FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Media Collusion in Colombia’s War

by PHILLIP CRYAN

After a prominent member of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group was captured January 2 in Ecuador, most Colombian and international news outlets were so giddy at the news that they gave their fact checkers vacations. For days after the arrest–which locked up the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC’s) Ricardo Palmera, also known as “Simon Trinidad”– exaggerations and falsehoods riddled one report after another.

Some of the mistakes were fairly harmless, if embarrassing. The BBC and United Press International reported the arrest occurred in a medical center in Quito, the Ecuadoran capital, while the Bogota daily El Tiempo claimed it was near the Colombian border. Others, including the Associated Press and the Bogota weekly El Espectador, managed to report both locations. Which was correct? Neither. Palmera was nabbed on a Quito street.

And some of the errors were comical. On January 5, National Public Radio morning news host Bob Edwards identified Palmera as “the top commander” of the group, apparently betting that Manuel (“Sure Shot”) Marulanda wasn’t listening. Marulanda’s capture would mark a turning point in Colombian history — a lot more than can be said for the capture of Palmera. A January 3 house editorial on El Espectador’s Web site even dragged a tiny Caribbean country into the mess by misidentifying Palmera as “Simon Trinidad Tobago.”

But other blunders were less benign. The BBC, El Espectador, El Tiempo and the Los Angeles Times reported that Colombian authorities participated in the capture, as claimed by President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s administration. After heated exchanges between officials in Bogota and Quito, Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Uribe admitted on January 5 that no Colombian agents were in sight. Ecuadoran President Lucio Gutierrez insists the arrest stemmed from a routine check of Palmera’s identification papers.

Another falsehood likely originating with the Uribe administration is that Palmera is not only a prominent member of the FARC, but part of its seven-member secretariat. The Associated Press, El Espectador and United Press International reported as such, though it’s not clear Palmera is even a member of the 22-member general staff, the leadership body beneath the secretariat.

It’s understandable that the Uribe administration would try to make the most of Palmera’s arrest. No top FARC leader has been captured or killed since the group formed in 1964–an embarrassment especially glaring for a president who says his top priority is defeating the guerrillas militarily. But the Uribe government’s interest in distortion gives no excuse to the reporters who quit asking questions and just dished up whatever silliness government sources told them.

And it’s certainly no excuse for editorial-page staffers who turned the arrest into a political windfall for Uribe. On January 3, just hours after the capture, when the only information circulating was still unverified and (it would turn out, after simple fact-checks) false, El Tiempo columnist Luz Maria Sierra didn’t hesitate to offer up the event’s meaning: the arrest showed that “the new tools being used to fight the guerrillas are effective,” Sierra wrote. El Tiempo and other papers quoted a chorus of pro-Uribe voices (including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist) to much the same effect. A house editorial in El Espectador took the opportunity to reproach international human rights groups for criticizing Uribe’s aggressive security policies.

Perhaps the real story overlooked by all the shoddy reporting was that a document-check in Quito just put a FARC leader behind bars. Forty years of counterinsurgency war hasnit.

PHILLIP CRYAN is a policy analyst and educator who returned to the United States in November after 18 months in Colombia. A version of this piece appeared in his biweekly column on media for Colombia Week. He can be reached at: phillipcryan000@yahoo.com

 

 

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail