April 15, 2013 at 4:44 am | #

      The point of the comparison is that, with a very similar margin of difference in terms of popular vote between the candidates, the New York Times considers Bush’s re-election a clear mandate to govern, while Maduro’s electoral victory is presented in opposite terms: the implication is that doesn’t have a popular mandate. Add to this the fact that while voter turnout in Venezuela dropped between elections, it stell remains well above levels of voter turnout in the US.

      And how is Maduro ‘in charge of the vote counting’? Is he in charge of the electoral commission? Surely, given that earlier polls put him at a 14% lead, he could have managed to steal a few more votes to make the victory more decisive (given that you are implying that he may in fact stole some votes).

      • Alex K. April 15, 2013 at 8:14 am | #

        As I say before, I have to agree that the NYT’s logic leading to the “center-right” conclusion was weak. But the fact is that while Chávez enjoyed a 11 percentage point lead over Capriles six months earlier, Maduro’s lead is tenuous.

        Another fact is that Chávez was president from 1998 to 2013 and his party has had majorities in the parliament since 2000. More importantly, his block controls 80% of the state and municipal governments. That means they are well positioned to play foul during the count. Recall Katherine Harris.

      • YankeeFrank April 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm | #

        Alex K, you do realize that you contradict your supposed point when you raise the Katherine Harris meme: its pretty solid fact that Bush stole Ohio in 2004, and his ostensible control of county election officials and the electronic voting machines all point to his own manipulations… so your point that Maduro’s election is questionable and Bush’s wasn’t is completely contradicted.

    • Richard April 15, 2013 at 6:14 am | #

      Maduro isn’t in charge of the vote counting. The CNE is.

      • Alex K. April 15, 2013 at 8:16 am | #

        Maduro’s block controls the executive in 80% of the states and 80% of the municipalities.

  5. Fallibilist April 15, 2013 at 2:21 am | #

    So this is how a political philosopher does empirics, huh? Time to go back to hermeneutics.

  6. Charles Lemos April 15, 2013 at 3:13 am | #

    To me the issue is the four and half delay that strikes at transparency. Maduro may have indeed won by the 235,000 as the margin now stands but the silence of those four plus hours is concerning and frankly damning. Venezuela’s descent into authoritarianism does not benefit the Latin Left; it allows for the right to paint us with one stroke when the left in Latin American left is one of many shades. Socialism by this Venezuelan path isn’t for me. Socialism requires building societal consensus not the splitting of a country into two.

    • CHris April 21, 2013 at 10:36 am | #

      What authoritarianism?

  7. Joe April 15, 2013 at 6:05 am | #

    In fairness to the NYT, close elections are the norm in the US. This would suggest that a close election would not have the potential to create any political shift. The result in Venezuela certainly represents a swing of fairly large proportions.

    I dont know enough about NYT editiorial policy to say if there is an agenda or not. But this article, to an outsider, does not necessarily provie it.

  8. Dan April 15, 2013 at 7:30 am | #

    Thank you. My concern is there should have been a strong mandate, and there was not.

  9. zenner41 April 15, 2013 at 9:47 am | #

    Certainly the NYT editors have an agenda; they always have. That’s what editors do. But this is (ostensibly) a straight news story. Therefore the question is: did the editors dictate what the reporter had to write, or is this the reporter’s agenda? Or is the reporter pretty accurately describing the actual situation in Venezuela? It’s hard to give a really intelligent response to this matter without answering those questions, and I don’t know enough to answer them.

  10. Paul Rosenberg April 15, 2013 at 9:51 am | #

    Has anyone done a study of the “center-right nation” narrative? My take of these two pieces is that both are simply occasions for the Times to rely on its preconceived notions at hand, and that’s the capstone phrase. Of course, the combined Gore/Nader vote in 2000 would indicate a center-left nation, but somehow we never heard of that. Instead, 2004 is “confirmation” that we’re a center-right nation, meaning that 2000 must not have happened at all. Or maybe the Supreme Court alone channeled the “real America”?

    Indeed, 2004 was the FIRST presidential popular vote the GOP had won since 1988. So, the “center-right nation” narrative would seem to be largely a matter of whistling past the graveyard. Given the GOP’s showing since then, they’re whistling still.

    • Sam Holloway April 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm | #

      I wouldn’t combine those Gore and Nader votes, Mr. Rosenberg, especially not as a representation of general political leanings. A common 2000 election postmortem assumption (assumed particularly by Democrats) is that Nader voters were disgruntled Democrats, or that Nader ‘stole’ votes from Gore. Indeed, the reflexive animosity focused by many Democratic faithful against Nader and his supporters in the aftermath of that debacle would seem to indicate, among other things, a gross misunderstanding among Democratic voters of the motivations of Nader supporters and Green voters. It may also hint at a profound difference between how certain segments of the electorate (i.e. Greens and Nader supporters vis a vis Democrats) define the political ‘left.’

      An even more telling reality is the strong electoral support for Barack Obama among self-identified Democrats and liberals in 2012, despite his administration’s clearly demonstrated corporatist and imperialist leanings. By contrast, look at the laughably miniscule 2012 vote tally for Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. If one must insist upon labeling this country anything-‘left’, then one must at least acknowledge that said ‘left’ has been pulled so far to the right as to strain conception of those two relative directions to the cognitive breaking point. In turn, that would help explain the pretzels of reasoning into which putative liberals and ‘moderates’ must twist themselves in order to denigrate and dismiss the leftist political legacy of Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarian movement.

      • Paul Rosenberg April 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm | #

        Jeeze, Louise! This whole conversation is self-evidently predicated on the broadest possible connotations of “center-right” and “center-left”. I know that die hard Naderites will jump at anything to pound their chests, but this is ridiculous.

        And, yes, as a matter of fact, I DID vote for Nader in 2000. In California.

      • Sam Holloway April 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm | #

        ‘Chest pounding’? Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much, for whatever reason. Meanwhile, isn’t ‘the broadest possible connotations of “center-right” and “center-left”‘ an essentially meaningless description? Which was my point.

        One last question: what difference does it make where you voted for Nader? If you thought him the best candidate on the ballot, why would you have voted for someone else?

      • charliebucket April 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm | #

        I’d agree, but with a caveat: Some nebulous but large portion of Democrats are perfectly aware that their party stinks. Otherwise they wouldn’t trot out the “lesser of two evils” bit again and again in such force every election. These are the center-left contingent, and they really do view the Republicans as significantly more scary in spite of any misgivings about their own party, and they are not center right.

        We also have to figure in the disenfranchised left. The Green’s pathetic 1+% simply cannot be an accurate representation of “the left” in the US. I don’t know, but I’d wager the non-voter left outnumbers the Green left or any other specific left party by a fair margin. Not everyone votes, especially when it looks like one’s vote doesn’t matter, and I saw an enormous number of “why bother” posts on the internet leading up to the last election. This gets pegged as apathy, but that’s poor word cover for the genuine disgust that often generates this decision on election day. That said, I doubt the total non-Democrat left would be more than 10% on even the outside margins – meaning all the nonvoters, Greens, socialists, communists, etc, tallied together. Probably closer to 5% or less.

        On the whole though, I again have to agree with you. Among Obama supporters I know or consistently read, there is quite the contingent that excuses pretty much everything or that adopts the line that “the Democrats are hamstrung by the crazy Right,” which doesn’t bode very well as an analysis of these people as anything but tepid leftists at best. The HuffPo, Oprah/MSM, Nation, Kos, TPM, Wonkette, Comedy Central contingent is by far the biggest and most comfortable bloc in America’s “left” spectrum. Happy with this system; want it tweaked a bit. Very vehement about lots of wedge issues. Like to make fun of their opponents probably more than anything.

        • Paul Rosenberg April 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm | #

          None of this prattling on about “The HuffPo, Oprah/MSM, Nation, Kos, TPM, Wonkette, Comedy Central contingent” has anything at all to do with the original point, which had to do with national VOTING blocks, not the much smaller world of political activists, groupies or hangers on.

      • charliebucket April 17, 2013 at 12:01 am | #

        No, all that prattling on had to do with the question of whether America, including its default left, is “center right” or not, as the NYT bit claims, and as per the question raised by the person I was responding to. And it’s okay for topics to deviate from the original point in any case. People do that when they discuss things. You do not need to participate in it. Carry on with whatever the hell you want to talk about with someone else, by all means. Please.

        • Paul Rosenberg April 17, 2013 at 7:53 am | #

          People also point out how discussions mutate from one topic to another.

    • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 18, 2013 at 4:09 am | #

      It seems to be a general feature of liberal democracy that the people are always to the left of their representatives.

  11. Manny April 15, 2013 at 10:28 am | #

    I guess GWB won a primary or something.

  12. Jimmy April 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm | #

    A salient difference is that, in the case of Bush, there was not believed to be any vote rigging, nor supression, nor other major corruption of the democratic process. Bush won, fair and square, althoug of course this turned out to be a bad result.

    in the case of Chavez there is major suspicion that the voting is rigged; that the result does not reflect the will of the Venezulean people. This should surprise no one, since neither Chavez’s rhetoric nor his history displayed too much respect for liberal values. He never was a liberal, and neither he nor Mr. Maduro have made social or political rights top agenda items.

    • Paul Rosenberg April 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm | #

      This is utterly false. The election in Ohio was DEEPLY flawed, and there was even a minority House investigation. Was it enough to have changed the election? We’ll never know for sure, because we don’t investigate Republican crimes of state.

      Remind me once again how this makes us different?

    • swallerstein April 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm | #

      What evidence do you have that the vote in Venezuela is rigged?

      The normal criticism of Venezuelan elections under Chavez is that they are unfair because Chavinismo controls almost all the media and the opposition gets very little media coverage and that the Chavinistas use their oil money to outspend the opposition, while campaigning.

      However, they use a computer voting system that is difficult to rig.

  13. Alex K. April 16, 2013 at 2:50 am | #

    Just to make it clear – since the thread depth is limited unfortunately – I suspect that state-level republican executives did steal Florida in 2000, and Ohio in 2004 for Bush. What I am arguing – from first principles – is that the Chavez block had many more opportunities for rigging than the Bushites, being in control of most provinces. That is, Maduro should have had dozens of Katherine Harrises at his disposal.

    If it turns out however that Venezuela’s voting system is technically un-riggable, the next big question would be fair access to the media.

    • Naj Dees April 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm | #

      Some people will twist anything – on the BBC a right-wing senator ( sorry can’t remember who) was asked to comment on the Venezuela result. He said it was a dictatorship. He was reminded that Maduro was democratically elected, as was the president of the USA. The senator interrupted and said, “so was Hitler”.

    • Sam Holloway April 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm | #

      If one defines ‘access’ as a percentage of outlets or even media consumers, then Venezuela’s state-run media are at a decided disadvantage.

      • Alex K. April 17, 2013 at 4:08 am | #

        I imagine the relevant bit of stats would be where people are getting their news from. People tend to watch private channels for their entertainment value. If the median viewer devoted 5% of her watching time to government-sponsored news, and 95% to privately-produced entertainment, the report above would be useless.

        For all I know, Venezuela’s private companies produce lots and lots of soap operas (or telenovelas). As for news programming, the two largest TV broadcasters – Televen and Venevisión – have gone “neutral” under pressure from Chávez (which means, among other things, that they had to broadcast his “cadenas”). RCTV news has been effectively silenced. This leaves, of the four major private networks, just one: Globovisión. It has been consistently harassed by authorities and its owner was briefly arrested. It may not be as bad as in Russia, but it’s not fair either.

  14. swallerstein April 17, 2013 at 9:18 am | #

    It seems like allegations of voter fraud are more plausible in Venezuela this time.

    According to opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles:

    535 voting machines did not function, affecting 189, 982 voters.

    Witnesses, named by the opposition, were forced to leave (at times by armed men) in 283 voting centers, affecting 722, 983 voters.

    Around 600,000 dead people are registered to vote.

    The difference between Capriles and Maduro is 234,935 votes.

    Here’s an article in Spanish with the details. I googled it in English, but did not find anything as complete, but then again, I didn’t look all that hard.

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