- The Journalist and the Mexican "War on Drugs" between Chronicle and FictionEdgar Piñon Balderrama, Don Winslow, and Luis Humberto
In Mexico, the dramatic rise of violence that occurred after Felipe Calderon's decision to send military forces against narcotraffickers in Michoacán and the northern states made the country one of the most dangerous places for journalists on the planet. The large number of journalists threatened or killed in Mexico by criminal groups, sometimes with the complicity of official authorities, has become an international issue. This unprecedented persecution, documented by Reporters without Borders, not only threatens the right to inform but the very democratic foundations of the country: "Although not at war, Mexico is one of world's deadliest [End Page 125] countries for the media. Collusion between officials and organized crime poses a grave threat to journalists' safety and cripples the judicial system at all levels" (Reporters without borders 2016).
Journalists have come to play a major part in exposing the corruption of politics and organized crime. They also intervene in the fabric of public opinion and collective representations, through their ability to construct a narrative of political and social events, to provide them with coherence and meaning. Against the spectacularization of violence and its banalization through the repetitive exposure of bloody material on the written press, television, and online live feeds, some journalists have become writers themselves to invent new modes of representing violence, whereas some others, like Sergio González Rodríguez in Roberto Bolaño's 2666, have become characters of novels focusing on state-facilitated crime and the mafias.
The symbolic meanings of the journalist have indeed become more stratified and complex, since the appearance of the journalist as a literary "type" in nineteenth-century Europe, during what the French historian Dominique Kalifa has called "the age of investigation." In his article "Policier, détective, reporter," which analyzes three growing literary types representative of such an age of investigation, Kalifa writes:
[Le reporter] est devenu un héros, qui suscite l'admiration, l'imitation ou la jalousie, l'incarnation de l'enquéteur qui parcourt le monde pour le décrypter et le donner á lire. … [S]on enquéte peut s'afficher comme une sorte de fiction maítresse de la société contemporaine, aux sources de cette démocratie médiatique que le xxe siécle naissant allait contribuer á affermir.
[[The reporter] has become a hero, eliciting admiration, imitation or jealousy, the embodiment of the investigator who goes around the world do decrypt it and give it to read [to everyone]…his investigation can appear as a sort of master fiction of contemporary society, the roots of the media democracy that the upcoming twentieth century would contribute to establish.](Kalifa 2004)1 [End Page 126]
Kalifa's analysis highlights the role of the journalist as a decipherer of contemporary society. He underlines his symbolic status both as a heroic character and as an author whose texts mirror the state of societies and reconstruct its image. In contemporary Mexico, such "master fiction" comes at odds with the difficulty to make sense of the present chaos and remediate the absence of a clear lexicon to address the extreme atrocities of the military and the narcos. In his essay "La alfombra roja del terror narco," for instance, the Mexican journalist and novelist Juan Villoro argues that the chaos caused by extreme violence and the dissemination of crime provoked a change of paradigm, "a new grammar of fear":
Hemos arrivado a una nueva gramática del espanto: enfrentamos una guerra difusa, deslocalizada, sin nociones de "frente" y retaguardia, donde ni siquiera podemos definir los bandos. Resulta imposible determinar quién pertenece a la policia y quién es un infiltrado.
[We have arrived at a new grammar of fear: we are facing a diffuse, delocalized war, without any notion of "front" and rearguard, where we cannot even define the sides. It is impossible to determine who belongs to the police and who is an infiltrator.](Villoro 2013)
In her article "True Crime, Crime Fiction and Journalism in Mexico," Persephone Braham defines the country's situation as "a climate of speculative and...