Hypocritical Western Corporate Media Coverage of King Abdullah vs. Chávez

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the 90-year-old absolute monarch of Saudi Arabia, and the eighth-most powerful person in the world, died on 23 January 2015, after approximately 10 years of rule.

On its official Facebook page, media watchdog non-profit organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) posted a brief statement written by Keane Bhatt, reflecting on the US corporate media treatment of Abdullah in the wake of his death vis-à-vis its treatment of Chávez just after his passing:

Hugo Chávez was a democratically elected president who was briefly overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup. Upon his death, the New York Times referred to him as a “polarizing” figure who was “consolidating power,” “strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel.”

King Abdullah, the Saudi dictator, was armed and supported unwaveringly by the U.S. until his death. The New York Times contended that he had “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer” and was “a force of moderation.”

US corporate media treatment of elected president Chávez versus absolute monarch Abdullah  CREDIT:

US corporate media treatment of elected president Chávez versus absolute monarch Abdullah
CREDIT: Keane Bhatt

Comparisons of the ways in which the Western media slanders Chávez and whitewashes Abdullah are most instructive.

Oil

In 2012, it was estimated that Saudi Arabia had the largest oil reserves in the world, at 267 billion barrels. Venezuela came in a close second.

us eia world oil reserves

Today, the situation has switched: It is now known that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves, at 298 billion barrels. Saudi Arabia has only the second-largest.

Although they may have close to the same amount of oil, one is a secular democratic government; the other is a tyrannical, fundamentalist theocratic monarchy. Yet this is not even the crucial distinction—the crucial distinction is that one is a close Western ally, and the other is a vocal anti-imperialist force.

It is remarkable what owning oil and being on the West’s side can do for your reputation.

Abdullah

Saudi monarch Abdullah was the absolute, unquestionable leader of the most fundamentalist country in the world. His regime supported extremist Wahhabi groups around the world, including Al-Qaeda and, according to Saudi scholar and former political prisoner Ali Al-Ahmed, even ISIS.

The Saudi state also regularly (publicly) maims and murders its own citizens with lashings, stonings, decapitations, and even crucifixions. Middle East Eye has drawn apt comparisons between the regime and ISIS, whom many a US politician now hyperbolically sees as the largest threat in the world.

The Western corporate media is writing glowingly of Abdullah’s “reforms.” While CNN waxes poetic on his purported policies of “reforms for women,” cracking down on Al-Qaeda (while simultaneously supporting it), “reforming the economy” (read: implementing harsh neoliberal measures), and “growing stature on world stage,” Al-Ahmed maintains “Reforms in Saudi Arabia do not exist. This is an absolute monarchy, let’s be honest.”

As is the case with much of the orientalist West’s interaction with the Middle East, Muslim women have come to be treated as a synecdoche for larger issues. As is also almost always the case, this treatment is fundamentally racist, not to mention misogynist and neo-colonialist.

I have written about this before, in a piece about “The (Socialist) Malala Yousafzai the US Media Doesn’t Quote“:

Gayatri Spivak, in her classic article “Can The Subaltern Speak?“, explained that colonialist powers justify their draconian, parasitic rule with the belief that their “White men are saving brown women from brown men.”

In her well-known essay “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” Lila Abu-Lughod situates Spivak’s thesis in a contemporary setting, explaining how the U.S.’ imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was justified with the exact same argument–Bush and his overwhelmingly white administration, far-right leaders who had consistently worked against women’s rights in their own country, now desperate to save Afghan women from Afghan men.

Journalist Assed Baig published a July 2013 column in the Huff Post titled “Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex,” exploring how this racist phenomenon is still alive and well. This week, he published a revised version, at Media Diversity UK. In it, he describes the repugnant ways in which the West, continuing in this paternalist, colonialist “white man’s burden” tradition, has exploited Malala Yousafzai’s amazing strength and bravery to support its interests.

Continuing in this same vein, the Western corporate media has, almost farcically, painted Abdullah as a defender of women’s rights.


Chávez

Chávez, on the other hand, was an immensely popular democratically elected leader. Why was Hugo Chavez so popular? He:

  • helped to lift millions of Venezuelans out of poverty;
  • tripled the size of the Venezuelan economy;
  • increased voter turnout out by almost 2.5 times;
  • created an all-inclusive healthcare system and tripled health expenditure;
  • truly made huge strides in the fight for gender equality and women’s rights;
  • turned Venezuela from the most unequal country in Latin America to the most equal; and
  • encouraged solidarity among other Global South countries, and among those in Latin America in particular.

The meager, right-wing, overtly racist, and overwhelmingly rich and white opposition, frustrated by their loss in elections, demanded referenda to get Chávez out of office, yet he was constantly re-elected. The Carter Center called Venezuela’s elections the best in the world.

Meanwhile, the US constantly tried to undermine and overthrow this democratic regime.

Chávez was so popular that, after he was ousted in a 2002 US-backed coup, working-class Venezuelans filled the streets and demanded that their democratically elected president return to office. This amazing historical event was captured on camera and featured in the 2003 documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.



Still, although Chávez embodied the values of democracy, secularism, and freedom upon which the West political system is supposedly based, the Western corporate media despised him. It is quite evident where its priorities really lie.