Brooke talks to Mike O’Connor of the Committee to Protect Journalists about the risks that reporters face in a country beset by drug-violence, often targeted at the media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last fall, reporter Marianne McCune and I went to Mexico to learn about the roadblocks to effective reporting on that nation’s most persistent problems, ones that inevitably slip north, that are our problems too, that we’ve had a hand in creating, like the drug war.
For some background, Marianne and I met with Mike O'Conner, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ man in Mexico City, at a local eatery, and he gave us a briefing on then-President Felipe Calderon’s drug war, launched in 2006, a war that compounded the murder and mayhem normally associated with drug trafficking with a death toll topping 50,000.
MIKE O’CONNOR: What happened is that Mexicans were now getting hooked on drugs. Organized crime cartels were turning inward and controlling almost all illicit activities in growing areas of the country, and challenging the federal government over who controlled growing parts of Mexico. He looked around and said, wow, do I — what can I do? The cops are corrupt, inept or s — or scared to death. I’ll call the army, and the army will do something. But the army is the army. The army knocks down buildings and wipes out masses of opposing forces. The army doesn’t arrest criminals, and they don’t know how to do criminal work.
You know, you could take the smartest colonel in the Mexican Army and put him in charge of one-third of the City of, of Juarez and say, okay, it’s up to you. You’ve got 500 men and you got it. And someone steals a bicycle. Now, what’s the smartest colonel in the Mexican Army gonna do about that stolen bicycle? Nothing!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ignore it.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Yeah, ignore it, right. Now, someone rapes somebody. Now someone kills 15 people there. What is he going to do? Nothing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why nothing?
MIKE O’CONNOR: Because he doesn’t know what to do. He’s a colonel in the army.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why has the pressure diminished a little bit in Juarez? Why is the, the crime rate down?
MIKE O’CONNOR: A, a very reasonable plausible reason is that one side of the groups in conflict has won, and the war is pretty much over, and so the killing is down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the state of journalism in Juarez?
MIKE O’CONNOR: The real story in Juarez is who runs Juarez. Most news organizations in Juarez will not get close to that story. That’s a killer story. Is it a compromise? Or, or, you know, is what — what do you do if, if you're sitting at a stoplight and a guy puts a gun barrel to your head and says “Get out of your car, I’m taking it?” Have, have you made a compromise with that guy? Yeah, you have. But – are you, are you less of a person for having done that?
MARIANNE McCUNE: And how often do you think that the murders of journalists are a result of those journalists making a deal with one side or another?
MIKE O’CONNOR: I don’t know how many. And you know why? Because no one ever investigates the crimes, and what we’re left with is a bunch of gossip and a bunch of guessing, you know?
MARIANNE McCUNE: Okay, thank you so much, I’m off to Juarez now. Is there anything I shouldn’t ask the mayor there?
MIKE O’CONNOR: When you see the mayor, make it the last day, and make sure your cab to the airport is outside and still running.
MARIANNE McCUNE: [LAUGHS] It’s scheduled for the first day, because that’s when they were willing to schedule it.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Leave on the first day.
MARIANNE McCUNE: Thank you so much.
MIKE O’CONNOR: Okay, you’re welcome. Hope to see you again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mike O’Connor of the Committee to Protect Journalists.