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CSM, WSJ Respond to Criticism of Claim of Plurality for Honduran Coup

On Sunday, I wrote a piece here criticizing the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Reuters for inaccurately reporting a poll result to claim that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup against President Zelaya.

The Wall Street Journal has now published a "Corrections & Amplifications" note attached to the original piece and the Christian Science Monitor has published a response to the criticism to which the original article is now linked. There has been no public response yet, as far as I am aware, from the Washington Post or Reuters.

Credit where credit is due: both the CSM and WSJ have now in some form publicly acknowledged the dispute and provided an explanation. (In hindsight, the inaccuracy of the original CSM and WSJ reports is arguably more clear-cut than that of the Post and Reuters reports - see below.)

But the responses leave some central questions unanswered: did these outlets rely on the Honduran newspaper La Prensa as a sole source? If so, why? Will they act differently in the future?

To recap: here are the original reports as they appeared in the four outlets.

JFP News, 7/14 - LAT: US must increase pressure on Honduran coup regime

Just Foreign Policy News
July 14, 2009


LAT, Arias: US Must Pressure Honduran Coup Leaders
The problem of the coup in Honduras did not magically disappear with the mediation of Costa Rican President Arias. President Arias says more US pressure is needed on the coup regime, in particular to the effect that the US will not recognize elections that take place under the coup government; the Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, agrees.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/260

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Manuel Zelaya is the president of Honduras and should be returned finish his term, argues the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. On this point, the UN, the OAS, Venezuelan President Chavez and President Obama are agreed. It's time the US put more superpower pressure on the Honduran establishment, the LAT says. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under the coup regime will not be regarded as legitimate. The U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.

2) President Manuel Zelaya gave coup leader Micheletti one week to step down, the Miami Herald reports. Zelaya and Micheletti's negotiating teams are expected to resume talks in Costa Rica on Saturday. But if those talks do not produce results, Zelaya said he would pay "any cost" to reclaim the presidency.

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LAT, Arias: US Must Pressure Honduran Coup Leaders

Some people may have hoped that the problem of the coup in Honduras would magically go away once talks began between President Zelaya and leaders of the coup regime under the mediation of Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. But of course it wasn't so and it isn't so. For the mediation to succeed, a key ingredient is required: sustained and escalating US pressure on the coup regime, until it agrees to the restoration of President Zelaya.

As the Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial today:

The coup leaders

 

seem to believe that if they can shoulder the hardships until November elections, all will be forgiven. Not so. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under those conditions will not be regarded as legitimate and that such a plan would only prolong Honduras' troubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.

Indeed, while everybody in the U.S. supposedly loves President Arias, a Nobel laureate with a track record of helping to resolve deep conflicts in the region under difficult conditions, few people in the U.S. (with perhaps the praiseworthy exception of the LAT editorial board) seem to be listening to what Arias is saying.

As the New York Times reported Sunday (perhaps you missed this in the 17th paragraph):

 

JFP News, 7/13: Costa Rican President says US must pressure Honduran coup leaders

Just Foreign Policy News
July 13, 2009


U.S. Newspapers Falsely Claim Honduran Plurality for Coup
Last week, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor, following the pro-coup Honduran newspaper La Prensa, inaccurately reported a CID-Gallup poll, claiming that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup in Honduras. The true poll result, which indicated that a plurality opposed the coup, was reported correctly by the New York Times, AP, and VOA - VOA interviewed the president of CID-Gallup. Ask the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or the Christian Science Monitor for a correction.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/258

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Summary:
U.S./Top News

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U.S. Press Falsely Claims Honduran Plurality for Coup

Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to the Washington Post [July 9], the Wall Street Journal [July 10], the Christian Science Monitor [July 11], and Reuters [July 9], which all reported that the poll showed 41% in favor of the coup, with only 28% opposed.

But in fact the poll showed that 46% - a plurality - were *opposed* to the coup, according to the New York Times[July 10], the Associated Press [July 11] - and the president of CID-Gallup, in an interview with Voice of America on July 9.

As of this writing - Sunday evening, 5:30 pm Eastern time - none of the outlets which reported the poll incorrectly had corrected their earlier, inaccurate, reports. [UPDATE 7/15: The Journal and the Monitor have now responded to the criticism.]

JFP News, 7/10: House Rebukes Obama on IMF Signing Statement

Just Foreign Policy News
July 10, 2009


Honduras' Coup Regime: Poster Child for Trade Sanctions
The U.S. has suspended $16.5 million in military assistance programs to Honduras, and warned an additional $180 million in U.S. aid could also be at risk. But the U.S. has not discussed trade sanctions, such as "smart sanctions" that would target wealthy supporters of the coup. Trade agreements are unlikely to be an obstacle, since any complaint by the coup regime could be ignored, as the OAS ignored the coup regime on Saturday.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/256

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) On the eve of talks on restoring Honduran President Zelaya, the US had suspended $16.5 million in military assistance programs to Honduras, and added an additional $180 million in U.S. aid could also be at risk, Reuters reports.

2) OAS Secretary-General Insulza expressed concern that if the Honduran crisis is not resolved, it could leave the door open for other coups in Latin America, AP reports. Costa Rican President Arias said any resolution to the dispute must include Zelaya's reinstatement as president. AP says the U.S. has suspended more than $18 million in military assistance and development aid programs.

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Honduras' Coup Regime: Poster Child for Trade Sanctions

According to press reports, so far the mediation of Costa Rican President Arias, encouraged by Secretary of State Clinton, has not produced any change in the refusal of the coup regime in Honduras to allow Honduras' democratically elected President Zelaya to resume his office. That's not surprising: the strategy of the de facto regime is seems to be to try to run out the clock on Zelaya's term, as long as they can.

That's why it makes sense for the U.S., working together with the governments in the region, to continue to ratchet up pressure on the coup regime. Indeed, as Reuters reported:

 

On the eve of Thursday's talks, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa said Washington had suspended $16.5 million in military assistance programs to Honduras, and added an additional $180 million in U.S. aid could also be at risk.

One lever that the U.S. government has not publicly discussed using is trade sanctions. Simply beginning the discussion would increase pressure on the coup regime to stand down.

Trade agreements to which the U.S. and Honduras are signatory are unlikely to present any obstacle, because the coup regime in Honduras has no standing to press any claims on behalf of Honduras in any international body. No government in the world, including the United States, recognizes the coup regime as the legitimate government of Honduras. If anyone in Honduras wanted to press a claim, they would need the approval of President Zelaya.

Indeed, there is a powerful and recent precedent for ignoring any attempt by the coup regime to represent Honduras in any international body: that's what the members of the Organization of American States - including the U.S. - did last Saturday, when coup regime tried to withdraw Honduras from the OAS.

JFP News 7/8: Pope Slams IMF for Cuts in Social Spending

Just Foreign Policy News
July 8, 2009


Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"
The New York Times and the Washington Post - like the State Department - refer in their news reporting to the "de facto" government in Honduras. But Reuters and AP refer to the "interim government" - suggesting the image that the coup leaders want to project.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/249

Honduran Military: "We Won't Take Orders from a Leftist"
Last week the Honduran military's top legal adviser admitted to the Miami Herald that the coup was illegal. He also claimed that because of their "training" - much of it supplied by the United States - it would be "difficult" and "impossible" to "have a relationship with a leftist government."
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/247

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Writing in the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot debunks the claim that the coup in Honduras was provoked by efforts by President Zelaya to extend his term. The June 28 referendum was a non-binding poll on reforming the constitution; at most it might have resulted in a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country's constitution; the same November ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January.

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Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"

Words matter - particularly the words used by major media to describe contested political events, words that can bias perceptions towards the interests of the powerful. Are those wielding power in Honduras today a "de facto" government, or are they an "interim" or "caretaker" government?

On Sunday, the following instructive exchange took place between senior U.S. officials and reporters in a State Department briefing on the Organization of American States' response to the coup in Honduras:

 

QUESTION: Sir, just a follow-up. Can you confirm that the caretaker government has reached out to the OAS and asked to open new negotiations? Does this mean that they're going to consider letting President Zelaya finish out his term? And what of the reports that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I have seen no reports indicating that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras. In regard to the second, we understand that the caretaker government has - I wouldn't call it a caretaker government, I would refer to it as the de facto regime -

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: De facto authorities.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- or authorities - has indicated to the OAS that it would like to begin a process of dialogue.

In today's press, I checked to see what characterization of the coup regime different outlets were using in their reporting.

JFP News 7/7: Clinton Meets with President Zelaya

Just Foreign Policy News
July 7, 2009


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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Secretary of State Clinton met today with deposed Honduran president Zelaya, the Washington Post reports. Clinton announced that Costa Rican President Arias will serve as an international mediator in the political standoff in Honduras; she said both President Zelaya and the leader of the coup government had agreed to the mediation. President Obama said the US supports the restoration of President Zelaya, even though Zelaya has opposed U.S. policies.

2) Critics have accused the US of speaking ambiguously about what it is prepared to do to restore democratic order in Honduras, the New York Times reports. Critics point to the US deliberations over whether Zelaya's ouster meets the legal definition of a coup.

3) Obama strongly denied the US had given Israel approval to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, the Jerusalem Post reports. Asked by CNN whether Washington had given Israel a green light for such an attack, Obama answered: "Absolutely not."

4) Administration officials insisted Biden's comments that Israel could "determine for itself" how to deal with threats from Iran were not a signal of any change in policy, Foreign Policy reports. Some analysts suggested the remarks were not good news for the Israeli government, which wants to shape what the U.S. does, not have permission to act alone, which many doubt it has the technical capacity to do.

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