BoingBoing and Propaganda

I don’t read BoingBoing regularly, but Verena does, and she usually points out the interesting stuff to me. Today, while looking through headlines, she found one that sounded really nasty:

Police in Venezuela are rounding up gay/lesbian/bi/trans folk into vans and hauling them to jail by the dozens, according to reports. “Our IDs and mobile phones were taken away, we were beaten, [and] our sexual orientation was insulted.”

Oh, I thought, that’s not good. Venezuela, for all its faults, has been making a fair bit of progress, and this would be a major step back. But then I followed the link… and realized that the BoingBoing post is on the lowest level of tabloid propaganda.

Yes, the article is about something very real and very bad: police harassment of homosexual and transsexual people. But it’s not, as the article is trying to imply, about some government-sanctioned rounding-up of homosexuals. It’s about a single incident in a bar, where a group of people were arrested without cause – not about people being rounded up by the dozens and hauled away in vans. The rest of the article covers the very common occurences of anti-gay/transsexual behaviour by the police forces, which go against Venezuelan law.

Now, these problems are very bad, and something needs to be done about them. That’s a definite case of government inaction. But it’s not like these issues are exclusively Venezuelan: look at the United States. Look at many parts of Europe. Look at any place where machismo is still the order of the day. (The Red Cross still doesn’t take blood from gays.)

Or, more revealingly, look at some of the other IPS articles, like this one about the murder of homosexuals in Colombia. Why does BoingBoing (or Xeni Jardin, in this case) link to the article about Venezuela, and not to the ones about the much more extreme situation in Colombia?

Well, obviously there is a political agenda here, and a terrible one at that. Why terrible? Because it can only operate on the basis of lies and distortions. Look at that article again.

Police in Venezuela are rounding up gay/lesbian/bi/trans folk into vans and hauling them to jail by the dozens, according to reports.

The sentence is specifically designed to evoke the sense of a large-scale operation, hauling off people of undesirable sexuality in mysterious vans, probably to concentration camps. The linked article speaks of a single incident in a specific location:

CARACAS, Nov 4 (IPS) – One Friday at around midnight, on Villaflor Street, a favourite spot for gays and lesbians in the Venezuelan capital, Yonatan Matheus and Omar Marques noticed two Caracas police patrol vans carrying about 20 detainees, most of them very young.

When Marques and Matheus, who are gay leaders of the Venezuela Diversa (Diverse Venezuela) organisation, approached to find out what was happening and take pictures, they were picked up too.

This is obviously a crime. But to transform this into “people being hauled away by the dozens” while changing the location to “Venezuela” is to completely twist the story: instead of describing an incident in Caracas, it now says that police in the entire country of Venezuela are hauling away gays by the dozens, trying to get the entire homosexual population. And why put the words “into vans” there? It doesn’t add anything to the description… except for the sense that this is a huge operation, in which gays everywhere are being targeted in some kind of mass purge. This pretty much on the level of “foreigners take ALL jobs!” Inaccurate and deliberately misleading.

I am heavily disappointed in BoingBoing. Disappointed and disturbed. Criticism of Venezuela and Chavez is perfectly legit, so long as it is based on facts. Fighting against police brutality is important, as is fighting against the idiocy of machismo and gay-bashing. But twisting the truth because you hate a country or its politics is not – because there is little difference between “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction!” and “Venezuela is rounding up gays!” Little by little, by being published in venues like BoingBoing, these distortions become believable.

The truth is always the first casualty of war. Usually long before the first shots have been fired.

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11 Comments

  1. This seems to be just another step in softening the public opinion against war. Last year, there was this rather stupid game – Mercenaries 2 – which depicted a wide-ranging war in Venezuela with several outside participants, amidst which the protagonist simply chooses sides and does jobs for money. Once they open up the possibility for war in a certain place, the war media never give up, ugly and disgusting as they are. Earlier examples abound, especially in gaming; it’s good that most of them haven’t become reality yet, but who could say for how long…

  2. Yeah, but I’d expect better from BoingBoing.

  3. JM

     /  November 6, 2009

    I don’t think warmongering Americans have a problem with rounding up gays.

  4. I don’t think warmongering Americans have a problem with rounding up gays.

    But you can easily get the “liberals” to be screaming for a “human rights intervention.”

  5. JM

     /  November 6, 2009

    I don’t think the US has the power nor the influence to go to war in Latin America anymore. Propaganda against Chavez can be found in every mainstream news outlet. There’s no use fighting it. I mean, Chavez acts as a clown on purpose and aligns himselfs with dictators, and I think it’s because of that. He will be hated by the West anyway.

  6. I wouldn’t underestimate what the US can do. They don’t need to use the army to cause mayhem.

    Besides, how does any of this make this kind of propaganda acceptable?

  7. JM

     /  November 6, 2009

    Everyone is lying. Be it BoingBoing or jungeWelt. The best you can hope for is becoming good at propaganda yourself. Or that others are intelligent enough not to rely on one news source alone.

  8. How very postmodern.

  9. I won’t say I approve of homosexuality, nor will I say there is nothing wrong with it. But you will never hear me say that a homosexual man is less of a person than I am. As far as God is concerned, I’m not any better, and if He measured sin, I’d be much worse off.

    I don’t like that people are treated unfairly (but that goes in both directions; a lot of “rights” movements don’t want fair treatment, they just want to be spoiled). I like this sort of propaganda even less. It’s not at all wrong to express your own views in a civil manner if you are a journalist, and it is impossible for any journalist to be completely unbiased. But there are lines that should not be crossed, and this is one of them.

    You may have heard the saying, “I like humanity; it’s the people I can’t stand.” For me, it’s the other way around, and then some: I like SOME people, but humanity in general is an annoyance. Always making racket, making the outside smell like either dead skunk, ashes, or wet dog, and always, ALWAYS, complaining that there lives aren’t going the way they want them to but that they shouldn’t have to lift a finger to get what they want. The people I like are the people that know better, but also haven’t forgotten how to dance. (Okay, I watched an episode of Babylon 5 a minute ago. Borrowed that last bit from Ambassador Molari.)

  10. JM

     /  November 7, 2009

    I believe that humanity pretty much sucks. We may have the potential for greatness, but various factors influence us so that we act and think like fools. They get us every time. I used to think otherwise, but I’ve seen that almost everybody is an egoist. There are better individuals, but they usually don’t get very far in live, because society doesn’t let them. Yet, I believe to that regardless of how annoying, dumb or “evil” someone is, he still deserves some basic rights. Because, under other circumstances, he would develop another character.

  11. JM

     /  November 7, 2009

    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/11/07/cuba.blogger.detained/index.html

    Top story on CNN. And another one about Venezuela on BoingBoing. You see it everyday. Nothing new.