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.

Comments are closed.