Dillon Responds

NY Times bureau chief denies but confirms: he's going and the new boss arrives before the elections

Click Here for the Column that everybody is talking about and to which Dillon responded

Also published here: An uncensored letter from Dillon defender Wendy Patterson and a full response from The Narco News Bulletin

The following text is translated from a letter-to-the-editor published on June 8, 2000 in El Universal.


Señor Editor,

The column of Carlos Ramírez that appeared today in El Universal relates information about the New York Times Mexico bureau that is completely incorrect.

Julia Preston and I are working normally in the coverage of the electoral campaigns and the election of July 2. The policy of the New York Times is that a correspondent stays in a foreign bureau for three years. In our case, two years ago the NY Times decided to extend our period here, which began in September of 1995, precisely so that we could be in charge of the election coverage of 2000, so important to the country.

For agreements we made with the newspaper in January of this year, Julia Preston will end her period as correspondent on July 15, and I will end mine in the month of September. As a recognition of our labor here -- that merited a Pulitzer Prize to the newspaper -- our editor, Joseph Lelyveld, gave us a year on leave before going to our next assignment. The editor approved our proposal to stay in Mexico to write a book about the great project of democratic change that the Mexican people have proposed.

Ginger Thompson, who eventually will be the new bureau chief, will arrive in the middle of this month to participate in the electoral coverage and familiarize herself with the country. Completing the rotation, the correspondent Tim Weiner will begin work in September.

I appreciate your help in publishing this letter in your pages.



Samuel Dillon

Giordano's reply:

(also translated from original Spanish)

June 8, 2000

Esteemed Editor,

Dillon is dancing the Conga because they gave him "the chile."

As I already warned, no newspaper, and especially not the New York Times, can admit that its own reporter has committed ethical crimes.

Dillon's letter confirms:

1. The New York Times has given a golden parachute to those who have made mistakes.

2. That the substitute arrives before the elections.

3. They're gone for a year. This is the real punishment.

Let's not fall into a game of semantics:

Dillon, in his letter, didn't touch the theme of drug trafficking, nor of Roberto Hernández, nor the threats against me, nor against Mario Menéndez Rodríguez, editor of the daily Por Esto!

The State Supreme Court of Quintana Roo has confirmed that the daily Por Esto! proved its reports with facts.

Dillon's letter doesn't respond to any of the fundamental facts of the outstanding column by Carlos Ramírez, nor to www.narconews.com, nor the other newspapers that have reported the facts: The Phoenix of Boston and the Village Voice of New York.

He hasn't responded regarding his own suspicious negligence in reporting all the facts about drug trafficking, nor his behavior that is so far from authentic journalism.

He tries to play with dates and distract attention, saying, "I'm not going before the elections (but) yes, I'm going!

Adiós, Sam.

Congratulations to Carlos Ramírez, an authentic journalist, whose facts have been proved by Dillon's letter.

Heath and a hug,

Alberto Giordano
Director general
El Boletín de Narco Notícias


Letter from Wendy Patterson to the publisher of Narco News

received on the afternoon of June 7th

Our reader writes:

I don't know who you are -- or who you represent -- but I do know that you give journalists a bad name. Your attacks on Sam Dillon and Julia Preston of the NYT would be ludicrous if they weren't so malicious -- and erroneous! But you apparently did not bother to check out the facts, a key to practicing journalism. You based your slander on the fallacious report in El Universal. Even the Voice article you cite didn't get the facts wrong as you have. (Maybe you should reread it.) And especially convincing is how you repeatedly cite yourself!

Dillon and Preston are NOT leaving before the elections, nor are they being dumped by the NYT. You must have some "dark" reasons of your own for fabricating and spewing these malicious rumors...One has to wonder what interests are really behind your rag, the so-called Narconews? Or are you just jealous of first-rate journalists?

In any case, your gratuitous attacks on these two principled, hard-working journalists are scandalous.

Wendy Patterson
Mexico City

Publisher replies:

Dear Ms. Patterson,

Thank you for your letter, which we publish here full and uncensored. We were very happy to receive your correspondence yesterday afternoon and especially that you voiced your criticism without making threats the way that Sam Dillon threatened me and another journalist for our professional work on March 19, 1999.

As for who I am and who I represent, we have full disclosure here at The Narco News Bulletin. We have revealed on our links page every organization that we are related to, and what tax-exempt organizations helped with the small amount of funds that made Narco News possible. Nobody draws a salary from Narco News. I personally disclose there and elsewhere what other organizations and newspapers that I collaborate with.

You could also ask around. We are well known among North American and Latin American journalists alike. So many have contacted us yesterday and today to express their congratulations and solidarity for our reporting on the Dillon story. I am personally moved and heartened by the response.

Although I publish a "rag" that covers the most lucrative illicit business on earth, I don't own a house, a car, a credit card, a yacht, nor any property: except for a laptop and an old guitar. Nor do I wish to own real estate. I would argue that this gives me a freedom to write of facts and truths that others more compromised with economic powers cannot do.

The greater wealth that we count with here is our readership -- 10,000 visits to Narco News yesterday alone -- and the faith of the regular working people who don't have power to abuse and in fact are harmed by US drug policy and those corrupt journalists who make it possible.

I must admit, I enjoy my work too much to be jealous of others. What am I supposed to be jealous of? "Journalists" who have been disgraced by their own actions in front of the entire hemisphere?

Keep reading. You'll get to know us better.

As for your description of Dillon and Preston as "principled" and "hard-working," I will take the opportunity you have presented to analyze their most recent works.

On June 2nd, Sam Dillon published a story in the NY Times in which he reported, to nobody's surprise, that there is a couple in Querétaro who are voting for the National Action Party (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox.

In fact, PAN candidates have been winning in Querétaro for years already. No news there. Nor was much "hard work" put into the job of interviewing a husband, a wife and their maid.

Querétaro is a beautiful city. I go there whenever I can to visit with don Andrés Vasquez de Santiago, the oldest deputy of the Indigenous National Congress in Mexico. Actually, don Andrés lives in the hills outside of Querétaro, in a small room without phones, from which he walks a half-mile every day to his cornfield. Don Andrés, and not a couple of desk reporters, is the kind of human being that I consider "hard-working" and "principled."

I met don Andrés in 1997. He helped teach me Spanish. "I didn't learn to speak Spanish," he explained, "until I was 50 years old." He was raised speaking Otomí-Nahñü, one of the 56 indigenous languages in Mexico.

Don Andrés Vasquez de Santiago
photo 1998 D.R. Al Giordano

Don Andrés has accompanied me on missions in 13 Mexican states and introduced me to many impoverished indigenous farmers who suffer every day because of US policy toward Latin America. Yes, he is another of the "dark" -- better said, "moreno" -- forces whom I try my best to represent with this publication.

I hosted don Andrés' 90th birthday party last November. Because he is hard of hearing we raised $500 to buy him a hearing aid. Other members of the Indigenous National Congress came to salute the eldest delegate in a Congress that so respects age and authenticity.

To bad Dillon didn't get a chance to interview don Andrés or his people during his trip to Querétaro: he would have gotten an earful and a completely different Mexican perspective of the kind that hasn't appeared for five years in the New York Times.

Now, on to the "hard working" and "principled" Julia Preston.

We haven't written about Preston much here because her reports don't generally get near our topic of drug policy. (In fact, all the heavy lifting on drug stories has already been taken away from her husband Mr. Dillon and is handled from the United States by Times reporter Tim Golden.) But I did report on what I and others witnessed of her behavior in 1985 in Nicaragua.

Preston just published the following story which does touch upon the narco -- although she did not report that important fact to Times readers.

So, taking the splendid opportunity of your letter I will analyze it and fill in the blanks for our readership. The story was titled:

"Mexican TV, Unshackled by Reform, Fights for Viewers"

Here, we will print Preston's text in black with Narco News commentary in maroon:


MEXICO CITY, June 6 -- The government officials who monitor television news coverage could not believe what they saw on the screen.

The occasion was a few weeks ago when the three leading presidential candidates were taunting each other in an unscripted, open-ended sparring match. One national network gleefully dropped what it was showing to carry the war of words live. Not to be outdone, the other big network followed suit. Viewers had a look at the raw insides of Mexican politics, and there was not a thing the government's media managers could do to stop it.

As recently as 1994, in Mexico's last presidential vote, the message that the powerful broadcast media conveyed was largely determined by the government. But since then, reforms have opened new freedoms for the press, while the competition for viewers between the two main television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, has intensified to a fury.

This year, in the race leading to July 2 elections, the most important broadcasters are no longer driven by the need to please President Ernesto Zedillo or his Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has won every presidential election in seven decades. Instead, the race for ratings is defining campaign coverage as never before.

The biggest change was at Televisa, Mexico's largest broadcast network. For decades the government gave Televisa a virtual monopoly on television, and the company repaid the favor with unflagging loyalty to the ruling party, which is known by its Spanish initials, PRI.

Narco News commentary: No mention here by Preston that Banamex owner and presumed drug-trafficker Roberto Hernández Ramírez is a part owner and director of Televisa.

We reported this information in our exclusive story for the Media Channel last month.

Nor that Presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas has called Hernández a financial front for ex-president Salinas. Nor that the Banamex owner appeared on a campaign swing with the ruling-party candidate for president. Nor that, the day before Preston's story -- better said, "job application" for a new career in television -- a document was circulated in the Mexican congress that revealed that the Banamex owner, a long time funder of the ruling PRI, is hedging his bets and is also a financial backer of the PAN candidate Vicente Fox to whom Dillon -- coincidentally? -- has given such one-sided favorable coverage.

But of course, we have established here with facts and evidence that Dillon covered up for the Banamex owner and that this cost him his powerful position as an "untouchable" -- the Village Voice said that -- in Mexico.

See all those blue links? There I go again, citing related stories and also other news sources. That's because we want our readers to have access to all the information available on these topics, so that you can conduct your own research and arrive at your own conclusions.

Back to the Preston text of June 6th:

In 1997 Emilio Azcárraga Jean, the young scion of the family that controls Televisa, took over the $9 billion conglomerate at his father's death. By that time its rival TV Azteca was four years old and had dug a hole in its audience.

To stay ahead of the upstart, Mr. Azcárraga believed he had to cater to viewers, not authorities. He decided that rekindling Mexicans' waning faith in Televisa's news programs was the way to do it.

"We have been recreating our credibility," Mr. Azcárraga, 32, said in an interview in which he was anxious to show that Televisa is ready to handle a modern media-dominated presidential contest. "Whatever arrogance existed here before is finished. It is clear to me that improving the image of our news shows helps to bring up our ratings across the board."

The ratings war surprisingly made the news less lively. Viewers were so weary of years of tendentious political news that they wanted balanced reporting even if it was dull. Both Televisa and TV Azteca have adopted a discipline of giving the three leading candidates the same amount of time, no matter how humdrum their activities that day.

Narco News Commentary: Preston's report is inaccurate and deceiving, without basis in fact.

Worse, the facts distorted by Preston are already available on the internet and in other published reports.

According to the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, of the time devoted to each Mexican political party on the airwaves, during the last monitored period -- April 9th to May 6th -- broadcasters dedicated 40.48 percent of all airtime to the ruling PRI, 25.38 percent to Fox's PAN coalition, 17.80 percent to Cárdenas' coalition led by the PRD -- the Democratic Revolution Party that is cast aside by the New York Times and the TV stations alike -- and less than 6 percent apiece for the three minor parties: Social Democracy (PDS), Center-Democratic (PCD) and Authentic Revolutionary Party of Mexico (PARM).

Preston also ignored the recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America that denounced "the unfair political prejudice in the news coverage" of the Mexican broadcasters. "Studies have demonstrated that the dominant television chains favor the governing party," said the WOLA report.

To read the full WOLA report:


Continuing with Preston's text:

"My concern is to get the imbalance down to zero," Mr. Azcárraga said.
It seems to have worked. In a report early this month the Federal Elections Institute, a government agency that operates with autonomy, and which scrutinizes the campaign coverage in the broadcast media second by second, reported that Televisa was fair in covering the race.

In fact, Televisa devoted almost exactly the same amounts of coverage to the three leaders in the race: Francisco Labastida Ochoa of the PRI, Vicente Fox Quesada of the National Action Party and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano of the Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The network insurgent, TV Azteca, is quicker to let its political passions show if it makes for catchy news. The network has engaged in a nasty feud with the authorities in Mexico City because of the district attorney's investigation of the slaying of Francisco Stanley, a TV Azteca comedian who the police say was tangled in the cocaine trade.

The capital is governed by Mr. Cárdenas' party, and officials in his campaign said that TV Azteca frequently vents its ire against their candidate.

"Cuauhtémoc is a permanent target of their attacks," said Imanol Ordorika, the campaign spokesman for Mr. Cárdenas, who is running a distant third in the race.

Meanwhile Mr. Cárdenas, who was either ignored or insulted by Televisa when he ran for president in 1988 and 1994, has had an improbable reconciliation with that network, especially the top news anchorman, Joaquín López Dóriga.

In the media nationwide, the elections agency found, there is a bias sharply in favor of Mr. Labastida of the PRI going in to the final stretch of the campaign. The national networks were counteracted by powerful prejudices at local television and radio stations over which they have at best limited control. The elections agency discovered that the local media leaned toward the party holding local power, and PRI governors control two-thirds of Mexico's states.

Narco News commentary: So Preston heaps the blame for the overwhelming bias in favor of the ruling party on "local news" ignoring the fact that so many of the "local" stations are affiliates of Televisa and TV Azteca.

What else does Preston deny to Times readers?

Let's take a look at the Federal Elections Institute study, available on the Internet at http://www.ife.org.mx/inicio.htm

Here is the proof that Preston's story misleads Times readers, from the very report that she cites.

Here, it is plainly seen that while the Banamex-Times bureau candidate Vicente Fox (his place on the bar graph is marked AC, for Alliance for Change) has attained equal coverage with the ruling PRI on the national TV stations, the PRD (listed as AM or Alliance for Mexico) lags behind in access to the national TV chains that she praises so effusively.

The 20 percent received by the Cárdenas coalition -- so reviled by TV and the exiting New York Times bureau alike -- must also be seen in light of the fact that the PRD is the governing party in Mexico City. Thus, much of this coverage in that 20 percent has to do with local matters, and not the national campaign.

It gets worse. The amount of time dedicated to a party, as measured here, does not indicate whether the coverage is neutral, positive or negative. Preston, to be fair, at least mentions that TV Azteca is widely considered to be engaging in a smear campaign against Cárdenas and the PRD. Narco News has reported on the Narco-Network TV Azteca extensively, with many links that are still on our front page.

Televisa, by comparison, is less rabid against the Mexico City government to which Cárdenas was chosen to lead in the 1997 elections. But fair? Not by a longshot.

Kind reader, you say you live in Mexico City. Turn on the TV and you will see daily evidence that Preston distorted this story. This was not a report. It was an audition.

For the big broadcasters, outside pressures to tilt their coverage has not diminished. But by and large it no longer comes from the president and his press handlers.

Preston is correct here: the pressure comes from banks and advertisers, many of whom, like TV Azteca and Televisa, are linked to narco-money, although Preston never informs readers of this key fact.

"I can say that we are not generally pressured by the government to cover the PRI candidate more favorably," said Sergio Sarmiento, a top journalist at TV Azteca. "Now the pressure is coming from the parties. The PRI is still more ominous, because they've been in power so long they feel they can always tell the media what to put on the air. What is new this year is that the media can say no."

The man who calls the press from Mr. Labastida's campaign is Emilio Gamboa Patrón, a veteran in the arts of persuasion who derives clout from the years when he was communications minister and administered the federal concessions Mexican television networks need to operate.

Emilio Gamboa Patrón is, as signaled by former federal prosecutor Eduardo Valle, by other Mexican journalists, and by The Narco News Bulletin, a Narco-Politician: the fixer. He not only runs the TV coverage for the PRI, but also is their conduit to former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who is managing so much of both the PRI and the PAN campaigns from Dublin, Ireland. He also, like Sam Dillon, made threats against the editor of Por Esto! Mario Menéndez Rodríguez.

Did Preston inform Times readers of that? No.

On another side is Martha Sahagún, Mr. Fox's largely self-taught spokeswoman who is known among news directors for the speed with which she responds to news about her candidate with a flurry of cellular phone calls.

But even the mostly quiet officials in Mr. Zedillo's government were at last moved to alarmed action when the full force of the networks' rivalry was on view during the two-hour quarrel between the candidates on live television, on May 23.

This claim by Preston is at odds with so much good analysis by Authentic Mexican Journalists and even by the Dillon-Preston family candidate Vicente Fox, who signaled, to the contrary, that the televised "show" of May 23rd was orchestrated by the PRI.

The night before, Televisa had won a scoop by having the three contenders on together in an impromptu debate.

So the next day, when the cameras were trained live on the three scowling men when they met again to discuss whether to have a formal debate, TV Azteca jumped in to show the scene live. Mr. Fox suggested having the debate that same night, and TV Azteca quickly agreed.

Also conveniently hidden from Times readers: Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who bought TV Azteca with $29.5 million dollars supplied by narco-criminal and presidential brother Raúl Salinas de Gortari, was, like the Times-protected Banamex owner, on the list of contributors to Fox's campaign.

Indeed, Fox held a closed-door meeting with Salinas Pliego just days before this media circus precisely to orchestrate what Preston cynically portrays as spontaneous developments.

Preston doesn't tell us, either, that Fox sunk in the polls after all this televised "debate of whether to debate."

Interestingly, on the same day, June 6, that Preston's article appeared in the NY Times, John Ward Anderson of the Washington Post did tell the truth about what really happened with Fox and the debates:

In addition, Cardenas scored better than expected in a final, nationally televised presidential debate on May 26.

At the same time, Fox made a serious strategic blunder in preparation for the televised face-off. In an amazing piece of political theater, the three candidates appeared on live television for almost two hours to hammer out details about the debate. Fox came off as overconfident, belligerent and spoiled, and was savaged by the press for days afterward.

Snap polls after the debate nonetheless declared Fox the runaway winner, but a survey published today by the daily newspaper Reforma shows Fox's support slipping since surveys conducted before the debate.

The poll shows that support for Cardenas has jumped five percentage points in the last two months, to 17 percent, while Labastida has lost three points and Fox four. They were at 42 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Fox lost two percentage points over the past two weeks, according to the newspaper poll, while Labastida's numbers did not change during that polling period. Three minor candidates combined had about 3 percent.

The Preston story, in this sense, is more than inaccurate, but deceptive.

Televisa quickly tried to stop that idea. It sided with Mr. Labastida and Mr. Cárdenas, who sought to delay the formal face-off. Mr. Azcárraga was not about to carry a debate put together by his competitor.

Is that all that Preston can come up with as to why the debate was delayed for two days? Read La Jornada, El Universal, Reforma, and the rest of the national press. From all perspectives, left, right and center, came a very different and more accurate analysis of how Fox first shelved the debate scheduled for May 23rd by insisting that one of his campaign advisors be allowed to ask questions of the candidates. This is indisputable, although hidden from Times readers.

At that point, officials at the Interior Ministry and the PRI, watching the political process slip completely out of their hands, deluged executives at TV Azteca with calls insisting that they shut off the live coverage and deny Mr. Fox further air time that night.

"We were not following the rules," said Mr. Sarmiento, who fielded some of the calls. "We were accused of favoring one of the candidates. But we went ahead to conduct the interview with Fox that we were asked not to. I was happy that we had the courage to do it."

Mr. Azcárraga said that despite the side he took in that dispute, Televisa is not backing any candidate.

"I'm with whoever wins," Mr. Azcárraga said. "What I believe in is democracy. Because -- and I've said it many times -- democracy is very, very good business."

There it is, the entire report from what our kind reader calls a "principled" and "hard-working" journalist. A report that consists of three phone calls to insider sources, and distorts the Federal Electoral Institute's statistics on the coverage.

A report that also covers-up the role of narco money in both TV stations, that once again puts a cloak around Banamex owner Roberto Hernández, and that ignores the dissenting view of the respected Washington Office of Latin America.

In other words, this report in the NY Times was not journalism.

It was a whitewash, another of many over the past five years, that harms the desire of a majority of Mexicans to begin the 21st century as a true democracy.

Sam Dillon, in his letter to El Universal, says that he and Preston are going to write a book "about the great project of democratic change that the Mexican people have proposed."

For five years, they have been opposing and poisoning that change at every step. They might as well write about the moon: they've never been there either.

We give to Dillon one point: If the Times did have a policy -- broken in this instance -- that a correspondent should only stay three years in a foreign bureau, the Dillon-Preston story proves the wisdom of that rule.

And it demonstrates that the Times made a grave error in breaking its own code. And so they've been evicted two-years into their second three-year term. Dillon confirmed that with his own letter.

Carlos Ramírez, the top Mexican political columnist, calls the Times coverage "mercenary." Mario Menéndez Rodríguez told the Village Voice that Dillon "is a simulator." The Voice itself called him an "untouchable."

We, at Narco News, have dared to touch him.

A year ago Sam Dillon threatened me not to publish the Banamex story. I published it. And the story still has legs.

One year from now, we will see whether Dillon is representing the truth when he says that he and Preston will go on to another Times assignment.

Meanwhile, at the Narco News Bulletin, we will keep reporting the facts about the US-imposed drug war in Latin America.

from somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano


The Narco News Bulletin