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Journalists at work this week in the National Palace. Journalists at work this week in the National Palace.

Brazen journos and dodgy stats: the week at the mañaneras

Journalists went toe-to-toe with the president, who also revealed his vehicle of choice

With election results settled and thoroughly dissected, all topics were on the table at this week’s mañaneras. The opportunity for a wider variety of talking points was embraced by journalists. Nevertheless, media mistreatment of the administration still emerged as one of the president’s most popular themes.

Monday

The New York Times’ investigation into the May 3 Metro collapse was raised early on Monday. Structural faults were to blame, the publication claimed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” responded AMLO, as the president is commonly known, before diverting the conversation to the “sensationalism” of the “fifí,” or elitist, right-wing press.

“About the fifís. I want to clarify that there are some who feel like fifís and they are not, they want to sneak in, they just think they are fifís,” said the president, hoping to hit his critics where it hurts.

One particular interview, the president said, had overstepped the mark: León Krauze’s conversation with fellow journalist Jorge Ramos.

So the audio was played:

LK: “Would you warn Mexico about the same risks to democracy that you have seen in other places?”

JR: “No, let me absolutely clear. López Obrador is not Nicolás Maduro or Hugo Chávez, Mexico is not Venezuela.”

LK: “… Is López Obrador a democrat?”

JR: “He is the legitimate president of Mexico.”

LK: “… Is López Obrador a democrat, Jorge?”

“He wanted him to say that I was a dictator,” the president concluded.

The president enjoys some interaction with journalists.
The president enjoys some interaction with journalists.

Tuesday

Early on Tuesday John S. Creamer, the U.S. Embassy’s business representative, dropped in on video link from the airport to usher in 1 million vaccine doses.

The president then showed a chart of global Covid-19 fatality rates, ostensibly to clear up misinformation: the death rate in Mexico was the 19th best of the 30 countries listed, which on the surface appears decent news. However, if the full list of roughly 222 countries were laid out it would make for sorry reading, putting Mexico in the top 1% of countries for death rate.

Autocratic rule made the Tuesday menu. A journalist raised the case of the union leader of the national telephone company, set to leave the post after 45 years.

“It’s important to recognize that he has done a job — this is my view — to the benefit of the workers,” replied the president, showing support for a long spell in office when the politics are right.

In a big reveal, AMLO named his three desired constitutional reforms, for which he’ll need support from across the house after losing deputies in the midterm elections.

  1. Strengthen the Federal Electricity Commission;
  2. Reform the National Electoral Institute (INE) to make it “truly independent;”
  3. Put the National Guard under the authority of the Ministry of Defense.

A shot in the arm was the climax to the conference, as the president received his second dose of Covid vaccine.

Wednesday

A whole host of prizes crossed the conveyor belt on Wednesday. For the presidential raffle, 22 prizes with a combined value of 500 million pesos, about US $24 million, were announced, including former narco properties. Tickets, it was confirmed, would cost 250 pesos a piece (US $12).

Meanwhile, it was declared that international hackers who ordered a ransom from the National Lottery on April 27 did not gain any sensitive documents, and received no payout.

Then, a battle of wills. A journalist took on the president for inaction on searching for disappeared people, and the associated 98.5% rate of impunity. “No one should be worried,” the president assured, “injustices will not be permitted.” During the exchange the journalist intervened and interjected more than 20 times.

For the sake of consistency, the president found time to criticize corporate media.

“There is a world crisis in media for a lack of ethics, for a lack of credibility and for a lack of impartiality. They are very close to power and very distant, very far from citizens,” he said.

A discussion of morality ended the conference on Wednesday. “I do believe in the moralization of public life, I believe in the purification of public life. Only by being good can we be happy,” the president said.

Thursday

AMLO proved his austere credentials on Thursday. “When I was mayor of Mexico City I lowered my own wage … I never changed my vehicle, it was always the same one, a [Nissan] Tsuru,” he said.

For a second day running, a journalist was on the president’s case, this time in relation to fires in Chihuahua.

President López Obrador receives his second Covid vaccine shot.
President López Obrador receives his second Covid vaccine shot on Tuesday.

“We are doing everything,” AMLO assured, before starting on a lengthy tangent about the government’s change of tack with social programs and the corruption of the media.

“President, the fires, the National Forest Commission says they have gone up more than 600%” urged the journalist, barely concealing her impatience.

More flak from the floor came late in the conference: one journalist made the accusation that the mañaneras were not impartial, and that some media organizations were being given favorable treatment.

Meanwhile, feeling nostalgic, AMLO reflected on his schooldays. “When we were at school we used to say: ‘Fight, fight, fight, don’t stop fighting for a worker’s government; peasant and working class.’ I’ve never forgotten those things. I haven’t changed,” he said.

Friday

It was three cheers for businessmen on Friday. “I’m really thankful to businessmen. Among other important businessmen, Carlos Slim has acted in a responsible way … there is a really important change, which is to do with the respect of legal authority,” he said, confounding some critics with a qualified endorsement of the business world.

The conference was gently ebbing toward the weekend when one journalist changed the tone: “Who should assume political responsibility for the terrible [Metro] tragedy?” he asked.

“I don’t know, that’s for the attorney general to resolve,” the president replied. “If we go to political responsibility, I could say: who was the president at that time?”

“Felipe Calderón, but who was the head of the city’s government?” the journalist said, referring to now Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

“Right exactly … if you speak about political responsibility … it’s very abstract,” concluded the president.

Eager to round things up, the commander in chief gave a rundown of his weekend itinerary: first to Veracruz to mediate a local dispute, and then to Zacatecas to celebrate 100 years since the death of poet Ramón López Velarde.

“President, the funds from the presidential plane, what will they be used for?” called out one journalist.

“We’ll speak on Monday,” he replied, striding away to attend to the nation.

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