Tuesday, March 2, 2010

big fat liars, the lot of them

A few readers have commented on yesterday's post, asking: Why are the State Dept./Mexican government lying about the drug war going well, when the numbers clearly show the opposite?

Well, it's simple. First, they're not lying, they're spinning. To the best of their ability, they are trying to put a positive sheen on what clearly appears to be a negative. Because that's what governments tend to do. They have an agenda to follow, and will not yield in their conviction that they are right and headed the right way.

I don't necessarily see it as a bad (or wrong) thing. It's effectively one of the principal rules of leadership – don't tell the kids that everything is bad, tell them to look on the bright side and insist that everything is under control (even if, for instance, the family finances are going down the drain and mom and dad are unemployed and bickering. Tell the kids the truth, they'll start panicking and get anxious, which kids shouldn't have to do.) Makes some sense: you don't want your electorate deconstructing everything you do and realizing that things are not going the right way, right? You want them to feel they can trust you to make the right decisions, even though things may not be going smoothly at every given moment.

But there's the problem, too: journalists aim for a fair and balanced view, but often end up focusing on the negative. Politicians focus on the positive and the maintaining of balance/order, but often appear to be lying in the face of brutal facts. The amount of times I've seen this in my journalistic career, where there are two polar opposite perspectives and neither can understand/tolerate the other, and they all think the other is a total liar with an evil agenda... And then, the public ends up trusting no one.

What's a politician to do? Personally, I prefer honesty. But I know that honesty, like transparency, is in reality a death knell for a politician, particularly in a country like Mexico where there is no remedy to every solution. (Can you imagine an honest politician saying: "Look, we're focusing on fixing Ciudad Juarez right now, so we really don't give a flying fuck about Sinaloa and Chapo. They can have all the drugs in the world for all we care, we need to get the violence down in Juarez." Wouldn't sit well with anyone...)

In the case of the State Department's praise for Mexico and the dismal, conflicting numbers, one thing is obvious: US-Mexican relations are seen as more important than drug war realities. No one in the DEA or State Dept. ever wants to (or can, on the record) admit that there are problems on either side (even though in private, they will candidly admit that cooperation, while better than ever, is seriously problematic at times, mostly due to corruption and Mexican authorities' incompetence). The State Dept. has to continue praising Calderon and co. in public, even if the US is probably scolding him for some of his efforts in private. (rights abuses etc.)

So there you have it. Mexico and the State Department are spinning their little story the way they want us to see it, while the media is spinning its own version of events. You choose which to believe, when to believe them, which lies to pass off as just that, and decipher what parts are true or relevant.

1 comment:

  1. I don't agree with what you say about families. Kids by and large are sensitive and smart so if you spin them lies they are going to have some sense that what is said to them and what they experience don't add up. This can lead to confusion, anxiety and distrust.

    The same might be true of politicians and the electorate. Did not someone once say something like "The truth will set you free". This seems a more mature and optimistic attitude to me. The other strategy that you seem to be advocating especially with politicians leads to cynicism and the huge distrust that there is for politicians all over the world, especially in Mexico.