How To Read The US Press: Drug War Edition by mattsteinglass
March 2, 2007, 11:31 am
Filed under: Media, United States

I’ve been worried for a while that in order to understand an article in an American newspaper, you need to actually be a journalist. Today the AP runs a really good story on the State Dept.’s latest grading exercise of how various furrin countries are doing in the war on drugs. What the article says: the US is criticizing Venezuela and Bolivia for their cocaine policies while giving Colombia a pass. What the article means: the US is completely politicizing its drug war claims, manipulating data to brand socialist regimes it doesn’t like as drug dealers; and therefore US claims on this count should be disregarded. Unfortunately, you pretty much need to BE a reporter to understand that this is what the article says.

Here’s the meat of the story:

In an annual report, the U.S. State Department reported striking contrasts in counter-drug policies by South American governments, praising Colombia — the world’s No. 1 coca producer — but criticizing neighboring Venezuela for what it called rampant corruption and inaction against trafficking under President Hugo Chavez.

In Bolivia, the No. 3 coca producer, Morales has stepped up enforcement against cocaine while rehabilitating the image of its chief ingredient, chewed by Bolivians as a mild stimulant for centuries. He has brandished a coca leaf on the floor of the United Nations and hung a portrait of himself made entirely out of coca leaves in the presidential palace.

“Coca is part of our culture,” presidential spokesman Alex Contreras said when asked about Washington’s findings. “That’s our policy, and we will defend it.”

But the State Department said such attempts to “link coca cultivation to … cultural identity and national pride” threaten to undo gains by U.S.-backed eradication programs in the 1990s.

The State Department claimed Morales’ “cocalero (coca grower) activism and the government’s desire to avoid violent confrontation” is allowing the coca crop to increase, though it did not estimate the crop’s size.

Analysts say, however, that Bolivian coca production had been rising for five years before Morales took office.

This is a terrific example of how to write a story about a new State Dept. report, and how to place it in context. This reporter is kicking back against government efforts to manipulate the media and spread propaganda against regimes the Bush Administration doesn’t like. But under the rules of journalism, as the game is currently played, the reporter has to present the case in such a veiled fashion that she can’t come right out and say what she means. We need to reshape those rules of the game so that people can report what’s going on in front of their eyes in an honest fashion.

2 Comments so far
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See why I consult the Onion for all my news.

Comment by Thông

A wise policy indeed.

Comment by mattsteinglass

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