MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY: You may have seen her around. Her weekly opinion pieces – republished in right-wing publications like La Nación – are such unabashed hackery that it’s inevitable you’ll have that “where do I know her from” moment – that feeling you get when you IMDB-search a bad actor and see her b-list portfolio of horror. “Oh, that’s the one! I remember her!”. You may remember O’Grady from the “Bolivia = Afghanistan” piece, or the “Brazil is a secret communist sympathizer and deserves to be spied on” piece. She is the reigning champion and veteran titleholder of WSJ’s ‘trollerweight class.’ Even after 15 years in the game, she’s shown no desire of relinquishing this crown – or even branching out to a stylistic change like ‘using citations’ or ‘properly translating word definitions from English to Spanish.’
I call her a troll, but to be fair, she’s a little different than your average bridge-dweller. O’Grady is best thought of as a libertarian fan-fiction writer who has crafted out a steady career using actual names and places but changing facts, setting it all in the present to generate intrigue with conservative-minded foreign affair pessimists, a.k.a Wall Street Journal readers. All her talking points are reshaped libertarian principles – free markets are the be-all-end-all, property rights are sacrilegious and the sight of any regulation causes capitalists to not be bothered. Not a shred of self-doubt exists in her. Reading her commentary is like reading up on a cult – eventually you realize her lack of self-reflection isn’t a character flaw; it’s actually vital to her success.
In her world, Latin American economic thinkers don’t exist. According to O’Grady, the root of Latin America’s economic issues isn’t the fault of colonialism – a word she never uses, except when describing Colombian politicians as ‘neocolonialists’ – but is squarely with this region’s left-wing ‘ivory tower intellectuals,’ who used dastardly tricks to seize unearned influence among the political elite, who then, in turn, undermined “freedom” and crippled the class of entrepreneurs, causing perpetual economic stagnation. She never bothers to name names or their associated movements, confident that everyone at a Reason.tv conference or with a WSJ subscription are already well-aware of these shadowy traitors of freedom. Chavez, however, gets the full treatment. A whopping 25% of her Americas articles refer to Chavez by name.
What makes O’Grady tick? She’s obsessive about the appearance of seriousness and never deviates with, say, humor or lightheartedness — the closest she comes is condescending mockery of all those who aren’t her. (I was close to taking the high ground against this until I realized that I, uhhh, am writing for this site after all, so maybe I should let that one slide). It feels as if she accidentally stumbled upon a writers’ career goldmine — she just presents right-wing echo chamber party discussion as competently written fact. Her skills are distinctly in the “pre-Wikipedia print era,” when your goal as a columnist wasn’t to cover yourself from inaccuracy a reader might find in the first ten Google results, but to leave the reader’s intuition satisfied enough to add it to their cocktail party conversation arsenal. The key to this is memorable yet smart sounding adjectives. “Chavez is an unquenchable tyrant” and “Did you know that Castro emancipates black Cubans?“. Mmm, yes, quite. *Swirls brandy*
Despite how infuriating she should be in theory, I was never angry at her in some internet-rage kind of way. Each paragraph makes me want to yell “OBJECTION; HEARSAY,” instead of spout obscenities, which is a credit to her sneaky “we’re serious people” hypnotize. In fact, writing this critique without a tie and a mahogany desk feels a little uncouth right now. And look, right then she passively tricked me into using the word critique, despite this clearly being a “smackdown” piece. Great, she’s officially in my head. I’d go get myself a whiskey to relax but I’m all dry on 30-year aged sour-melt super malt whisk-ay. Humph.
The more I read her, the stranger she seems. She flies under its radar – there’s no blog discussion of her, nor a twitter presence, nor does she contribute somewhere outside of the WSJ. Then it occurred to me: Maybe she doesn’t even use a computer. She rarely mentions the internet (except that it could set the Cubans free, which sounds like her attempt at a hip opinion after social media’s influence on the Arab Spring.) If true, this would be remarkable in 2014. I’m almost certain that her “information sources” are either from paper books or anecdotes told by others.
Moreover, it totally explains how she comes up with so many mind-boggling misrepresentations of facts and ideas in her articles. It seems her “research” is talking to other right-wing conservatives, watching right-wing news, and asking, “How can I come up with a libertarian answer to this?” then connecting the dots. I doubt she knows how to Google search. Does she even keep notes? Her process seems to involve 1) Loading Microsoft Word, and 2) …just, well, not changing windows until it’s done. It would explain many of her curious paragraphs like:
In 2009, then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party wanted to extend his term-limited presidency. The Honduran Constitution, written to protect the nation against dictatorship, expressly forbids the executive from even raising the issue of re-election. But Mr. Zelaya, who had been learning from other elected tyrants, such as Hugo Chávez, thought he could make an end run around the law by calling a referendum. When Mr. Zelaya met institutional resistance, he brought a violent mob into the streets.
That triggered a warrant for his arrest from the Honduran Supreme Court. The military complied and then deported Mr. Zelaya to Costa Rica on the grounds that imprisonment in Honduras would generate unrest and result in loss of life. The legality of the deportation was debatable—but his removal from office was not.
Other than brilliantly avoiding use of the word “coup”, she inexplicably ignores many core facts. The referendum was non-binding and was scheduled to take place during the next election, meaning the sitting President – Zalaya – would not be eligible. The secret arrest warrant and subsequent forced deportation was internationally condemned as a coup (and rightly so). These details were well-publicized. “The legality of the deportation was debatable…” The military forcing a sitting president into exile after using a dubious secret arrest warrant is not a “debatable legality.” She goes on:
Yet the bullying by Washington took its toll. The newly elected president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, was keenly aware that Honduras was out of favor with the U.S. and other left-wing governments in the region. He set about to placate them. One of his most controversial decisions was to grant amnesty to Mr. Zelaya, who ought to have been tried for his high crimes and misdemeanors.
Honduran presidents are only allowed to serve one term. They may never again run for re-election. I doubt O’Grady supports one-term political systems, so either she doesn’t know this or she’s being absurdly disingenuous. Sadly for O’Grady, it appears to be the former. It’s incomprehensible that she would charge full-steam at this topic and call for a trial against a man who wanted to conduct a non-binding referendum (i.e., a poll) to allow other presidents’ re-election. Only two conclusions can be drawn: She’s either incapable of fact-checking, or her entire column is a conscious effort to produce right-wing revisionist fiction for entertainment.
Then there’s this piece about Cristina, and how she allegedly “copies the Perón model”:
“That would leave Ricardo Alfonsin, of the left-of-center Radical Party and son of a former president, as the most likely challenger to Mrs. Kirchner.
Most of the center-right would have to plug their noses to vote for Mr. Alfonsin. Yet if he positions himself ever-so-slightly to her right, and he gets backing from the popular Federal Peronist Francisco de Narvaez, he could force Mrs. Kirchner into a second-round runoff. In that case, her odds of victory would be severely diminished. For many Argentines, that would be a compromise worth making.
Any research on Alfonsin in 2011 – say, from reading any Argentine opinion columns or many Wikipedia topics – would show otherwise. She focuses on Alfonsin because of name recognition, which, to me, is another one of her subconscious, condescending displays to Latin countries who probably seem like they’re sheep for that kind of thing. Alfonsin, however, was a long-shot to win the nomination, and only got it because the Broad Progressive Front (FAP) alliance splintered, and the Radicals’ more popular candidate later withdrew.
Let me break down her logic: “If the socialists and left-wing radicals vote for the son of a former president who plans to shift right to gain votes from the right-wing opposition Peronist faction, he could win a second runoff.” 1) Broad Progressive Front was never voting for Alfonsin, 2) Even if they did, they wouldn’t allow him to move right enough to impress Menemist or Peronists and 3) How could he win in a second runoff since there will only be two candidates left (Alfonsin and Cristina)? Where did she even get this from? No Argentine she’d come across would ever suggest this – it would be a cold day in hell before the right-wing assisted the socialists/radicals. No one in the media proposed this strategy. Simple research would show this wouldn’t work. I make it sound like a mystery, but it’s clear, at this point, that she just makes shit up.
But her finest work is the “Bolivia = Afghanistan” column. First, look at this fantastic array of “facts”:
Iran may be using its Bolivian network to smuggle strategic minerals like tantalum (used to coat missiles), Mr. Humire told Congress. It may even be smuggling people. Unconfirmed but credible reports describe high officials ordering the issuance of I.D. cards and passports to numerous young, fit “turks”—a slang term in South America for Middle Easterners. One witness told a Bolivian source of mine (who asked to remain anonymous for reasons of safety) that the foreigners were Iranians, but not diplomats.
Google tells me that Mr Humire did not tell congress this. In fact, in a Washington Post article, he speculated that acquiring tantalum could be a point of interest for Iran in Bolivia. A Google search tells me that tantalum is a metal found on every single continent, and also be refined from tin. She then mistakes “unconfirmed but credible reports” for the Tom Clancy novel she read last night.
In the years after a brutal 10-year Soviet occupation, Afghanistan became a petri dish in which a culture of organized crime, radical politics and religious fundamentalism festered—and where Osama bin Laden set up operations. Now something similar may be happening in Bolivia. The government is an advocate for coca growers. The Iranian presence is increasing. And reports from the ground suggest that African extremists are joining the fray.
Woah, now there’s some false equivalence if I’ve ever seen it! Coca growers, Iranian, and “ground reports” of African extremism. Luckily, Bolivia’s popularity as a backpackers’ destination gives us plenty of primary sources. Let’s check out some advice to travelers of Bolivia in 2013:
My biggest packing regret is that I brought a little black dress to Bolivia.
I’ll give you one guess how many times that came in handy – that’s right, zero. The great thing about Bolivia is that it’s not a dressing-up kind of place. The less great thing is that the weather fluctuates often, especially as you move into higher altitudes, no matter what time of year you visit.
The main thing to remember about Bolivia is to take it slow. You might need time to acclimatize to the altitude, particularly if you arrive in La Paz. There are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from, whether it’s visiting the jungle, cycling down the most dangerous road in the world, hiking with condors, cruising around the Salar de Uyuni, or shopping in one of Bolivia’s many markets.
As usual when I travel, I brought a mixture of the right things and the wrong things. I underestimated the cold evenings and powerful daytime sun, so I was forced to spend $5 on a hat and gloves at a market stall in Potosi. I brought two pairs of jeans – what sensible backpacker brings two pairs of bulky jeans? I can’t talk about it.
Bolivia is a country of contrasts: blinding white salt flats, the vast altiplano, sticky jungles, almost-cosmopolitan cities, and lung-busting altitudes. Pack sensibly and in the end, you won’t need much at all.
Holy sweet jesus, this girl brought two pairs of jeans, and no counter-insurgency tactical assault rifles?! It’s incredible that she survived her trip. O’Grady needs to inform the travel forums of these new risky geo-political developments! Luckily, I already did, posting on the Trip Advisor message boards:
Title: Bolivia is becoming the new Afghanistan, STAY AWAY
Subject: Hello fellow travelers and backpackers, I have been informed by some unconfirmed but credible reports that the Bolivian government has been handing out passports and ID cards to Middle Easterns, which everyone knows means Iranians. It’s well-known their vested interest in using the new socialist president Evo Morales as a puppet to extract resources to build weapons.
After the inevitable downfall of socialist Venezuela with the death of Chavez, its major ally Iran will be looking to secure a new ally in the region to carry out its evil regime’s deeds. I implore all of you TO NOT GO BACKPACKING IN BOLIVIA! THIS IS THE SAME AS BACKPACKING IN AFGHANISTAN CIRCA 1985.
I have emailed the forum administrators asking that this message be placed at the top of the forum and all posters be emailed warnings them of this grave threat to their safety. If anyone has any questions, please email O’Grady@wsj.com. Kind regards.
I posted this some time ago hoping for some quotable replies that I could use for a little humor intermission here. But my post was quickly deleted because I sounded like a crazy person who lives in his own reality, and who takes a sick pleasure in spreading baseless theories based on condescension and scare tactics. Or a Wall Street Journalist columnist for the Americas, evidently.
Here’s how I see it: Mary O’Grady was the ideal columnist when neoliberal reforms were the cool thing in early 90’s Latin America. The pendulum has since swung the other way, after the cataclysmic failures of Argentina and Ecuador — although not as far as Mary O’Grady thinks. In any case, her columns provided much needed intellectual massaging to the Wall Street finance elite, who wanted to see a true conservative hawk swoop hard, and often, so that later on, they could say “The Wall Street Journal has been saying that this was inevitable for years!” while reactionary leftist movements leave countries struggling.
This hasn’t happened, but O’Grady fights the same war, regardless. Other eternal hawks – like John McCain – still believe the cold war rages on. McCain earned his respect by being unrelenting, and never showing weakness or doubt to the enemy – which ironically made him the ridiculous parody he is today: a man confused by why his 30-year old approach to politics didn’t win him the presidency. O’Grady was hired with that same kind of outdated mentality. To pull her now would be a concession from the WSJ that the war is over, that nuance and depth has replaced dogma and shock therapy.
The question is, who will realize first: The Wall Street Journal or La Nación? Or maybe O’Grady will adapt first by beginning to use the internet, and who knows, maybe even fact check once in a while.