ABC, the far-right newspaper in Spain, has again been caught running a false report related to Venezuela. On July 18, the paper reported that Secretary of State John Kerry had phoned Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua and told him that the U.S. government was enacting a raft of sanctions against Venezuela for its having offered political asylum to whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The punitive measures, according to ABC, included revoking the visas of senior officials' and Venezuelan businessmen’s “associated with chavismo” (which the paper reported had already begun a week earlier), and suspension of U.S. exports of gas and oil derivatives to Venezuela. The paper also reported that Kerry had informed Jaua that the U.S. would not permit any Venezuelan plane suspected of carrying Snowden to fly over either U.S. or NATO-member country airspace, unless the plane was a presidential flight carrying President Nicolás Maduro himself. “Immunity is not for the plane, but the president,” ABC’s “sources” cited Kerry as saying.
The report was picked up by a number of Venezuelan media outlets, including the opposition-oriented El Universal, the Miami-based Venezuela Al Día, and even what is widely considered Venezuela’s most objective newspaper, Últimas Noticias. U.S. English-language media outlets were more cautious, with only UPI running an article summarizing the ABC report prior without waiting for verification from the State Department.
But AFP reported on Saturday:
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Kerry spoke about Snowden by telephone on July 12 with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.
But she denied as "completely false" a report in the Spanish newspaper ABC that Kerry had threatened to suspend sales of gasoline or oil products to Caracas if it granted Snowden asylum.
"The secretary made no reference in his conversation with Foreign Minister Jaua as to what our response would be if Venezuela were to assist Mr. Snowden or receive him," she said, reading from a statement.
"Instead, Secretary Kerry conveyed to the Foreign Minister that Mr. Snowden is accused of serious criminal offenses and should be returned to the United States to face those charges if he were to come into Venezuelan jurisdiction."
"Should Venezuela assist Mr. Snowden or receive him, we will consider what the appropriate response should be at that time," she said.
This is not the first time that ABC has been shown to have run an inaccurate report related to Venezuela. At the beginning of January this year, for example, ABC ran what turned out to be a false report that then-president Hugo Chávez – who was battling cancer – had been put into an induced coma. On election night, October 7, 2012, as we described at the time, while some were still voting, ABC reported the results of a supposed exit poll that showed challenger Henrique Capriles with a three-point lead against then-incumbent president Chávez. While the news attracted some attention from reporters at the time, it was almost certainly false, as the official election results ended up with Chávez defeating Capriles by over 11 percentage points, and – as some media outlets (and journalists on Twitter) noted, “Exit polls were not permitted.” Interestingly, ahead of that election, Chávez campaign head Jorge Rodriguez had apparently predicted the early release of an exit poll, via ABC, that would show Capriles in the lead, and thereby give the opposition the pretext to claim fraud if the results do not turn out that way.
Considering ABC’s poor track record in reporting on Venezuela, it will be instructive to see whether the Venezuelan, U.S. and other foreign media outlets continue to take it seriously in the future.