Is the U.S. Media Complicit? Feeding the Fear Frenzy About Travel to Mexico

We are having an on-going discussion among friends who live in Mexico and in the U.S. about whether the news media in the U.S. is complicit in creating fear about travel to Mexico.

On March 18, 2012, The New York Times published a story about kidnappings in Matamoros, that borders the U.S.  The headline was: “In Mexico, a Kidnapping Ignored as Crime Worsens.”  I wrote to Damien Cave, The New York Times Bureau Chief in Mexico City, responsible for the story, complaining about the headline.  Here is our series of replies, most recent one first:

It’s an accurate headline and impunity is a problem all over Mexico not just in Matamoros. If you don’t like that fact take it up with the Mexican gov not me. I live here too – I get your complaint and I’m writing a travel story about Mazunte soon – but the bottom line is Mexico needs to fix its judicial system. Now. (see my footnote below**)
Damien Cave
The New York Times

Enviado desde mi iPhone

On 18/03/2012, at 11:49 a.m., Norma Hawthorne <> wrote:
Sorry, Damien.  I don’t agree with you.  Using Mexico in the headline instead of Matamoros implies that the story is universally applied to all of Mexico.  As the NY Times bureau chief, you should do better.  And, all readers are “not smart enough.”  You are the 5th estate.  It is your responsibility to educate not inflame.  Norma Hawthorne
On Mar 18, 2012, at 01:41 PM, Damien Cave <> wrote:
Oaxaca has a 99.74% impunity rate – so while crime is not as epidemic there as elsewhere the crimes that do happen are just as unlikely to lead to punishment. I love Oaxaca but it is not place devoid of Mexicos larger problems. Our readers are also smart enough to know that my story is the story of one city not the country and if you had taken the time to look at other stories I’ve written (look up my story about immigration to Oaxaxa) you would understand that as well. Damien Cave
The New York Times  Enviado desde mi iPhoneOn 18/03/2012, at 11:29 a.m., <> wrote:
URL:In Mexico, As Kidnapping Ignored Crimes Worsen
Comments: Damien, this headline is incorrect and irresponsible sensational journalism. It implies that kidnapping and crime is rampant throughout Mexico. This story is localized in Matamoros, a border town. What you are promoting is fear of travel to Mexico. Most of Mexico, including Oaxaca where I live, is safe. PLEASE revisit your approach and those of other NYTimes reporters to make sensationalized headlines. It is poor reporting and does a disservice to accuracy about travel to Mexico. Sincerely, Norma Hawthorne,

On March 14, 2012, a CNN web page published a report with the headine, “No End to Mexico Violence.”

Friend and photography instructor Frances “Sam” Robbins, who teaches our Oaxaca Photography Workshop–Market Towns and Artisan Villages, responded:

“It would be so much better if your headlines specified WHERE in Mexico the violence is happening.  There are still wonderful, very safe places for people to live, to visit and to enjoy.  Referring to the whole of Mexico in a headline with the word violence continues to build a sense of fear for the entire country.  That’s just wrong.”

Perhaps as a result of Sam’s comment, CNN changed it’s headline banner to read:
Violence in Juarez ‘not going away’.  Sam emailed me to say she was thankful that someone on the editorial staff was responsive.  But that’s not always the case.

My sister Barbara and I just completed a week-long, public bus trip around the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala.  I traveled from Oaxaca on the ADO bus — solo.  She landed in the Mexico City airport from San Francisco, California, got on an Estrella Roja bus to Puebla and met me there.  The next day, we were the only gringas on the bus to Cuetzalan.  From there, we bought a one-way ticket to Huamantla, where we transferred to a collectivo to Tlaxcala.  In Tlaxcala, we hired a taxi driver on the street to take us on a round trip to a Olmec archeological site.  The next day we traveled back to Puebla on a local collectivo bus.  Again, we were the only foreigners.

Never, during this travel experience, did we feel threatened, at risk, or in fear of our safety or security.  Local people were always helpful and wanting to give us directions or asking if we needed advice. When it rained and the streets were slippery in Cuetzalan, men came up to offer their hand to help us across the street or down a steep stairway.  Their extended arms are a symbol of welcome and warmth.

The Washington Post published a December 2011 feature on where it is safe to travel in Mexico and where it isn’t.  This is a MUST read.

So, I’ve been thinking about why it is that there is so much fear by Estadounidenses (people from the United States) about traveling to Mexico, beyond what might be reasonable or rational.

All your comments about this important issue are welcome.

**Footnote:  Sweeping generalizations tend to grip our sensibilities and bypass reasonable thinking. We forget that random, isolated incidences of violence occur everywhere.  Our own judicial system has broken down, too. I think of all the criminals out on parole because the prison system doesn’t work, is overloaded, and the parole system is lax. Case in point: The murder of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill by a convict out on parole who shouldn’t have been.




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