YUCATAN, MEXICO — During a civil but decidedly lopsided discussion with several Mexican nationals about the war in Iraq, I was told, “Your view is distorted because you only get the CNN version of the war in the United States.” Never mind that I haven’t seen CNN in months, nor have I been back to the U.S. since the war started; it is a popular notion here in Mexico that the Mexican media is delivering a more “honest” version of the war in Iraq.
It is not just the typical Mexican citizen who thinks this. Carlos Monsivais, a noted Mexican journalist and author, told a recent conference on Mexico-U.S. relations that Mexicans are getting a more objective view of the war than Americans because “Mexican newspapers are leading their front pages with pictures and reports of civilian casualties,” while on American television, all we get are “retired generals and White House press briefings.”
So just how objective is the newspaper coverage in Mexico? Here on the Yucatan Peninsula, it can be summed up by this one-word headline on April 1 from the Spanish-language daily Por Esto: “Assassins.” They aren’t talking about the Republican Guard.
Por Esto (which roughly translates to “For This”) is widely circulated and read in Mexico’s Quintana Roo State and most of the rest of the Yucatan and is a cross between a supermarket tabloid and old-fashioned, muckraking journalism. It specializes in sensational headlines over gruesome pictures from automobile accidents and shootings, arrested narco-traffickers doing the perp walk, and unflattering photos of various politicians and government officials.
Por Esto is also a consistent defender of the un-empowered, with a pull-no-punches policy of exposing and criticizing shady dealings of various government agencies and moneyed interests (sometimes real and sometimes just for the sake of giving a little grief), the inequities and corruption of the drug war, and any other battle where they think the little guy is getting the short end of the stick.
Thus, one might think that the newspaper’s current anti-American tilt might be tempered just a bit by a desire to see the Iraqi people liberated from the dictatorial rule of a murderous thug; but oddly this just isn’t so. Rather, the editors at Por Esto are portraying U.S. and British forces as mercenaries spending their days hunting Iraqi women and children, and Saddam Hussein as holding the line in defense of Iraqi liberty and democracy.
When it was reported that a carload of Iraqis was shot while approaching a military checkpoint, Por Esto, under the headline “Inhuman,” wrote “The United States assassins shoot women and children traveling in car.” (The large-circulation El Universal also reported on the story: “They murdered seven women and children. U.S. troops commit another crime.”)
In Por Esto, one reads, “Syria supports Iraq. Thousands of Syrians receive authorization from the government to support Iraq.” But you will not have to be bothered by stories of Iraqis in the U.S. volunteering to take up arms against Saddam Hussein, or about Iraqi nationals aiding coalition forces.
One learns of Iraqi housewives who are cooking for hungry Iraqi soldiers. “It is the least we can do for our country, for our husbands and brothers and sons. They fight for our country and they need our help.”
But you won’t hear about American forces feeding starving Iraqis, or U.S. soldiers being greeted with hugs and kisses.
Under the April 4 headline, “The U.S. lies,” we learn that “The mercenaries are not close to Baghdad and they don’t control any city, even Umm Qasr.”
In the same edition: “The Baghdad airport is securely in Iraqi hands and newspapers confirm everything is calm there.”
Below a picture of an Iraqi child in a hospital bed with the caption, “I want my mommy,” we learn that this is “but one of the children victimized by U.S. aggression against Iraq.”
On April 5, we learn that U.S. soldiers are “Assassinating more children.”
While Por Esto may be the extreme end of the pro-Saddam, anti-Yankee press in Mexico, they are not alone in their one-sided coverage. Rudy Garcia, editor of the Miami Herald’s Cancun Edition was moved to editorialize last Friday that “the scenes of Mexicans burning American flags and accusing us all of being baby killers is hard to dispel from memory. The skewered news reports, virtually all of them favoring Iraq and turning Saddam Hussein into some sort of hero-martyr just add fuel to the fire.”
Columnist Andres Oppenheimer, in his April 3 editorial on Mexican press criticism of U.S. war coverage, added, “Many U.S. frequent flyers to Mexico will note — with justice — that Mexicans should look into their own media. You can read more anti-war articles in American newspapers than pro-war stories in Mexican newspapers.”
Indeed, in the Sunday, April 6 edition of Por Esto, below the photo caption, “Republican Guard fighters celebrate their victory over the invaders,” but above “The criminals suffer humiliation, says Saddam,” is the headline: “All is well in Baghdad.”
Well, not quite, but Por Esto and some of its fellow Mexican media are doing their part to try and convince their readers that this is so.