From Charles Bowden’s Mother Jones article on violence in Mexico:

There are two Mexicos.

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.

It does not exist.

There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.

The reporter lives in this second Mexico.

While I applaud the attempt to focus US attention on the violence in Mexico, this article suffers from some fundamental flaws. The most problematic is its tendency to sensationalism.

Let’s start with the  theatrical claim that the "first" Mexico does not exist. If there are two Mexicos, as the article claims, one a fabrication of the American press, then we’re left with one cesspool of corruption and violence stretching from the Rio Grande to Guatemala. What’s more, after pulling back the curtain on the "real" Mexico, Bowden’s assertion that his subject lives in the "second" Mexico is redundant.

But here logic is sacrificed on the throne of vigorous prose, and an entire country is conflated to its most troubled region. A more sober description of Mexico would grant that there are hundreds, thousands, millions of Mexicos, the majority of which have no perfect match in either side of the binary given. The Mexico of the southern state of Chiapas is not that of Mexico City; conditions in San Luis Potosi are not those in Quintana Roo; a Mexican working at the tourist resorts of Cozumel do not enjoy the same Mexico as a journalist beat in Ciudad Juarez.

It is true, Bowden’s second Mexico has a close approximationis in the Mexico along the US border, where the lion’s share of the violence occurs. But, in the end, these northern states represent a very small percentage of the country. To label the whole country according to the happenings, however horrible, of a couple states is both unfair, and intellectually dishonest. 

Granted, this Mother Jones piece does make for good print. It also, I believe, has the good intention of bringing to life unbelievable atrocities right across our border. But in its zeal to bring the US press to task, to out this fictitious "first Mexico," it overreaches. Major players in US media have done a commendable job covering this ongoing story, and Mother Jones is not present on the short list.

For coverage that has been nothing short of stellar, check out the LA Times’ project "Mexico Under Siege"; it does not sugarcoat the violence, the lawlessness, or the complicity of US citizens and politicians. It also does not stoop to hyperbole. And while this may separate me from the mass of US media-consumers, I prefer sober, accurate analysis, to sensationalistic maxims. 

Lance Steagall

Lance Steagall

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