Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Press Coverage of the U.S.-Mexico Drug War

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A good friend, who is a former foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, recently told me about the pressure he got from his editors during a recent reporting stint along the U.S.-Mexico border.  “They only wanted me to come up with the big story on the drug war, to find breaking news over and over again,” he said.  “But nothing that big was happening in Tijuana; the action was in Ciudad Juárez instead.”  

By “action,” he was referring to the dozens of weekly reports of attacks, torture, murders, disappearances, and even what appears to be random violence in Juárez, directly across from El Paso, Texas—one of the safest cities in the United States.  Between March and September of this year, at least 40 people who received treatment for drug addiction at rehab facilities in Juárez were killed by gunmen; the reason why they were targeted remains unclear.  Last month, Juárez’ murder rate became the highest in the world, surpassing that of Caracas and Rio de Janeiro.  

While it’s incredibly important to denounce this violence and inform the public, the general reporting trend coming out of Mexico‘s drug war seems to be reaching its lowest point.  There is something sad and cold and detached to that “action” approach to journalism that frames the story as a way to generate readership and higher ratings.  Our quick turnaround news cycle and the current economic recession are driving reporters to deliver ever grimmer and bombastic news on the U.S. side of the border; on the Mexican side, the situation is different.

Mexican journalists from both local and national papers and TV news programs are being silenced through violence and intimidation.  When I visited Mexican border cities Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros recently, the local papers had no mention of the exploding drug violence in the country even though the issue was headlined in U.S. publications.  The intimidation of the press is such now, that journalists are joining businesspeople as the top U.S. asylum seekers in Mexico.

But there is enlightening coverage in the United States.  The Los Angeles Times’ “Mexico Under Siege” reporters are regularly filing pieces from throughout the country, highlighting the U.S. role in the War on Drugs and the increased militarization in MexicoVideographer and photographer Travis Fox of The Washington Post is currently traveling with reporter William Booth along the entire border, thoughtfully documenting the impact of the narcotics war on average Mexicans.

I don’t believe I’m alone in becoming a conflicted news reader: part of me wants the stories to go deeper and wider and part wants to avoid them altogether.  Despite the challenges in telling the narcotics story, I hope that future coverage will go beyond the daily headlines—to ask questions about the purpose of this current war, and what should be (if at all) the role of the United States.

* Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is an independent journalist based in Austin, Texas, and her work can be found at Fonografia Collective (http://fonografiacollective.com).


Ruxandra Guidi is an independent journalist and multimedia producer with Fonografia Collective (http://fonografiacollective.com) based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tags: Ciudad Juárez, freedom of press, Mexico's drug war
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