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Populism and the Press in Venezuela


Populism and the Press in Venezuela

Since 2006, Venezuela has had the highest homicide rate in South America and one of the highest levels of gun violence in the world. Former president Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, downplayed the extent of violent crime and instead emphasized rehabilitation. His successor, President Nicolás Maduro, took the opposite approach, declaring an all-out war on crime (mano dura). What accounts for this drastic shift toward more punitive measures?
In Deadline, anthropologist Robert Samet answers this question by focusing on the relationship between populism, the press, and what he calls “the will to security.” Drawing on nearly a decade of ethnographic research alongside journalists on the Caracas crime beat, he shows how the media shaped the politics of security from the ground up. Paradoxically, Venezuela’s punitive turn was not the product of dictatorship, but rather an outgrowth of practices and institutions normally associated with democracy. Samet reckons with this apparent contradiction by exploring the circulation of extralegal denuncias (accusations) by crime journalists, editors, sources, and audiences. Denuncias are a form of public shaming or exposé that channels popular anger against the powers that be. By showing how denuncias mobilize dissent, Deadline weaves a much larger tale about the relationship between the press, popular outrage, and the politics of security in the twenty-first century.

232 pages | 10 halftones, 2 maps, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: Latin American History

Latin American Studies

Political Science: Urban Politics

Sociology: Criminology, Delinquency, Social Control


“Samet’s book is ethnography at its best, from theoretical, empirical, and analytical viewpoints. His application of the theory of populism to crime journalism creates a novel and welcome dimension given the excessive use of the populist label in literature on governments and political movements in the current era.”

American Anthropologist

"Rendered in beautiful, sharp and immensely accessible prose, this outstanding ethnography is anthropological theorizing done in a way that once seemed long gone. It is probably one of the most insightful studies of populism across social sciences in recent times. It will interest readers in political and economic anthropology broadly defined and would be a perfect addition to course reading lists.”


Deadline is a gripping study of the media practices that shape and mold the protean effects of populism. The focus is Venezuela, a petrostate that fervently crystallized global neoliberal discontent in the theatrics of chavismo even as the populist movement became wreathed in increasing violence and social instability. Samet provides an engrossing, insightful analysis of this situation that will contribute to timely discussions about populism, assumptions about democracy, and the politics of journalism.”

Dominic Boyer, Rice University

“An important work of Latin American scholarship, Deadline is nuanced, timely, and exceptionally well written. With this ethnographically rich and theoretically innovative book, Samet gives us a major contribution to the fields of media studies and political anthropology, and to the study of Venezuela.”

Winifred Tate, Colby College

"In a crowded field, Robert Samet’s Deadline: Populism and the Press in Venezuela stands out as an original addition to scholarship on Venezuela under Chávez...[It] challenges us to re-think the relationship between populism, the media and security policy. It demonstrates the link between crime reporting and the construction of a shared identity of crime victimhood. The constructed identity that emerges has spurred aright-wing populist backlash. These themes are of interest well beyond Venezuela."

Bulletin of Spanish Studies

Table of Contents


Introduction / Media and the Logic of Populism

One / Politics in the Chávez Era
Two / Crime Beat
Three / Crime City
Four / Malandro/Sano
Five / The Photographer’s Body
Six / Denouncers
Seven / Radicals and Reformers
Eight / The Subject of Wrongs
Conclusion / The Will to Security

Works Cited


International Communication Association: Journalism Studies Divisional Book Award

New England Council of Latin American Studies: Marysa Navarro Book Prize

Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology: Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Book Prize

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