By **Rachel Louise Ensign**
In last Friday’s _New York Times_, “Steven Holden’s review”:http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/movies/25south.html of the new film _South of the Border_ was accompanied by a piece alleging that the film is full of “mistakes, misstatements and missing details.” In “this article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/26/movies/26stone.html?ref=larry_rohter, Larry Rohter, the former South American bureau chief for the _Times_, details all of the factual errors he found in _South of the Border_, Oliver Stone’s new film about left-leaning governments in South and Central America. Rohter accuses the filmmakers of being sloppy journalists preoccupied with casting leaders like Hugo Chávez in a favorable light.
Yesterday, Stone and his fellow screenwriters Tariq Ali (a British-Pakistani historian and author who is a Guernica contributor) and Mark Weisbrot (an American economist and director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research), issued “a biting rebuttal”:http://southoftheborderdoc.com/oliver-stone-responds-to-attack-from-the-new-york-times-larry-rohter/ to Rohter’s article on the movie’s website. In their response, the filmmakers go through each of the “mistakes” that Rohter found in _South of the Border_ and provide evidence as to why their film is accurate. Their evidence is thorough and convincing.
Stone and co. further strengthen their argument by elaborating on “Rohter’s animus and conflict of interest.” They write that when they were interview by him, his “hostility was clear from the outset,” and that “he was determined to present his narrative of intrepid reporter exposing sloppy filmmaking.”
What’s more, they show that Rohter is not exactly neutral when he pens sentences like, “[Stone] has turned to Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s controversial populist president, and his reformist allies in South America,” and “he bends facts and omits information that might undermine his thesis of a continent-wide ‘Bolivarian revolution’ with Mr. Chávez in the forefront.” Rather, Rohter was openly supportive of a 2002 coup of the Venezuelan government, as the following excerpt from their letter shows:
Rohter should have disclosed his own conflict of interest in this review. The film criticizes the _New York Times_ for its editorial board’s endorsement of the military coup of April 11, 2002 against the democratically elected government of Venezuela, which was embarrassing to the _Times_. Moreover, Rohter himself wrote an article on April 12 that went even further than the _Times_’ endorsement of the coup:
“Neither the overthrow of Mr. Chávez, a former army colonel, nor of Mr. Mahuad two years ago can be classified as a conventional Latin American military coup. The armed forces did not actually take power on Thursday. It was the ousted president’s supporters who appear to have been responsible for deaths that numbered barely 12 rather than hundreds or thousands, and political rights and guarantees were restored rather than suspended.” – Larry Rohter, _New York Times_, April 12, 2002
What’s more, they show that Rohter is not exactly neutral when he pens sentences like, “[Stone] has turned to Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s controversial populist president, and his reformist allies in South America,”
Unlike the _NYT_ editorial board, which issued a grudging retraction of their pro-coup stance a few days later (included in our film), Rohter seems to have clung to the right-wing fantasies about the coup. It is not surprising that someone who supports the military overthrow of a democratically elected government would not like a documentary like this one, which celebrates the triumphs of electoral democracy in South America over the last decade.
But he should have at least informed his readers that the _New York Times_ was under fire in this documentary, and also about his own reporting: in 1999 and 2000 he covered Venezuela for the Times, writing numerous anti-Chávez news reports. The media’s biased and distorted reporting on Latin America is a major theme of the documentary, one which Rohter also conveniently ignores in is 1665-word attempt to discredit the film.
So, by the looks of this exchange thus far, Ali’s quote in the _Times_, “It’s hardly a secret that we support the other side. It’s an opinionated documentary,” applies well to Rother’s piece too. At this point in the exchange, Weisbrot, Ali, and Stone have proven that Rohter is not only incorrect in his criticism (as they refute every single point that he makes) but deeply biased as well. Their refutation of his criticisms is strong—they cite experts and journalists and also claim that they provided him with this information and he chose to disregard it.
Rohter’s article buttresses Stone and co.’s claim that the _Times_ has a particular bias—by ignoring the film’s criticism of the _New York Times_ in his laundry list of its inaccuracies, he implies that South of the Border is correct in characterizing the _Times_ as an anti-Chávez, publication. And by choosing these two quotes as examples of “tepid” movie reviews: “Stephen Holden in the _New York Times_ called it a ‘provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism,’ while _Entertainment Weekly_ described it as ‘rose-colored agitprop’ Rohter’s feelings about socialism are quite explicit.
Copyright 2010 Rachel Louise Ensign
Rachel Louise Ensign is an editorial assistant at Guernica.