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

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail