Politico’s Ben Smith and Left Business Observer’s Doug Henwood join in smear campaign against Vicky Peláez


When the FBI arrested ten Cubans in Miami in 1998, accusing them of espionage and failing to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, Miami’s media immediately went into action, with headlines that screamed “Spies Among Us” and “Experts Claim That Cuba Sells Information Gathered by Spies.”  When the accused finally went to trial in the late fall of 2000 and early 2001, Miami’s rocket scientists had added another charge to the original indictment – that of conspiracy to commit murder – in relation to Cuba’s shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft who had defied every warning from both U.S. and Cuban governments in order to repeatedly trespass into Cuban airspace.  For the court case, the media went into overdrive.

Univision‘s Channel 23 assigned its art department to come up with the subliminal visuals: a sinister looking man peering out from a shadowy Cuban flag, while reporters and anchors performed their assigned roles of holding microphones before the tearful relatives of the downed fliers.  It was such a media tour de force that it resulted in what the Atlanta Circuit Court of Appeals would later call a “perfect storm of prejudice” that landed five of the men in maximum security prisons, one of them, Gerardo Hernández, under a double life sentence plus 15 years.  The government even tried to withdraw the charge against Hernández at the last minute, worried that the lack of evidence would sink its entire case, but the jury, well-dosed by the surrounding media and community hysteria found the lack of evidence no barrier to a conviction.

Five years would pass before the truth behind the media’s “perfect storm” would begin to emerge, which was that the U.S. Government was paying these journalists for their performances.  Some worked for the U.S. Government funded anti-Cuban Radio and TV Martí, at the same time they worked for Univision and other media outlets.  Leonard Weinglass says that this “evidence of the government’s manipulations of attitudes within the community…violated Gerardo’s constitutional right to a fair trial” and is the substance of his recently filed federal habeas corpus appeal.

When the FBI went after another ten people in the Northeast this last weekend, accusing them of being Russian agents, it might not have been able to count on the same tsunami of coverage that it enjoyed in Miami, but then again, we’ve only just gotten started.  Already there is a sleazy snippet circulating on the internet about Vicky Peláez, thanks to a website housed in suburban Arlington, Virginia, and a somewhat obscure newsletter, Left Business Observer (LBO), housed in Brooklyn.   Doug Henwood who edits LBO, calls Peláez a “nut” and Ben Smith, who writes for the website Politico, calls her a “fabricator” for including information in an article she wrote on the U.S. prison industrial complex that she said sourced from LBO, when Henwood claims that it didn’t.

Henwood has had years to make this claim, yet he has not said a word until now.  Despite whatever claims he might make to being technologically challenged – and I’m only guessing at these based on the dismal appearance and general uselessness of Left Business Observer‘s website – the quote “According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens” has been freely available on the internet for years.  All you have to do is Google “According to the Left Business Observer,” period, and the quote will magically appear.

Is it a coincidence that Henwood suddenly notices this, decides it is a problem, and moves himself to speak about it when Vicky Peláez is not in a position to defend herself?  I’m not saying that Henwood and Smith are being paid by the U.S. government – if true, it would take years to ferret out anyway – but there’s no question that their efforts are helpful in the government’s quest to destroy Peláez’s career.

This morning Amy Goodman interviewed John Pilger on Democracy Now about the current war on journalists and the difference between journalists who serve as apologists for that war, and those who serve their country by being honest reporters, like Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings, and I would add, El Diario-La Prensa‘s Vicky Peláez.  I suggest Smith and Henwood have a look and see if they can figure out which side they’re on.

Editor’s Note: Not fifteen minutes after publishing this, I received the following note from Henwood, who is as apparently charming as he is technologically challenged:

You’re obviously a fucking idiot. How am I smearing someone to say she attributed something to me that was totally false?

I dunno, this smells of Workers World or something.

I do not have any association with Workers World.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity. This article may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the author is cited.

10 responses to “Politico’s Ben Smith and Left Business Observer’s Doug Henwood join in smear campaign against Vicky Peláez

  1. 15 minutes! Even if Machetera might be slightly off on the time frame, I have to ask “How many times per day do you Google yourself Dougie!?” Any other strange obsessions!? Beware of carpel tunnel!

  2. The LBO website is certainly no default WordPress blog, that’s for sure.

  3. I’m convinced either this is a satire of some kind or you’re suffering from a mild form of autism.

  4. You are quite the easily erosible little shit, aren’t you?

    • Erosible?! Are you kidding me? This story disturbed you so much you had to comment not once, but twice? Without saying anything of substance either time?

  5. Machetera, I have a lot of respect for your site and your translations, but I think it’s going a bit far to imagine that Left Business Observer (an excellent, informative site) is participating in a smear campaign with Politico.

    Have you considered that perhaps Doug Henwood said nothing about it until one of the biggest blogs in the country linked to him about it?

    I have no idea about the truth of the claims.

    However it looks like some confusion has arisen in Peláez’s failure to make a distinction, when writing the original article, apparently available here:


    between the federal prison industry, and Federal Prison Industries Inc., also known as UNICOR, which does, or at least did, produce miltary helmets, as this Stars and Stripes article reports here:


    UNICOR products listed here:


    She creates the confusion -perhaps inadvertently- by translating the name of the company into Spanish. In fairness she uses caps.

    (Assuming it was she who wrote the article: there is no online original of the El Diario/La Prensa article)

    This is then retranslated into English as ‘the federal prison industry’, and the caps are lost. So the claim appears not to be about federal prison labor as such, but one particular company.

    Perhaps you could give your thoughts as to whether the ‘93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor…’ claim refers solely to assembly services for these things, or, as the English translation seems to imply, their overall supply. And also whether the claim seems accurate.

    • Hugh, I have considered your suggestion, that Henwood said nothing about it until Politico linked to him about it, and I don’t buy it. Ben Smith posted the following, at Politico, on June 28th:

      Doug Henwood, who founded LBO in 1986 and has run the newsletter since then, noted on my Facebook page: “I edit LBO, and I never wrote or edited such a thing. Who is this nut?”

      Henwood did not write anything about this on his own blog until June 29th, referencing himself in the Politico post.

      So he contacted Smith (Politico), not the other way round.

      There was a good post on a Marxism listserve about this. I have not received a reply to my request for permission to re-post it, so you can read it here.

      The writer says that “In Henwood’s case it can be excused — an offhand, informal remark that got blown up into something else. Unfortunate.”

      Maybe. I don’t think you make offhand informal remarks to people who write for Politico about other people who happen to be the subject of extreme media interest and hope that they will be ignored. Henwood’s post on his own blog the following day indicates that he was pleased with the response.

      You make a good point when you ask about the accuracy of the claim, because this is all that really matters in the end. I do believe it seems accurate, and maybe at a later time I’ll take up the issue of UNICOR. For now, I refer you again to the Marxmail post:

      fabrication, nor a screw up that happened when the English piece got
      posted in Canada, nor a mistake in editing or crafting the translation,
      or the typesetting and layout of the original Spanish column, all things
      Pelaez didn’t necessarily have anything to do with, if none of that
      happened, what does it show?

      Almost certainly, that either Doug Henwood misremembered and in fact at
      some point in the last quarter century those figures did appear in LBO,
      or that Pelaez (in my experience, more likely her copy editor, but let
      it pass) committed a slip in sourcing. She got LBO mixed up with some
      other publication.

      I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to Henwood or his several fans
      –despite that “venerable” bit of ass-licking by Smith, desperate to
      make his post more credible– to know that there’s no point to
      attributing something to LBO to make it sound more “authoritative,” as
      if LBO were the NY Times or something. So IF there was an error, it was
      just that, an error, a simple, innocent, honest mistake.

  6. Thanks Machetera,

    I think the writer makes a lot of telling points in that post, which seems to have been removed (though it is still available cached. I agree 100% with what is being said about Politico.

    And, on consideration, I think you’re closer to the truth in your characterisation of Doug Henwood’s activities here than I was prepared to admit at the outset. If someone attributed something false to me, I’d make damn sure I had the full picture before I started calling that person a ‘nut’. Especially if that person had been detained by the FBI, which is not exactly the most reputable of organisations by any decent standard.

    Now, in terms of the chronology of events, it is true that Doug Henwood posted on Smith’s Facebook page before Smith posted on his blog. But we would also need to see if Smith had posted something on his own Facebook page to which Henwood had responded. I can’t find that information because I don’t have access to Smith’s Facebook page.

    However, I do see, from his own Facebook page, that Henwood had originally titled his post Misquoted by a spy!, and it now appears as ‘Misquoted by a(n alleged) spy!’ So at the very least he was prepared to accept the FBI accusation at face value. And perhaps he finds a certain allure in having an association with mainstream ‘respectability’.

    Anyway, one other fairly obvious point to make is that if Vicky Peláez were indeed a ‘journalistic malfeasant’, as Henwood claims when he refers to ‘this instance’ (implying that there are other instances), then there would be an abundance of such examples, and some sufficiently motivated individual would have pulled them together. Are there? Having read plenty of other attributed to her in the past few days, I can’t find any.

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