On a recent Saturday, the Milenio newspaper website carried a fairly detailed story about the discovery of a mass grave in the state of Mexico, which largely surrounds Mexico City. The story said an anonymous tip said 23 bodies were in the grave, and that some of the dead were missing police officers.
Other media picked up on the story but far more cautiously. As law enforcement officials sealed off the site in San Francisco Tlalcilalcalpan over the next couple of days, official statements said the grave yielded only five bodies.
A close journalist friend of mine went to the site, however, and was told by a police officer that at least 18 bodies had been found at the site.
There’s “the story,” and then there’s the story. How many bodies did that grave contain? I don’t know. But what my friend said is noteworthy for one reason, in my mind: It occurred in Mexico State, political base for Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, who has all but been crowned the next president of Mexico.
To ensure that his clean image goes unsullied, there seems to be a black hole of information around Pena Nieto and what happens in his state. If there’s a mass grave likely linked to organized crime, then the death toll certainly doesn't climb to headline-grabbing levels.
Presidential elections take place next July, but we’re already in full election season. And never have I seen a candidate so carefully packaged as Pena Nieto. Earlier this week, he gave his “state of the state” speech and it was a choreographed masterpiece. Three huge screens filled an auditorium behind him with his image, making him look the most important person in Mexico. As one columnist noted, his speech was lofty and expansive, without a word about flooding that had forced thousands of people from their homes in Cuautitlan in his state at that very moment.
During an election year, political interests ensure that a lot of news gets minimal coverage. I'm sure Pena Nieto's rivals will do what they can, too, to massage news coverage, even blocking unfavorable stories. And as news grows scarce, people listen to, and spread, rumors, some of them nonsense.
Is it any surprise, as I blogged a few days ago, that Mexicans would tweet anything they hear, true or not? Two people in Veracruz accused of being “Twitter terrorists” and facing possible prison sentences of 30 years may now pay for the tendency of Mexican politicians to manipulate the media to their political interests.