Just in time for Barack Obama's trip to Mexico, the new president of that country, Enrique Peña Nieto, was splashed on the cover of Time magazine's international editions with the headline "Saving Mexico."
"Five years ago, drug violence was exploding, the Mexican economy was reeling," Time's Michael Crowley writes–but these days "alarms are being replaced with applause." Peña Nieto has a passed a package of what Time–and most other US media–call economic reforms, most notably opening the national oil business Pemex to foreign corporations. Keeping the oil company publicly owned, Time explains, was a bad move, since "national pride meant that Mexico missed out on the global energy boom."
As Shannon Young wrote in an illuminating piece for the Texas Observer (2/10/14), this is a pretty typical take: "The American media has almost universally portrayed the restructuring of Pemex as a bold measure that will benefit both Mexico and private investors while breathing new life into an ailing monopoly." (Young noted that when Time last year named Peña Nieto as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, the president's effusive profile was written by Bill Richardson, identified as "a former governor of New Mexico"–and not, more relevantly, as an executive at a PR firm currently working for the Office of the President of the Republic of Mexico.)
To Time, all this good news about Mexico means the "smart money has begun to bet on peso power," and the piece closed by praising these speedy reforms : "Is it possible that America's leaders could learn a thing or two from its resurgent southern neighbor?"
It's not that Time excluded critics from its picture of Mexico. "Skeptics scoff at this sunny narrative," Crowley admitted.
They sure did. Critics pounced on Time's puff piece; interestingly, one of the more helpful pieces came from USA Today (2/19/14), under the headline "Everyone Giddy Over Mexico–Except Mexicans." It turns out that while Time thinks Peña Nieto is saving Mexico, Mexicans give him very low marks; he has a 32 percent approval rating. And those "reforms" being touted by Time leave many Mexicans wondering if they'll see any benefit; foreign oil companies might profit from oil drilling, but what will that do for Mexican citizens? And actual growth in 2013 was 1.3 percent–well short of the sunny 3.5 percent growth that was forecast.
One critic, Bill Conroy of NarcoNews (2/17/14), noted that a few weeks earlier Time had published a 14-page advertising spread touting Mexico's turnaround, sponsored by the government and corporate interests. Conroy argues that Time's journalism and this advertorial bore some striking resemblances. The magazine disagreed, of course; but it's worth recalling that Time, Inc. has already declared that part of the company's new business strategy will include blurring the line between editorial and advertising (FAIR Blog, 1/2/14). As the New York Times reported (12/30/13), "The newsroom staffs at Time Inc.'s magazines will report to the business executives."
That's not to say this explains what happened at Time–but it is exactly the sort of thing that can happen when journalists answer to people whose job is selling ads.