Cheerleading the Massacre in Oaxaca

Even by today’s bottomless standards, Mark Stevenson’s article of the 30th October could only by very loose metaphor be described as journalism. Following the trend in the corporate news, Stevenson’s lead paragraph paints a picture of jubilant residents greeting the police as liberators; one doesn’t find out until the sixth paragraph that the ‘strike-weary residents’ comprise about twenty people.

As I’m sure you’re aware, most readers will take in only the headline and perhaps a paragraph or two before moving on to the next headline – leaving the article with the image of Paris, 1945, or Baghdad, 2003. This is irresponsible, and it’s certainly shabby writing – one would be tempted to call it shameful except for the fact that the portrayal of mass protests as the aberrations of a few violent extremists irrationally bent on disrupting the (tourist-friendly) status quo is common enough to be rhetorical cliche. But it still galls.

As does the pro-order anti-demonstration tone of the entire article, suggesting as it does that the violence lay on the side of the demonstrators rather than of the police, as is the norm at large demonstrations. (Those four water tanks – have the images of the civil rights movement really become so distant?) No number of injured is mentioned, although it’s likely to be fairly high, and the seven police injured warranted their own paragraph. The closing sentence remarks with uncritical neutrality that the decision to send in police followed the death of an activist-journalist and two residents, leading one naturally to conclude that this violence must also be reckoned against the demonstrators, when it came from the anti-demonstration paramilitaries, according to several other sources citing eyewitnesses. Ruiz’s bit of empty rhetoric taken as a quote in the penultimate paragraph gives an impression of neutrality and compromise – and to the average reader, one fears, a sense of reasonableness and right.

And on and on. The end result is to write a peaceful teachers’ strike as the rabble-rousing work of a handful of violent persistent extremists. The article creates a context in which the rather chilling bit of information that “50 supporters had been arrested and police were searching houses, looking for protest leaders” won’t conjure up the images it should. The writing is sloppy and the suggestions are misleading, although the somewhat surreal bit about the cold and tired police, camped in the zocalo, wrapping themselves in the protesters” banners was quite scenic. One doesn’t expect miracles of investigation from the Washington Post, but in the interests of at least keeping up appearances, I’d tentatively suggest you find yourself another Mexico correspondent.



CARL GELDERLOOS lives in Lansing, New York. He can be reached at: carl.gelderloos@gmail.com




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