(CNSNews.com) - Higher oil prices generate more media attacks on oil companies and their executives, but the anti-American behavior and alleged human rights violations of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez receive much less critical coverage from network news, according to a free market group dedicated to challenging media misconceptions about free enterprise.
Chavez, whose nationalized oil industry owns Citgo, one of America's most popular gasoline retailers, is the focus of a study by the Free Market Project (FMP) entitled "Hugo the Boss." The FMP analyzed 139 stories that ABC, CBS and NBC aired about Chavez from Dec. 1, 1998, the month he took office, until Feb. 26, 2006.
"As energy prices have spiked and world demand increased, the United States' reliance on oil controlled by Venezuela's anti-American despot Hugo Chavez has become a real danger. But it's a danger the networks barely even mention," said Dan Gainor, director of the FMP, which is a division of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of Cybercast News Service.
Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, only six years after being jailed for trying to overthrow that nation's government, Gainor said. Since then, talk of his nation's status as the fifth-largest oil-producing country in the world has frequently been mentioned in stories aired by the three broadcast networks.
However, only four reports (3 percent) mentioned Chavez's control of one of the most common company names in the gasoline industry: Citgo. Chavez's human rights record -- radical rhetoric, crackdowns on the free press and an attempted coup that cost dozens of lives -- received only slightly more coverage (10 percent).
"While broadcast reporters worried about dangers of foreign firms running American ports, they paid no attention to Chavez and his latest threats to cut off oil to the United States," Gainor said.
According to the Feb. 21, 2006, issue of the Financial Times, Chavez "insisted the U.S. would receive 'no more oil' if it 'crossed the line' in its supposed efforts to undermine his 'revolution.'" That new threat was only acknowledged by CBS.
The Free Market Project also concluded the following from its investigation:
-- 'Left-leaning' like John Kerry: The media downplayed the radical politics of Chavez by using the same terms they used for Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Walter Mondale. Few stories even acknowledged the anti-American nature of Chavez's regime.
Chavez himself has put it in harsher terms. A Feb. 5, 2006, Reuters report quoted him as saying: "The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush."
The Venezuelan ruler has repeatedly sided with a rogues' gallery of America's enemies, including Cuba's Fidel Castro, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and recently, the regime in Iran.
-- The man behind Citgo: Chavez exerts complete control over the state oil company which, in turn, owns one of America's most famous gasoline retailers -- Citgo. That amounted to $785 million in profits for Venezuela in 2005. Only four stories (3 percent) acknowledged the connection with Citgo.
-- Wrongs, not rights: None of the networks paid any significant attention to the many human rights abuses of the Chavez regime. Left-wing groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch complained about murders, detentions, assaults on press freedom and control of the judiciary, but only 10 percent (14 out of 139) of the news stories made any mention of any human rights violations. The phrase "human rights" was used in only one story about Chavez's regime.
-- Turning up the heat on Bush: The broadcast networks all did a story about Chavez's oil "gift" to America's poor, and each one managed to find a Democratic spokesman and a recipient who were happy to ignore Chavez's politics. That low-cost aid, handled through Citgo, is now being investigated by Congress.
"The last year has easily proven the media willing to go after oil companies for almost any action -- even running successful businesses," Gainor said. "If that is the network strategy, then it should be fair to expect the same attitude when it comes to a man who is both openly anti-American and anti-free press.
"Even by the networks' scandalously incomplete coverage of the Venezuelan regime, Chavez is an enemy of liberty," he added. "That should be the Hugo Chavez who receives in-depth coverage and is clearly labeled each and every time he appears."
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