Letter from Mexico: Carlos Marín & the Elections

Carlos Marin is one of the leaders of the successful Grupo Milenio publications and multimedia outlets in Mexico. He is also well-known in Mexico for his television program.

by Rick Rockwell

Carlos Marín has become both a symbol and a propaganda tool during Mexico’s elections.  As this is being written, millions of Mexicans are at the polls, voting for a new president.  Although he’s not on the ballot, could thoughts of Marín be shaping some of those voting decisions today?

Marín is perhaps the most famous journalist in Mexico, José “Pepé” Carreño of Excelsior recently said. There’s really no one like him in the United States.  He is the editor of Milenio, one of the most respected newspapers in the country that also publishes a hard-hitting magazine, and, of course, the group also has a website. Milenio also has its own television operation, part of the Grupos Multimedios television operation (a powerful chain of stations in Mexico which also has affiliate relations and minority shares in five U.S. television stations), a radio network, and Marín also hosts a popular television program.  He’s known for his investigative work and breaking major scoops, starting with his work with the independent and controversial editorial team at Excelsior in the 1970s and then he went on to head the news magazine Proceso during its heyday.  He is also the author of a key textbook on journalism in Spanish.

So when a group of supporters of Mexico’s leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tried to bully Marín during the last week of the campaign and that incident showed up not just on YouTube but was also rebroadcast on national television, it became a sensation.

Lopez Obrador and his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD, by its Spanish acronym) have made the presidential campaign interesting in the past few weeks by energizing young voters through the new #Yo Soy 132 movement.  However, this “publicly verbal lynching” as Marín called it was a quick reminder of how Lopez Obrador refused to accept the close results of the 2006 elections and how he led the PRD through a series of protests attempting to shut down Mexico City six years ago when he lost.  Although Lopez Obrador has tried to temper his image during this campaign, the media have often reminded the public of the PRD’s history of street protests.

The mainstream media are a big part of the story of these elections.  Televisa, the main group of television channels, and TV Azteca form a duopoly of television control that have actively denounced the conservative government run by the National Action Party (PAN, by its Spanish acronym) for years and have boosted candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, by its Spanish acronym, the party that ruled Mexico in a type of soft authoritarian style for more than 70 years).  At one point, Peña Nieto had built a 20-point lead in the polls boosted by favorable television coverage, which included a refusal to broadcast the first presidential debate.  Then the #Yo Soy 132 movement took to the streets to denounce the media for not covering the full picture of the elections.  Lopez Obrador’s poll numbers increased with the protests, but they will likely not be enough to shift the tide.

The incident with Marín served as an opening for the mainstream TV networks to counterattack against the protestors.  Once it got a copy of the video, Televisa was broadcasting excerpts and denunciations of electoral intolerance almost hourly.

This is just the sort of tactic that Televisa used during electoral campaigns in the past to send a message that if the PRI was not in power, the streets would be unsafe.  Here was yet another example.

This pro-PRI television campaign (nothing new for Televisa: the father of the network’s owner famously said he was “a soldier for the PRI” and his network was his weapon to fight for the party) played against the backdrop of insecurity in the country.  Although Mexico City has crime statistics that are better than Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, other parts of Mexico have been torn asunder by the Drug War.  A car bombing in Nuevo Laredo this week underscored the point.  (For more on this, please see:  “Mexico’s Violent Cycle” and “Mexico:  The Dangerous Climate for Free Speech.”)

This insecurity adds complexity to the verbal assault on Marín.  An editor from one of Grupo Milenio’s regional papers, Victor Baez was murdered in Veracruz earlier this month, just one of 85 journalists killed in the past dozen years in Mexico according to Reporters Without Borders.  Police arrested some of those accused in the murder of Baez this week.

So Marín has become a symbol for the free speech movement in Mexico, with politicians of various parties lining up to condemn the intolerance of what is being framed as a political mob.  However, free speech can sometimes be a complex issue.  Reporters Without Borders is in the interesting position of both condemning those who shouted epithets at Marín but also defending the student movement in Mexico and advising that threats against student leaders are also a form of censorship.

Some of the complexity regarding Marín is the reason he became a target of this rude street protest:  although he is noted for his editorial independence he is viewed by some as supporting the PRI and the elite establishment.  Some see Marín as “a spokesman for the system,” Carreño said.  Some of this is because Marín broke into television in a big way as part of program featuring a panel of pundits on Televisa before he moved on to host his own program.

Marín claims to be friendly with Lopez Obrador and some see his comments not as anti-leftist, but actually coming from the left as a critique of the weakness of the PRD as representing the country’s left-wing.  Indeed, in the street while he endured a crowd who spit at him and insulted him, Marín responded harshly to his critics saying they had no idea what being a real leftist was all about and that being on the left wasn’t just some chic trend. The mob’s actions, Marín said were “an insult to the memory of people like Marx, Lenin, and Che.”  Still some see Marín as a traitor to the leftist cause.  But the journalist that he is, Marín let at least one have another poke at him in his own column.

So in the end, what is Carlos Marín?  A symbol of free speech?  A journalist’s journalist? A propaganda tool? A face of the insider elite of Mexico?  The complex answer may be a dash of all those and more.

(For more posts in this series, please also see:  “Letter from El Salvador:  Lafitte Fernandez in Transition.”)

(The photo of Carlos Marín is from his Twitter account and is in the public domain.  To see Milenio TV’s video coverage of the attempt to bully Marín, please check below.  To see a political cartoon video about Marín and this incident in Spanish, please also check below.)


About rickrockwell2011

Rick Rockwell is the Director of the School of Communication’s International Media program at American University. Rockwell is an award-winning journalist and author. His book, Media Power in Central America, won an award from the American Library Association. Please see the additional links for a full profile.
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