On Corporate Media’s ‘Scoop’-Driven Xenophobia

“If media reports are to be believed,” Gabriel Arana of the Nation writes (5/27/09), “an Armageddon-like rash of drug-related violence–unlike any seen since ‘Miami Vice years of the 1980s‘–has crossed from Mexico into the United States, ‘just as government officials had feared.'” But that’s a pretty big if, even though “in the national media, it’s become a foregone conclusion that Mexican drug violence has penetrated the United States”:

But the numbers tell a different story. According to crime statistics for American cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and major U.S. metro areas along drug routes, violent crimes, including robberies, have either decreased in the first part of 2009 or remained relatively stable. This is not to say that the increased violence in Mexico has had no impact in the United States or that no violence in the United States can be traced to the conflict in Mexico. Rather, the drive not to get “scooped” by competitors has led media outlets to conclude prematurely–based on hearsay and isolated incidents–that a wave of drug-related violence is upon us….

Among the earliest reports that potential violence had become actual violence was an AP story that credited unnamed “authorities” with the news. Tellingly, the story did not contain a single direct quote stating either that violence had increased or that it was linked to the drug trade. Rather, it juxtaposed its broad claims against gruesome descriptions of drug violence in Mexico or wildly speculative quotes about what could happen here.

“Nevertheless,” Arana tells us, “within weeks the New York Times jumped on the story: “Wave of Drug Violence Is Creeping Into Arizona From Mexico, Officials Say.” See, from the three-part cover story, “Media Patrol the Border,” in the currently print-only edition of Extra: “Does Violence ‘Spill Over’ or Come Home to Roost?” (6/09) by Daniel Hernandez