* Free press: A police training exercise in Tucson, via NYT.
Is the U.S. media being "sensationalist" in its coverage of the narco war in Mexico? Earlier we argued for more coverage, however nasty, of the situation. But at what point do the daily dispatches of narco ultraviolence become a smokescreen, merging into another, falling into tonal and structural formulas? How does it read back in the United States? If it's only flashes and pings of blood, fear, and a rudimentary name-dropping of the Santa Muerte, then we're obviously not getting the complete picture.
In fact, the press has lately been characterizing Mexico's narco violence as a kind of contagion "spilling over" the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the critique of a New York Times reader in North Carolina on a recent story on drug violence in Tucson, as pointed out by The Mex Files. Heather Williams in Durham makes some other pretty damning points:
Fact is, the drug trade is a transnational commodity chain that links consumers [in] the U.S. with a pyramid of distributors, processors, financiers, and growers. In that sense, the violence is a product of the trade itself, not a disease vector from Mexico. Drug transshipment is a 35 billion dollar a year business in Mexico, but it’s estimated to be a 70 billion dollar a year retail industry here in the U.S. Do we really think that all the people profiting from this trade are colorful (and brown) cartel leaders walking around with Tec-9 pistols in their coats? Give me a break. You can't move that kind of cash without bankers, real estate agents, trucking firms, lawyers, bureaucrats, cops, border patrol agents, etc. helping out at every stage of the game.
On this story, you've got a reporter here who's repeating some bloody anecdotes but no universal statistics. Russia, for example, [has] a violent crime rate 50 percent higher than Mexico, and their gangs are unbelievably violent and yes, transnational (according to the FBI, a Russian gang likely has access to your credit card number -- they have most of the world’s numbers on file right now), but we don't have front page news about Russian gangsters "spilling over" into Brooklyn and Queens and slitting throats and cutting people up with chain saws because that would get the NYT in trouble with some sensitive constituencies, no?
You could also say the stories people like Williams are critiquing echo the hysteria over the "spilling over" of Mexicans back when. Or ... waaaaay back when. In "Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds," Gregory Rodriguez reminds us that internal Mexican struggles have long been depicted in the United States as contagious threats:
By the summer of 1915, the Plan de San Diego had become national news. "Mexican anarchy," wrote The Chicago Tribune, "now thrusts its red hand across our border and with an insane insolence attempts to visit upon American citizens in their homes the destruction it has wreaked upon American persons and property abroad."
Meanwhile: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a mission this week to mend fences with the Mexican political establishment, the investigative journal Proceso says [no direct link], citing sources in Washington. The magazine says Clinton's visit is part of an effort by the White House to take control of the message on the narco issue after a series of troubling hearings led by members of Congress.
Clinton visits President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City tomorrow and then checks out Monterrey on Thursday. You can bet that along the way she'll also be hearing plenty of complaining from Mexico's touchy elites.