At the end of June, I wrote a short op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In that article, I criticized Oliver Stone’s “documentary” South of the Border. I wrote the following:
What Mr. Stone and his writers have presented is a standard far-left narrative that is part of a long line of propaganda films, a modern American version of the old agitprop. There are no dissenting voices in this film. Nor is there any mention of the fact that Mr. Chávez has closed down television and radio stations that disagree with him and arrested dissenting political figures.
I then followed that op-ed with a longer article that appeared on my blog and was then put up on the website of the History News Network, the major website of the historical community. I wrote the following paragraph about Chavez’s big mistake of allowing himself to be interviewed by a reporter who knows his stuff, footage Stone knows about but somehow failed to use for his film:
Finally, you should not miss the incredible BBC Hardtalk interview conducted by the fearless BBC reporter Stephen Sackur, who, unlike his US counterparts, knows how to ask the tough questions to Hugo Chavez, and who confronts him head on with his lies, obfuscations, and his inability to be honest. You will see Sackur confront Chavez on his arrest of General Baduel, which I referred to in my WSJ op-ed. Fortunately, Chavez has not learned what Fidel Castro would have told him — never agree to be interviewed except by fawning American acolytes like Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, and all the others who have interviewed Castro and failed to confront him about anything meaningful.
Today, I woke up to find that none other than Oliver Stone himself has answered me in a short letter, in which he refers to my critique of him as a “diatribe,” a word that of course fits his own film and writing far better than anything I have written. He claims that he really does have dissenting voices in his film, as well as opposition leaders criticizing Hugo Chavez. What Stone does is to include brief bits of criticism, in standard propaganda set-ups in which a few words are used to knock the critics down and show Hugo Chavez’s greatness. Nowhere does he include any substantive critic who can provide a different perspective on Chavez and his policies. This is not surprising. As I pointed out by quoting Tariq Ali, his main writer, the film is meant to be one defending and praising Hugo Chavez, not a non-partisan or balanced view of the dictator’s reign.
What one can note from Stone’s letter is that he does not even seek to answer any of the main points I make in my PJM blog, or to refute any of the specific obvious distortions Stone makes in the movie. For example, he does not answer the following charge I made in the WSJ op-ed:
The film depicts the ups and downs of Mr. Chávez’s rise to power, including his failed 1992 coup. It recounts how he was saved from death by armed forces loyal to him, and was brought back to power in large part by Gen. Raul Baduel. The general is shown discussing the role he played in Mr. Chávez’s restoration.
A small detail Mr. Stone conveniently leaves out is that in 2009, Gen. Baduel, who Mr. Chávez had appointed as defense minister, was stripped of power, indicted for corruption, and imprisoned because he had opposed Mr. Chávez’s attempts to institute constitutional changes that would transform Venezuela into a formal dictatorship.
Instead, he cites his own lengthy answer to the devastating article that appeared in the New York Times by Larry Rohter. Rohter, I am sure, will write his own answer to Stone.
By sending his letter criticizing me to HNN, and not to PJM, where my post originally appeared, Stone has revealed something about himself. HNN is a site read mostly by professional historians, whose respect Stone obviously is most anxious to get. He knows that most of them, even many on the left, know that his penchant is to distort history and to present the past as one giant conspiracy, a trait most revealed in his film JFK.
So Stone wants to distort history and present agitprop propaganda, while passing it off as genuine history. The problem is that the goal is irreconcilable. He can do one or the other, and not both. Then he is obviously burned when anyone from the historical community writes to expose his methodology. He wants to dish it out, but obviously, he can’t take it. Mr. Stone, it turns out, is very thin-skinned. Or perhaps no one is going to the theaters to see South of the Border. That is the best revenge we all can have for his paean to a would-be Leninist dictator in our hemisphere.