Listening to John Simpson on Today yesterday and then reading a newspaper article published the day before led me to a disturbing thought: that JS simply read an article in the Guardian by a far-left academic and then regurgitated it pretty much wholesale to Nick Robinson on Today the following morning, passing it off as his own insight.
Please read the article for yourselves and then read the Today transcript (below). The echoes are uncanny, aren't they?
One of the things that stood out for me was the way JS talked about the "right wing" street protests, echoing the Guardian writer's heavy use of that term. I decided to check up on the two leading opposition figures in the protest, Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez. Mr Ledezma has a long history of involvement with the Venezuelan centre-left and Mr Lopez also has a long history of involvement with the Venezuelan centre-left. Now, I'd expect (alas) a far-left academic writing in the Guardian to smear the Venezuelan opposition as 'right-wing' or 'far-right', but not for the BBC's World Affairs Editor to play that same game.
And when JS said he read an opinion poll just the other day, I can guess exactly where he was "looking" at it: in the Guardian. I've Googled around and found nowhere else that's reporting that poll other than that piece in the Guardian.
The one bit that JS brought fresh to the party was the bit about the European settler elite sitting on top of "an indigenous population", and that's the bit that flies in the face of one of the things I remember reading about Venezuela - that it's not like Bolivia and only has a very tiny indigenous population, something a bit of Googling confirms:
So was the great John Simpson 'winging it' here? I think so.
Nick Robinson: Listening to that our World Affairs Editor John Simpson, who joins us on the line. Morning to you, John. Take us back, if you will, to the roots of Hugo Chavez and the movement which inspired many people in the West.John Simpson: Well, Venezuela labours under two curses years - I mean things that could actually be in its favour but have turned out not to be. One is oil - we've been listening to that - but the other is the whole basis of the country, the way in which a settler culture, European culture, was based on top of than an indigenous population. And although there's been plenty of inter-mixture and so forth, nevertheless there is still that difference. When Maduro, the president, talks about a class war he is he's right to some extent, because the class is based on that ethnic difference as well as on economic difference, and that's cursed Venezuela. And what's even worse about it in a sense is that it's kind of half and half, Nick. I was looking at an opinion poll just the other day. 51% say they support the street protests of the of the right wing and 44% say they don't. It's so close that it's bound to cause real, serious problems.Nick Robinson: And it's not just the country itself that is deeply divided, is it, it's the attitude to it from outside, depending on whether you're a supporter of or deeply suspicious of the United States?John Simpson: That is also true, and people who are deeply suspicious of the United States, which after all has an appalling record in its own backyard, Central and South America. It, nevertheless, is a fact that deep but that there's a clear separation between the governments - what you might call Western countries, that's pro-Western countries. All the main countries in Latin America now disapprove of the Maduro government and what it's doing, the EU disapproves, Canada and the United States disapprove - and other countries that don't come out and support Maduro in any sense but feel a real sympathy, and lots of individuals, of course, right across the western world.