Mexican editor criticizes U.S. newspapers for lack of front-page coverage of drug trafficking

By Ian Tennant

U.S. newspapers should do a much better job covering drug trafficking in their own cities, charged a Mexican editor who argues the drug cartels love nothing better than to limit coverage of their deadly activities.

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, journalist Javier Garza Ramos said there was very little front-page coverage of a massive drug bust on Feb. 24 that resulted in 676 arrests in more than 20 U.S. cities and the confiscation of $12 million, large amounts of drugs, 282 weapons and 94 vehicles.

"Watching from across the border, this was shocking," said the editor for El Siglo de Torreón. "But in Mexico, whenever raids or arrests don’t make the front page, the reason is frequently not lack of interest, but an abundance of caution. In the past four years, drug cartels have killed more than 10 journalists, kidnapped dozens more, and carried out scores of attacks against newspaper offices or TV stations with gunfire and grenades. The objective: burying coverage of their activities."

Garza noted there were exceptions as newspapers along the Rio Grande, the San Antonio Express-NewsThe San Diego Union-Tribune, and the El Paso Times featured the drug bust on their front pages, while other news organizations have covered aspects of the drug trade, such as a report by the Dallas Morning News on the Zetas' activities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"It seems that local papers are missing a very important story in their communities," Garza concluded, "one that could shift the policy focus and get the American public more interested in how drugs are flowing into their neighborhoods."

In an April 21 guest post for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Garza discussed the delicate balance between protecting journalists and covering the news.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.