Ecuador Crisis, Media Bias

On September 30, CNN’s correspondent in Ecuador, Rodolfo Muñoz, resigned after 14 years on the job. That day Muñoz had covered a police revolt that paralyzed Ecuador, in what President Rafael Correa called a coup attempt. Muñoz’s decision to quit raises questions about how the U.S. media covered the crisis.

August 30, 2011


On September 30, CNN’s correspondent in Ecuador, Rodolfo Muñoz, resigned after 14 years on the job. That day Muñoz had covered a police revolt that paralyzed Ecuador, in what President Rafael Correa called a coup attempt. The president, after confronting a group of demonstrators, was attacked and later held hostage inside a hospital until a military unit rescued him. Muñoz explained his decision to quit CNN in a statement released to the Ecuadoran media: “On the very night of September 30, I found it inappropriate to continue doing that kind of work—[there was] a different viewpoint [at CNN] on what was happening in my country. I finally found that the option of staying had been exhausted. It was the clash of viewpoints that undoubtedly changed, and that was the end.”1

Claiming that CNN had wrongly dismissed the possibility that a coup attempt was under way, Muñoz added that those in the media “cannot wait for newsworthy outcomes in accord with our own particular desires, affinities, phobias, and prejudices.” If the reporting in question is directed toward a foreign audience “that doesn’t know the particularities of a country that is not theirs,” he said, “it should show at least two different perspectives.”

Although it remains unclear whether the rebellion of about 1,000 National Police officers constituted a coup attempt, as Correa claimed, Muñoz’s decision to quit raises questions about how the U.S. media covered the crisis. What we find is that the U.S. news generally interpreted the crisis as a spontaneous uprising of police officers upset about reductions to their benefits—ignoring or downplaying evidence that the uprising may have been intended to trigger a coup.

For example, the media largely did not discuss the following facts about the police rebellion: that it spanned four provinces, showing a degree of coordination; that it reached a deadly level of violence, with at least five people killed; that it included an attempt to shut down the state TV channel; and that it included the cooperation about 300 air force officers, who helped close Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport. Ignoring all of this, Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady argued that Correa instigated the violence when he confronted protesters—according to reports, he dared them to kill him—and that he essentially manufactured the coup story as a political maneuver.2

“If the goal was taking out the president,” she wrote, “[Correa’s] provocation provided the moment to do it. But it is unlikely that the police had any such thing in mind.” The New York Times, however, reported that the president’s “armored Nissan sport utility vehicle showed bullet damage, including a shot to the windshield”—in other words, someone was shooting to kill.3

In the same article, the Times also quoted a Correa aide, who said that “intercepted communications from within the police force had indicated in recent weeks that destabilization efforts were being planned and that the protests offered the spark to put them in motion.” But the paper hedged, noting that “others here beg to differ” and that “the fog of that day’s events makes various interpretations possible.” There may be various plausible explanations for the day’s events, but the evidence of coordination merited further investigation.

Furthermore, the news mostly ignored the role of former Ecuadoran president Lucio Gutiérrez (2003–5), whom Correa accused of masterminding the coup attempt. During the unrest, Gutiérrez spoke to the media, calling on Correa to step down and dissolve the National Assembly under a constitutional measure known as la muerte cruzada—an anti-corruption “nuclear option” in which both the executive and legislative branches are emptied, followed by elections that bar incumbents from running.4 This, Gutiérrez said, would bring a peaceful, “constitutional” end to the crisis. “I think the end of Correa’s tyranny is near,” he said. Meanwhile, a man identified in the media as Gutiérrez’s former lawyer and associate, Pablo Guerrero, has been charged with leading an attack on Ecuador TV, the country’s state-run network.5 So far, the Times has not mentioned Gutiérrez in any of its articles on the event.

More generally, the U.S. media coverage of the events in Ecuador treated the claims that a coup attempt was under way as if they existed in a regional and historical vacuum—rarely even mentioning the June 2009 military coup in Honduras, which ousted President Manuel Zelaya. This is remarkable, given that after the Honduran coup, Correa had said that according to intelligence reports, he was being targeted for a coup. “After Zelaya, I’m next,” he said.6 No U.S. mainstream media outlets mentioned this quote from Correa, nor did they mention any of the other two coups that have shaped regional politics in recent years, Venezuela (2002) and Haiti (2004). “As the South American governments feared,” wrote analyst Mark Weisbrot in an op-ed for the U.K. Guardian, “Washington’s support for the coup government in Honduras over the last year has encouraged and increased the likelihood of right-wing coups against democratic left governments in the region.”7

Like both Zelaya and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Correa had taken a defiant stance against U.S. hegemony in Latin America, giving U.S. officials ample reasons to dislike him.8 Correa shunned the World Bank by removing the Ecuadoran representative and defaulting on foreign debt; he shut down what the Times called “the most prominent American military outpost in South America”; and he implemented domestic economic policies that contradict the directives of the World Trade Organization and other international financial institutions that are largely dominated by the United States.

Prominent newspapers did not address critical questions regarding the United States’ historic role in Latin American coups, and offered no discussion of the long history of U.S.-supported coups in the Americas. In contrast, critical media outlets immediately made the connection. “There’s a lot of connections, it seems, to the situation that happened in Honduras,” said the host of a segment on Russia Today, an English-language news network, broadcast September 30.9 Correspondent Jihan Hafiz brought up a whole host of issues that were virtually off-limits in the U.S. media, including the history of U.S.-supported coups in Latin America, “not just in the past decade, but in the past 50 years.” Russia Today also broadcast a lighthearted segment on the near total absence of coverage of the Ecuadoran crisis on the major TV news networks.10

Given the long history of U.S. intervention in the region, the crisis in Ecuador should have warranted serious examination from the U.S. media. When CNN’s Muñoz went so far as to resign because his employer failed to accurately report on the events of that day, he gave us a clear indication of why the U.S. public continues to remain in the dark about key events in Latin America.

Michael Corcoran in a NACLA Research Associate. This is an edited version of an article that appeared November 5 on

1. TeleSur, “Versión de CNN sobre golpe en Ecuador provocó renuncia de su corresponsal,” October 27, 2010.

2. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “What Really Happened in Ecuador,” The Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2010.

3. Simon Romero, “Debate Over Meaning of Standoff in Ecuador,” The New York Times, October 2, 2010.

4. Quoted in EFE, “El ex presidente Gutiérrez pide la disolución de la Asamblea,” September 30, 2010.

5. TeleSur, “Ecuador. Fiscalía imputara a civiles involucrados en intento de golpe de estados,” October 8, 2010.

6. Quoted in the Associated Press, “Leftists Fear Domino Effect of Honduras Coup,” August 19, 2009.

7. Mark Weisbrot, “Ecuador’s Correa Haunted by Honduras,” October 1, 2010.

8. Simon Romero, “Ecuador Leader Confounds Supporters and Detractors,” The New York Times, October 9, 2010.

9. Russia Today, “Possible Correa coup involves US meddling?” September 30, 2010.

10. Russia Today, “US News Media Ignore Ecuador Coup Attempt,” October 2, 2010.

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