South of the Border: Reviewing the Reviewers

It's nice when you make a documentary about how the major media
outlets misrepresent reality, and the media response to the film proves
your point. In fact, the media's response to Oliver Stone's South of the Border, which I wrote with Tariq Ali, really
completes a number of the film's arguments.

The first has to do with the sloppiness and lack of knowledge
that characterise the debate over US-Latin American relations, problems
to which the major media regularly contribute. A number of reviews had
trouble getting the presidents and countries straight. Perhaps the most
poignant example was in the Washington Post,
which ran a picture of Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia's minister of
government, but identifying him as Evo Morales, the country's president.
Llorenti is unknown in the US, but appears in the film translating for
Morales. Someone at the Post must have seen them both in the film, and
figured that the whiter guy speaking English must be the president.

Larry Rohter's
frontal assault
on the film took up most of the front page of the New York Times's
Arts section, stating that the film is "plagued by ... issues of
accuracy". However, he failed to find any factual errors in the film -
despite some rather desperate attempts. In one such foray he used data
on oil imports from 2004-2010 to try to refute an oil industry analyst
who appears in a TV clip in the film, in April 2002. The whole
five-second soundbite had no relevance to the film in any case, but
Rohter still got
it wrong

The errors in the reviews are far too numerous to
list here, but you can vote for your favourite mistake at Daily Kos.

Many reviewers also
reinforced the film's critique of the media by viewing the whole story
in ideological terms, and missing most or all of substantive points in
the film. For example, the film provides five
pieces of evidence
of Washington's involvement in the 2002 coup that
overthrew Venezuela's elected president, Hugo Chavez. These include such items as a US state
department document acknowledging "that NED [the National Endowment for
Democracy], department of defence [DoD], and other US assistance
programs provided training, institution building, and other support to
individuals and organisations understood to be actively involved in the
brief ouster of the Chavez government".

This, together with other
documentary evidence in the film - some of which has never made it into
the major media - makes a compelling case that Washington was involved
in the coup. This conclusion is also backed up by the Washington Post's
Scott Wilson, who was foreign editor at the time that we interviewed
him, and who reported from Caracas during the coup.

Porter, of the New York Times's editorial board, also appears in the
film and refers to the Bush administration's support for the coup:
"[This] particular incident was the worst possible decision the United
States could have taken. It not only locked in eternal enmity from the
Chavez administration but it made it very difficult for anybody else in
Latin America to like the United States."

Yet we have had
thousands of articles and broadcast reports about relations between the
US and Venezuela in the past eight years, and almost nothing on the
actual US role in the coup. At most it is mentioned as an "allegation"
by none other than Chavez - a demonised source - or brushed off as some
kind of "tacit support". Most of the journalists who reviewed South of
the Border also seem to see this issue and the evidence presented as

Of the reviews that did notice the film's criticism of
the media, the problem was seen as Fox or other television news. But
the film emphasises that it is all of the major media - not just Fox or
even the TV news - that have given Americans such a distorted impression
of the historic changes that have taken place over the last decade in
Latin America. It was the New York Times's editorial board that openly
endorsed the overthrow of a democratically elected government during the
2002 coup - a major point in the film. This also went unnoticed,
despite the fact that it is something that the US's most prominent
newspaper had not done in probably 30 or 40 years.

surprisingly, the film attracted a lot of the same hostility from the
media that characterises reporting on the same subject matter (although
there were also favourable reviews).
The LA Times's review of the film, which contained several major
mistakes, criticised it for not having enough substance. But it seems
that the substance of the film was too much for most of the media to

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