Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Coverage of Mexico

There have been a pair of compelling pieces on the unfairness of the mainstream coverage of Mexico in recent days. The first, via Boz, comes from Javier Garza Ramos, the editor of El Siglo de Torreón (Arriba Laguna!):
For years the absence of stories about how drugs are moved and traded inside the United States has sparked my curiosity. Ten years ago, while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, I did a content analysis of how several American news outlets portrayed the war on drugs in Mexico and in the United States. I uncovered two main narratives. The one about Mexico focused on government corruption, the cartels’ structure, their control of local law enforcement, and the way they move drugs across the country. The narrative about the US dealt mostly with drug addiction and stories about prevention and rehabilitation programs.

I did not find a single story about how the drugs moved inside the United States, something that I found absurd, because people don’t buy the drugs off trucks at the border. I could not find one story detailing what happened after a drug shipment crossed the border, how those shipments were split, repackaged and transported from El Paso, Laredo, or San Diego to hundreds of American cities and into the hands of drug users. There wasn’t a word about the corridors used to move the drugs, or about the trucks or planes delivering them to the local dealers.

Garza doesn't settle on a good explanation for the disparity. I don't really know either. Part of it seems to be the fickleness of media narratives, which tend to feed on themselves: one great story in the Post about drugs in Mexico provokes a dozen more in other media outlets, each of which provokes ten more, et cetera. However, in the US, there is no such dynamic. I'd bet that in the late 1980s and early '90s, when the crack boom was at its height and everyone was worried about being randomly murdered by a nihilistic gang-member, the sorts of stories he mentions above were more common. Of course, that would also reflect the downturn in crime in the US, so it's not all fickleness.

The second piece is from Roberto Newell García, which at one point examined the evolution of media coverage of Mexico in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal over the past twenty years. In 1993, just 13 percent of the Times articles on Mexico dealt with crime, corruption, or border issues; that figure in 2010 was 84 percent. The jump wasn't quite so extreme in the Journal, but in 2010, 67 percent of the paper's articles on Mexico fell into those three categories. More here from Latin American Thought.

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