For Immediate Release
USA Today, AP Mislead on Honduran Coup
NEW YORK - This week, ousted Honduran
President Manuel Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa--though not to office.
Unfortunately, press accounts are still misreporting the story behind
his ouster, relying on those who supported the coup to supply the
explanation for their actions.
Some of the most misleading coverage has appeared in the Associated Press dispatches that have run in USA Today. The paper's September 22 edition ran this from the AP:
an alliance with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and tried to
alter the nation's constitution. Zelaya was arrested on orders of the
Supreme Court on charges of treason for ignoring court orders against
holding a referendum to extend his term. The Honduran Constitution
forbids a president from trying to obtain another term in office.
Besides being confusing (is an "alliance" with Hugo Chávez illegal?),
this formulation repeats the unsupported case that pro-coup forces in
Honduras have made: that President Zelaya was seeking to extend his
term in office. While his critics may have accused him of this, there
is no reason why AP should treat their charges as fact.
Indeed, the referendum that Zelaya was seeking in late June was a
non-binding poll about whether to revise the constitution. Zelaya hoped
that a "yes" vote on that referendum would have led to a binding vote
on the November ballot--at the same time voters would be choosing
Zelaya's successor--about whether to hold a constitutional convention.
In other words, there was no plausible way that this process could have
resulted in Zelaya extending his time in office. As Mark Weisbrot of
the Center for Economic & Policy Research (7/8/09) pointed out:
his term in office has no factual basis--although most people who
follow this story in the press seem to believe it. The most that could
be said is that if a new constitution were eventually approved, Zelaya
might have been able to run for a second term at some future date.
On September 23, USA Today ran another AP
report (appearing on the "print edition" section of its website) making
the same claim: "Zelaya was put on a plane by the military in June for
trying to force a referendum to change the constitution's limit of one
term for presidents." This is simply not what the referendum called
for. In fact, before the coup took place, the Associated Press seemed to know this. On June 26,
the wire service noted that "Sunday's referendum has no legal effect:
it merely asks people if they want to have a later vote on whether to
convoke an assembly to rewrite the constitution."
So when did the AP's understanding of the referendum change, and why? And is USA Today comfortable with publishing such material?
Contact the Associated Press and USA Today and ask them why their reporting on Honduras this week has advanced falsehoods about the removal of President Manuel Zelaya.
Tom Kent, Standards Editor
Brent Jones, Reader Editor
FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.