Left-wing Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa was poised to win re-election on Sunday. Given that fact, the New York Times went with a peculiar headline for their February 16 piece:
That's right: "Ecuadoreans Are Apprehensive Over Likely Re-election of President Correa."
Someone at the paper must have seen the irony here and decided to change it; most readers saw instead "Ecuador's President Shows Confidence About Re-election, Too Much for Some."
But the first headline more accurately summarized the article–and the worldview of outlets like the New York Times, which take a far more critical approach towards political leaders on the left.
The piece, by William Neuman and Maggy Ayala, started by quoting one Ecuadorean who would vote against Correa (who has, unlike other politicians around the world, a "rampant ego"). Next the Times tells us:
At the top of Mr. Correa's agenda is a long-stalled law regulating the news media that critics say would crimp press freedom. Opponents fear a legislative majority would feed what they see as Mr. Correa's authoritarian tendencies.
The piece next quotes a newspaper editor who says Correa "will try to flatten everyone who is in his way." The Times responds by arguing that Correa has "expanded presidential power and vigorously pursued opponents." Readers finally hear from one Correa supporter, a lawmaker in his Alianza País party. But then it's back to the story; Correa "has run a crusade against the press," the Times warns.
It's not until the end that readers learn the rest of the story. Correa "has governed during a period of relative prosperity," the Times tells us–making it sound as if he got lucky. (CEPR's Dan Beeton noted the passive voice the Times was using here).
But the paper finally gets down to telling readers:
Mr. Correa has taken advantage of high oil prices to put money into social programs, earning him immense popularity, especially among the country’s poor. In a country of 14.6 million people, about 28 percent lived in poverty in 2011, down from 37 percent in 2006, the year before Mr. Correa took office, according to World Bank data.
For anyone who might be wondering what life in Ecuador is like under Correa, this would be the kind of thing that likely has more impact on their lives than his record on press freedom. It is revealing, then, that the Times, on the eve of his re-election, would spend so much more time talking about what's not to like about Correa.
Others, like economist Mark Weisbrot (Guardian, 2/15/13), have noted that developments under his term deserve consideration. He writes that Correa has taken serious steps to improve the country, including "what is possibly the most comprehensive financial reform of any country in the 21st century," along with a massive fiscal stimulus in 2008. Weisbrot also notes that the much of the private media were under the control of the country's banks, and Correa has tried to break up that power.
So the polls–not to mention the actual voting results, which had Correa winning with 56 percent, vs. 23 percent for his closest opponent–show us that Ecuadoreans weren't "apprehensive" about giving Correa another term. So why was the New York Times? Probably because his policies are the kind that institutions like the Times tell us aren't supposed to work.