Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No One Cares about Drug Trafficking in the US

The contrast of the pessimism and obsessiveness of media coverage of drug trafficking in Mexico with the relative ignorance of the same in the US is striking. Especially with regard to American media--the Mexican outlets often seem to do a better job scanning the news wires for drug arrests in the States, which makes the bilateral balance a little more even. The greater attention to Mexico is justified in part by the fact that drug traffickers are more threatening there, but much of it just seems to be the fickleness of media narratives. Case in point: earlier this week, the DEA indicted 11 people in Arizona for trafficking heroin and meth in from Mexico. Not the biggest operation in the world, but enough to land on the homepage of Excélsior for a spell, which is probably about the level of attention it would have received had the arrests taken place in Mexico. In the US, however, the only coverage I saw was a four-sentence story in Nogales International and a longer piece in the White Mountain Independent.

I'd also be interested to see a comparison of drug trafficking stories regarding both the US and Mexico in the big American papers that have bureaus in Mexico City. Obviously the ratio of drug trafficking stories to the total number of pieces about each respective country would be greater for Mexico (the ratio would be close to one a lot of months), but I also wonder what the absolute number of words dedicated to Mexican drug traffic and organized crime in the NY Times would be compared to the attention to the same topic in the US.


malcolm said...

part of it stems from the fact that the calderon administration put the drug war on the agenda, so the US papers follow that (i think the NYT was the only exception in the 90s, when they did drug reporting on their own initiative even though the PRI didn't make it an issue). US papers tend to follow the national political agenda, so if Obama were to decide to wage a new war on drugs, you'd see more coverage of it in US papers.
aside from that, US readers find drug busts absolutely boring, as you well know. they know the drug war has failed in this country, and certainly don't buy into the DEA/Justice Dept. rhetoric following major arrests. What does surprise me, though, is the blackout of news coverage of these major trials, like Cardenas Guillen and Vicente Zambada Niebla in Chicago. I'd love to see coverage of those; i actually requested access a while ago, but got no response.
lastly, unfortunately, the Mexican papers (more and more) appear to have no sense of organization or prioritization for stories, and will slap on a story about a small bust and give it the same space they gave a massive bust a week before. Feed the reader with info, context be damned.

pc said...

Yeah Calderón definitely deserves a lot of the blame, if that's the word you want to use, for the attention. But I think it's taken on a life of its own, too. Calderón tried to downplay drugs after the informe in 2009, and lasted like two months or maybe four trying to promote other aspects of his presidency, and no one would really bite. Drug stuff was still on the front page for this.

The blackout of the trial of Cardenas Guillen was crap. You get more details out of an Al Qaeda criminal proceeding. I understand that he was working for the govt and they didnt want a lot of sensitive info coming out, but come on.

RE your last point, yeah that's definitely true. That's one thing to me that makes the media pact not such a big deal: outlets that just do that kind of reporting on the drug trade --ie such and such got arrested, here's what the government had to say about it-- it's not like they're risking a great deal of investigatory independence and credibility by signing the pact. It would be one thing if all these papers were calling their woodwards in from the cold, but most don't really have any. That limits the downside substantially. Though it depends a lot on how it plays out in practice, of course.