Saturday, February 7, 2015

Today's Headlines: Just when you thought things in the state of Guerrero couldn't possibly get any grislier . . .

“Another discovery of corpses shakes Guerrero” is El Universal’s lead headline this morning. These days, sad to report, you have to ask which discovery of corpses they’re talking about.
    This one: Very early on Friday, investigators found 60 lime-covered cadavers (some partially mummified, according to one report) piled in an abandoned Acapulco crematorium. The suspicion is not mass murder but more along the lines of La Jornada’s top head: “Fraud investigation of crematorium where 60 bodies were found.” 
    The bodies belong to men, women and children who died at least six months ago. Cremaciones del Pacífico, which provided cremation services for local funeral homes, went out of business about the same time. The company apparently accepted the bodies, pocketed the payment, and then just left them there, sending the survivors what one family member feared was “a handful of dirt” in lieu of ashes.
    This led to a heart-wrenching day Friday during which, as El Universal describes it, “hundreds of relatives arrived at Acapulco’s regional prosecutor’s office throughout the day to ask for more information and permission to see the bodies or remains in order to know if their family members were among them.”
    All 60 bodies were taken to a forensic lab for identification. The Acapulco district attorney has put in a request to Interpol for help in locating the crematorium owner.


Milenio, feeling no need to wait for the investigation to rev up, goes right after two left-leaning politicians in its lead headline: “Mazón and Walton responsible for the crematorium.”
    Lázaro Mazón, the former Guerrero state health secretary, was seeking a gubernatorial run before becoming untouchable because of his too-close-for-comfort relationship with former Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca, who's being held in the Ayotzinapa student disappearance.
    Luis Walton recently took a leave of absence as mayor of Acapulco, also to seek the governorship of Guerrero.
    The Milenio story is a blatant hatchet job, but that doesn’t mean the facts aren’t correct. Staffers consulted government statutes and came to the unsurprising conclusion that the state (Guerrero) and local (Acapulco) governments had the authority to investigate the crematorium and shut it down before the macabre events occurred. For Milenio’s purposes, the negligent party at the state level was the health secretary (Mazòn) and not the head of government; at the local level it was the head of government (Walton) and not health officials.
    The paper also said Mazón “tried to distance himself and throw the blame toward Felipe de Jesús Kuri,” undersecretary for regulation, control and health promotion. Indeed, the quote from Mazón during “a very brief chat with Milenio” (meaning the reporter was pestering him for a comment he wasn’t prepared to give) sounds a lot like buck-passing and distancing: “It was his (Kuri’s) area. He’s been in charge for four years. I prefer to stay away from these topics.”
    But we don’t know what question Mazón was answering when he mentioned his former subordinate. If it was “Were you responsible for letting this happen?” then the answer was shameless blame-shifting.  If it was “Who was responsible for this area?” then the answer was neutral, factual.
    We don’t even know if he was answering a question. It's just as likely he was blowing off the reporter, giving him somebody else to talk to. If that’s the case, he would have come out looking better with a simple “No comment.”
    One summons an image of Ben Bradlee, the late, great Washington Post editor of the Watergate era. He’s leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk, running his red pen several times from one edge of the typed manuscript to the other. “There’s no story here yet,” he tells the team of Milenio reporters. “You got maybe a paragraph.”
    The DF papers aren’t real big on context, interpretation, nuance or honest presentation. The operative attitude seems to be “You said it on the record, pal. We’re printing it.” Hence a story can be accurate and manipulative at the same time. Despite the myths of the profession, and despite noble exceptions, a reporter’s mission is to please his or her editors, not to seek a higher truth. A savvy reader will always be aware of this.
    On the other hand, public servants with gubernatorial ambitions would do well to avoid telling reporters that they prefer to stay away from uncomfortable topics. My pro bono media relations advice to Mazón would have been to say — and really mean — the following: “Of course, I am ultimately responsible for anything and everything that occurred on my watch. What appears to have happened at the crematorium is horrifying beyond words. But the discovery was made just this morning so I don’t know the details, especially since I’m no longer in office. When we know more, I’ll be able to comment.”
    Of course, had he taken my advice, Milenio’s headline might have read: “Mazón admits responsibility for crematorium.”


The National Statistics Institute (INEGI) came out with new consumer confidence data Friday. Here’s Excelsior’s head: “Consumer confidence grows.”  Here’s La Jornada’s: “Consumer confidence in the economy retreats.”
    No further comment.

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