OPINION

By MARK LORENZANA

In February of this year, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an editorial criticizing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), saying his “rhetoric will get more journalists killed.”

Specifically, the Union-Tribune editorial zeroed in on López Obrador’s penchant for labeling journalists — especially journalists who criticize AMLO and his administration — as “thugs,” “mercenaries” and “sellouts.” At that time, 10 months ago, five journalists have been killed in Mexico — two in Tijuana, which shares a border with San Diego. Since then, there have been 10 more journalists murdered in the country, bringing the body count to 15 — tallied by the Associated Press — in 2022 alone. Needless to say, this has been the deadliest year for Mexican journalists and media workers.

On the night of Thursday, Dec. 17, Mexican Imagen Televisión news anchor Ciro Gómez Leyva — a prominent critic of López Obrador — was attacked by two gunmen, who fled on a motorcycle after the shooting. Fortunately, Gómez Leyva’s vehicle was armored, or he would have been the 16th journalist killed under AMLO’s administration.

A day before the shooting, López Obrador verbally assaulted Gómez Leyva in his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, calling the news anchor “dishonest,” adding that listening to conservative reporters such as Gómez Leyva could be harmful to listeners’ health because it “could give you a brain tumor.”

This is exactly the rhetoric, wrote the Union-Tribune in its editorial, that could get more journalists in Mexico killed.

Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola, another frequent AMLO target, wrote in his Washington Post column on Monday, Dec. 20, that for the past four years since the president took office, various international organizations have denounced López Obrador’s dangerous rhetoric against journalists, specifically, “international organizations, civil society and intellectuals who have asked him dozens of times to stop the harassment (against the media).”

“So, although the motive for the attack against Gómez Leyva is not yet known, it is impossible not to connect the dots: The president of Mexico has a responsibility to assume for being the main promoter of a hostile environment for journalism, through his verbal attacks and for not having done anything to stop the physical attacks,” wrote Loret de Mola. “From the outset, AMLO is responsible for the message of violence. In a systematic and disciplined, almost religious way, for two or three hours in his morning conference … the message is to suppress those who disagree with him.”

And López Obrador isn’t even content with his daily morning tirades against journalists. On Wednesdays, AMLO has a “special” segment, helmed by Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis, former web content coordinator for La Jornada de Oriente in Puebla. The segment, titled “Who’s Who of Media Lies of the Week,” according to García Vilchis herself, shortly after it was first launched in July of 2021, is “dedicated to dismantling the lies that are spread,” adding that “journalists and media are not stigmatized. If some of the allegations made are imprecise or require some clarification, we will be willing to acknowledge it.”

Well and good, but on the same day that García Vilchis issued this statement, López Obrador immediately proceeded to stigmatize journalists, specifically from Mexican daily newspapers Reforma, El Financiero and El Universal, saying that there is a “bombardment of lies” coming from journalists who work for these media outlets, and that they have all benefitted from “juicy contracts” with previous administrations.

And García Vilchis herself, whose job is supposedly to expose fake news and purported lies coming from journalists, has been caught being less than truthful. Mexican political analyst Sergio Sarmiento, in a Reforma column on Sept. 9, enumerated a few examples of this. (Sarmiento, by the way, in the same column, described García Vilchis as “a political battering ram who lies to obtain her goals.”)

In one example, in a Sept. 7 segment, García Vilchis said that “the young Argentine liberal activist Agustín Antonetti is the founder of the Atlas Network, an American political organization” but that “Antonetti himself responded that he was born in 2001, 20 years after the creation of the Atlas Network, which dates back to 1981.” This prompted Antonetti himself to respond that “perhaps mathematics is not her thing.”

In another example that Sarmiento noted, García Vilchis, in July 2021, accused journalist Julio Hernández, also known as Julio Astillero, of lying and giving out “false statements” about certain actions by the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) in San Luis Potosí. Hernández responded with evidence backing up his claims, and described García Vilchis as “imprecise, stumbling, tendentious and demagogic.”

Hernández also demanded an apology from García Vilchis, but to date she has not given one, according to Sarmiento.

In a more recent article titled “Mexican government did not prove that opponents lied during a press conference,” the Associated Press reported that “García Vilchis denounced a smear campaign against López Obrador’s Plan B electoral reform, at AMLO’s morning press conference, but no evidence was presented to prove that the claims of opponents of said initiative are false.”

“García Vilchis did not present evidence that refutes the affirmations of opponents of Plan B of the reform. The only thing she did was say that the ‘attacks and lies’ against López Obrador had been increasing, and she listed some opinions of journalists and opponents of the proposal and then presented a video where these characters are heard,” read the Associated Press report. “At the end of the projection of the video, García Vilchis only chose to say: ‘Well, we’ll leave it for you to judge’ and then changed the subject.”

Journalists who are worth their salt, when they write news reports — and even opinion — about López Obrador, do so based on facts that are readily verifiable and defensible. Indeed, even journalists who err readily acknowledge their mistakes, as Hernández himself said, when he addressed García Vilchis, who called him a liar and accused him of giving out “false statements.”

“I want to bring to the attention of Mrs. Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis the fact that when we, as journalists, make a mistake, we recognize it and offer an apology,” said Hernández. “Hopefully, after all this, there will be consistency, and Mrs. García Vilchis will understand a true journalistic exercise.”

That’s wishful thinking, at the very least.

García Vilchis will continue to call journalists liars in her “Who’s Who of Media Lies of the Week,” despite providing dubious evidence, and López Obrador will continue with his daily tirades against the media in his mañaneras, labeling its practitioners “thugs,” “mercenaries,” “sellouts” and “dishonest” people who “have all benefited from juicy contracts” — just because they dare disagree with him.

The saddest thing? Not every journalist in Mexico drives a bulletproof SUV like Gómez Leyva.

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