What the papers choose to lead with usually has less to do with news judgment than advancing their identity.
Milenio and Excélsior, for example, can be counted on to either make the administration look good or its enemies look bad.
Milenio takes the former route today, faithfully presenting a presidential speech under the headline “Mexico stable despite speculation: Peña.”
Excélsior goes the other way, playing up the latest outrage by radical teachers trying to sabotage the elections in Guerrero: “CETEG assaults PAN headquarters.”
No doubt it was a tough call for both of them. Either story serves their cause well. Not surprisingly, each runs the other’s lead story as its second.
Reforma habitually ignores top breaking news stories in favor of gotcha-style revelations of official malfeasance, usually with a chatty, mocking headline. Today’s lead is typical: “Corruption? . . . Everybody!”
The corruption referred to is the offering of bribes. The “everybody” is all Mexico City business owners. The source is neither anonymous nor insignificant; it’s the DF president of Coparmex, one of the most powerful business organizations in the nation.
El Universal also tries to project an image of itself as a fearless exposer of unseemly official behavior. Unlike Reforma, which tends to hop from minor exposé to minor exposé, El U likes to stick with a target until its accusations either gain traction or fade away.
As we’ve seen in this space recently, the paper’s cause de semaine is the refusal by almost all of currently campaigning candidates for congressional and local offices to reveal any information about themselves. The lead headline today strikes a tone of resignation: “Parties refuse to open accounts of their candidates,” as though to say, "We give up. These people are hopeless."
Then there's La Jornada, consistently anti-government from the left. It's the strongest supporter of the protest movement that arose out of last September’s deadly attacks in Iguala on teachers trainers from the town of Ayotzinapa, and a relentless critic of the Peña Nieto administration’s human rights record.
Which would appear to explain La Jornada’s decision to lead this morning with a story that the other papers barely found room for: “Mexico under fire for abuses such as Ayotzinapa: U.S.”
This comes from Tom Malinowski, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, who finished a four-day visit Friday that included, in his words, “frank discussions” about the human rights situation in Mexico. He noted the worldwide attention that the Iguala case, among others, has been receiving, and acknowledged that Mexico is plagued with “corruption, disappearances, kidnappings and torture.”
He also made the usual offer of American help in finding solutions.
Mexican human rights activists have tried hard and successfully to make Mexico's abuses an international issue, especially with the Iguala case. Molinowski’s comment that, in effect, the whole world is watching would seem to vindicate that strategy.
But that’s not what interested La Jornada in the story. For that, we need to turn to the accompanying editorial.
It turns out the issue for La Jornada this time isn’t the human rights problem in Mexico, but the United States’ right to mention it.
“No state can sit in judgment of others, nor approve or disapprove of their performance in particular areas such as human rights,” reads the editorial, in one of its less strident passages.
That’s an admirable, if unrealistic, policy. But if La Jornada referred to it after the gale of accusations from state leaders aimed at other state leaders (or more accurately, at one state leader) at the Americas Summit in Panama earlier this month, I must have missed it.
It’s also debatable whether Molinowski, whose area is human rights, was really “judging” or simply re-stating well-known facts disseminated worldwide, and nowhere more so than in La Jornada.
And incidentally, if a U.S. official comes to Mexico and ignores the human rights problem, he or she will be just as roundly criticized for that. Trust me.
Most of the editorial is taken up with a dirty laundry list (alas, accurate) of human rights abuses coming out of the United States. This is where these conversations always end up — you’re worse than we are.
Whether it’s helpful in this case to critique the source (as the Peña Nieto administration also did when the United Nations had the temerity to document cases of torture and disappearance in Mexico) I’ll leave to readers to decide. The point here is that Jornada, like the others, has an image to live up to, and it chooses its lead headlines accordingly.
Most of that image comes from its stance against the Mexican government. But much of it also comes from its stance against the American government. Sometimes one gives way to the other.