Friday, September 02, 2011

US Mainstream Media Eeuurrgghh! Edition

I've previously praised The Good Wife as an intelligent, gripping drama series. Despite standing by that general evaluation, I almost had to boycott it as a result of an incredibly stupid and ultimately offensive plot element in the recent Season 2 episode 22, "Foreign Affairs".

In this episode, Lockhart & Gardner are representing a contractor to a large oil company who has not received payment for drilling work carried out in Venezuela. Negotiations are proceeding, when a celebrity lawyer played by Law & Order actor and former US presidential candidate Fred Thompson appears to announce that as the oil company's Venezuelan interests have just been nationalised and the Venezuelan government has hired his firm to represent it, he will be taking over the case.

At a court hearing the judge advises Lockhart & Gardner that they should merge their case with Thomspon's. "Great" says Will. "Now we have a dictator for a client".

Later, in a conference on the case, the supposed "President Chavez" participates personally. A video link shows a waist-down view of "Chavez" walking around, while a voice speaking obviously Mexican-accented Spanish interjects in proceedings. On several other occasions Chavez is referred to as a "dictator" and when Lockhart & Gardner's client is awarded over the odds damages Will says this is the “standard surcharge for dictators.”

It's kind of boring and annoying to have to state this: whatever his authoritarian "tendencies" or specific instances of executive overreach (and for examples of the latter, see Bush, G W, 2000-2008), Hugo Chavez is not a "dictator" but has been voted in through multiple free and fair elections. Incredibly, mainstream US media institutions that consider themselves serious have no problem in blithely repeating outright falsehoods.

Also completely misleading is the idea that the president can just change laws overnight without reference to Congress. Or that the president himself might be the client and take a direct role in a legal case against an international company. This is kind of like Obama involving himself in Government of the United States vs. Random defendant cases. Surely even virulently anti-Chavez Venezuelans would cringe at the depiction of their country as a tiny, tinpot banana republic which apparently has no institutions and makes no distinction between the State and the current occupant of the Executive?

As an aside, another plot point turned on a document titled "Exit Strategy" being mistranslated as Estrategia de Exito (Success Strategy). While hardly as lame as the Chavez depiction, this is not a mistake a translator would make.

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