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Celia Dugger's One-Woman Mugabe Lobby

Zimbabwe's Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe has been called a "liberation hero" nine times by reporter Celia Dugger. She's never called him a "dictator."

Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe is a self-described Marxist who led the guerilla war against white colonial rule in then-Rhodesia and has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1980. Now 84, he's entering into a surprise power-sharing arrangement with chief rival Morgan Tsvangirai sure to end in tears - or worse. Johannesburg Bureau Chief Celia Dugger covered it in Thursday's "Mugabe Swears In His Rival as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe."


In a sign of the hazards journalists face covering Zimbabwe, Dugger's co-reporter was anonymous: "A reporter in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this article."


Still, Dugger didn't have a problem referring to Mugabe as "the university-educated liberation hero."


Mugabe the hero? This actually marks the ninth time (according to a Nexis search) Dugger has directly referred to Mugabe as a "liberation hero" in her reporting. Number of times Dugger has directly called Mugabe a "dictator"? Zero.


After months of violence, negotiation and reluctant compromise, Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, on Wednesday swore in his nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai, as prime minister of a power-sharing government in which Mr. Mugabe still dominates the repressive state security forces.


Mr. Tsvangirai has fought Mr. Mugabe's authoritarian rule for a decade as opposition leader, but he said he would now work with him to end a raging cholera outbreak, curb hyperinflation ravaging the economy, get children back to school and feed a famished population.


"I, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, do swear that I will well and truly serve Zimbabwe in the office of prime minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe, so help me God," he declared, standing opposite Mr. Mugabe beneath a white tent on the grounds of Zimbabwe's statehouse in Harare.


The success of this improbable partnership - the working-class former union leader, Mr. Tsvangirai, who never went to college, and the university-educated liberation hero, Mr. Mugabe - is still very much in doubt.


Dugger's reporting has not been favorable to the African strongman or his rule, with reports of mass hunger, raging hyperinflation, and violence against white farmers. But combining the pulled punches over "dictator" with the unearned adulation of the phrase "liberation hero" (Mugabe has long been out of the "liberation" business) makes for stark labeling bias and a gross double standard.


The Times certainly doesn't dance around the D-word when discussing right-wing authoritarians like Chile's Augusto Pinochet. A quick-and-dirty Nexis search of the occurrence of the name "Pinochet" within 10 words of "dictator" drew 433 story hits, compared to 25 using the same parameters for "Mugabe" and "dictator."