December 13, 2010

WaPo: Venezuela Has Acquired 1,800 Russian Missiles; AP, NYT Snooze

A useful guideline in evaluating the significance of a national security-related news story first revealed by someone in the establishment press is whether other media outlets pick it up. If they don’t, it’s probably significant.

Such is the case with the Washington Post’s Saturday story about Venezuela acquiring 1,800 Russian antiaircraft missiles. That appears to be 1,700 more than originally thought.

The story has gone through two additional overnight news cycles. Yet it appears from relevant site searches that both the Associated Press (searches on Venezuela, Venezuela missiles [not in quotes], and missiles) and the New York Times (Venezuela, “Venezuela missiles,” and missiles) have chosen to ignore the story.

The news relayed by the WaPo’s Juan Ferero seems objectively very significant, and more than a little worrisome, based on the bolded paragraph in the following excerpt:

Venezuela acquires 1,800 antiaircraft missiles from Russia

Russia delivered at least 1,800 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to Venezuela in 2009, U.N. arms control data show, despite vigorous U.S. efforts to stop President Hugo Chavez’s stridently anti-American government from acquiring the weapons.

The United States feared that the missiles could be funneled to Marxist guerrillas fighting Colombia’s pro-American government or Mexican drug cartels, concerns expressed in U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and first reported in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

It had been unclear how many of the Russian SA-24 missiles were delivered to Venezuela, though the transfer itself was not secret. Chavez showed off a few dozen at a military parade in April 2009, saying they could “deter whatever aerial aggression against our country.” A high-level Russian delegation told American officials in Washington in July of that year that 100 of the missiles had been delivered in the first quarter of 2009.

Then earlier this year, Russia reported to the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which records the transnational sale of weaponry, that the deal totaled 1,800 missiles.

So why isn’t this news at the AP or the Times?

The Times has a threadbare non-excuse, namely that it is carrying a link to the WaPo story at the paper’s “Times Topics” page for Huge Chavez. The AP doesn’t even have that.

The wire service’s failure is far more troubling. As the provider of content to thousands of subscribing smaller papers, radio stations, and TV broadcasts, the Associated Press is in large part how the relatively disengaged 85% of the population gets its news. If it doesn’t make the cut, you can pretty much rest assured that the disengaged won’t hear it. It’s hard not to believe that the self-described “Essential Global News Network” knows darn well how troubling the WaPo story would be to the average person if he or she were to see or hear it. If so, its reasonable to contend that the AP seems not to want to create any more trouble for the U.S. president it generally adores than he has already brought on himself, and is disgracefully doing what it can to prevent that from happening. If ever called on the carpet, the AP’s response would likely be: “What’s your problem? The Washington Post already covered it.”

Cross-posted at


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