- Purchase/rental options available:
Hispanic American Historical Review 81.3-4 (2001) 817-819
[Access article in PDF]
Pancho Villa's Revolution by Headlines
Pancho Villa's Revolution by Headlines. By Mark Cronlund Anderson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. x, 301 pp. Cloth, $34.95.
In this very interesting work, Mark Anderson examines various aspects of the coverage of the Mexican Revolution in the U.S. press. The title is misleading. He includes far more than just the dramatic figure of Villa, looking at the coverage of Mexicans and attitudes toward them much more broadly. Further, he goes well beyond the headlines. Analysis of propaganda machines (we would now call them media relations programs) in the various revolutionary camps, the interests behind the various U.S. news organizations he investigates and their motives in their coverage of Mexico, and the prevailing stereotypes that colored and informed the content of news reports and cartoons make this work far more valuable than the title would indicate.
The Mexican Revolution took place in the very shadow of United States, with much of the action near the U.S.-Mexican border. Attitudes of various actors in the [End Page 817] northern country, especially in the realms of government and business, enormously influenced the possibilities and fortunes of one or another faction of Mexican revolutionaries. Anderson shows that all the adversaries in this conflict clearly understood that and made efforts to deal with it. He asserts that Pancho Villa was, until his defeats in 1915, the most successful of all revolutionary leaders in manipulating the U.S. press, public opinion, and possibly even the administration. While Villa was seen as a warrior, a friend to Americans, and a kind of Robin Hood, his adversaries Victoriano Huerta and Venustiano Carranza suffered from far more negative portrayals. Huerta was shown as a savage and drunken butcher, particularly after his murder of first revolutionary president, Francisco Madero, while Carranza was imaged as haughty, sneaky, and defiant.
Anderson is quite right and shows clearly that all participants built propaganda machines that functioned more or less successfully during the conflict. He also includes a splendid chapter in which he investigates several stereotypes that Americans held of Mexicans and which informed press coverage--"backwardness, racial limitations, and moral decrepitude" (p. 117). He analyzes a series of cartoons from various U.S. publications using the previous categories, and then shows how these ideas played out in regard to Huerta, Carranza, and Villa in the two subsequent chapters. The cartoons he uses as illustrations are simply excellent.
A difficulty with the book, however, is that it is not always clear how the reports and images he is analyzing coincide--or do not--with reality. In any work investigating attitudes and representations, a clear understanding of how these attitudes and representations compare with the actual situation is indispensable to understanding the biases/purposes/misunderstandings involved. Though one is never able to draw a completely accurate picture, given the flawed nature of the sources that Anderson so clearly points out, it is still important to make a serious attempt. Was Villa, in fact, pro-American, as he wished the American press and the American public to believe? What other evidence might be brought to bear here?
He also, I believe, does not emphasize enough the importance to news media of what might be called "newsworthiness." Villa wasn't just (at least according to his own representation) the friendliest of all the Mexican leaders toward the United States, he was the most dramatic. Also, the author is not particularly revealing about what the consequences in Mexico of Villa's courting of the American press and people might have been. Finally, events were at least as important as media spin in the formation of U.S. attitudes. These points are not entirely ignored in the book, but it would have been helpful to see them more clearly addressed. A more serious concern is that there is no discussion of 1916, when Villa's raid across the border on Columbus, New Mexico, led Woodrow Wilson to...