It’s been just over a year since Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s landslide victory in Mexico’s presidential election, and some Mexicans say they are dismayed by the tough media coverage of the new president. They can’t understand why the same reporters who had criticized the decadeslong abuses of power by the nation’s two establishment political parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the National Action Party, or PAN, would now criticize AMLO, as López Obrador is known. In the eyes of their critics, these journalists are traitors.
Except we’re not. We’re just doing our jobs.
Journalists act as critical counterweights to those in power, whomever they may be. This is particularly true when reporters are dealing with authoritarian leaders, but there is no reason they should treat democratically elected officials any differently. As journalists, it is our duty to hold people accountable. AMLO must face the same scrutiny as every other Mexican president.
For years, my colleagues and I criticized abuses of power by a variety of presidential administrations, echoing accusations made by AMLO himself, and giving voice to the frustrations of millions of Mexicans. I criticized President Carlos Salinas de Gortari over allegations of voter fraud during the 1988 election; President Ernesto Zedillo in his role as Salinas’ hand-picked successor; President Vicente Fox over his failure to keep his promises; and President Felipe Calderón over his wealth. I titled one of my columns “Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s Worst President.”
Like many of my countrymen, I longed for real change in Mexico, one of the most violent and economically lopsided countries in the world. I hoped that the 43 students forcibly taken from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College would finally be found; I wanted someone to investigate the so-called White House, the multimillion-dollar home in Mexico City purchased by Peña Nieto’s then-wife, Angelica Rivera, through a government contractor; and I wanted all government officials whose accumulated wealth did not match their modest incomes to be jailed. In the end, AMLO and I wanted the same things.
But once he took office in 2018, everything changed. Sadly, AMLO seems to have forgotten that it’s always the responsibility of independent journalists to challenge those in power. And now it’s his turn under the spotlight.
If we ask AMLO tough questions, it doesn’t mean we support the PRI or the PAN or President Donald Trump. It doesn’t mean we’re conservatives or neoliberals or part of the “media mafia.” It doesn’t mean we’re taking money from anyone. It just means we’re doing our jobs. Doctors save lives, architects build buildings and journalists ask difficult questions. One good question, asked at the right moment, can bring down a government. If we don’t take a stand, who else will?
Unfortunately, some of AMLO’s backers can’t forgive us. Since April, when I attended a news conference hosted by the president on the subject of Mexico’s rising murder rate — during which AMLO made the inappropriate request that the Reforma newspaper disclose its confidential sources — I have been the target of critics on social media. This is nothing out of the ordinary; you need a thick skin in this profession.
Still, I was rattled by AMLO’s remark after the news conference: “If you cross the line, well, you know what happens,” he warned journalists like me.
Actually, crossing the line and standing up to the powerful is what we do. Journalism is neither for the faint of heart nor those who prefer to keep silent.
And there are so many pressing questions that need to be asked. Why is AMLO allowing Mexico to serve as Trump’s immigration police? Why is the Mexican National Guard chasing harmless immigrants instead of going after hardened criminals? At what point is AMLO going to take responsibility for the 17,000 Mexicans that have been killed since he took office in December? Why has Mexico refused to denounce human rights violations in Nicaragua and Venezuela? How is the president going to ensure that his well-intentioned austerity policies don’t hurt students, and artists and the sick? And, most importantly: Are Mexicans any better off with AMLO as their president?
I have to praise López Obrador for his head-on fight against corruption, for giving the press full access during his morning news conferences, and for some of the little things, like flying in economy class.
In return for this praise, I can only hope that he comes to realize how truly dangerous Mexico is for journalists — six of my colleagues have been murdered so far this year — and that he stops discrediting our work. In the long run his comments will only hurt Mexico, and his own presidency.
After all, loving your country means being able to acknowledge its wrongdoings.