The following excerpt comes from Writing The War On Drugs: Why do so few American papers report on the trade in their backyard?
For years the absence of stories about how drugs are moved and traded inside the United States has sparked my curiosity. Ten years ago, while a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, I did a content analysis of how several American news outlets portrayed the war on drugs in Mexico and in the United States. I uncovered two main narratives. The one about Mexico focused on government corruption, the cartels’ structure, their control of local law enforcement, and the way they move drugs across the country. The narrative about the US dealt mostly with drug addiction and stories about prevention and rehabilitation programs.
I did not find a single story about how the drugs moved inside the United States, something that I found absurd, because people don’t buy the drugs off trucks at the border. I could not find one story detailing what happened after a drug shipment crossed the border, how those shipments were split, repackaged and transported from El Paso, Laredo, or San Diego to hundreds of American cities and into the hands of drug users. There wasn’t a word about the corridors used to move the drugs, or about the trucks or planes delivering them to the local dealers.
Ten years later, the pattern has stuck. But my surprise is greater now because in the past four years the war on drugs in Mexico has left a trail of violence, horror, and pain that has been a fixture in American media outlets. Correspondents from major American papers in Mexico have done a great job covering the drug cartels and sometimes exposing stories that are too dangerous for the Mexican press to report. But local coverage inside the United States is still absent. In any American paper, we are more likely to find details of the latest massacre in Ciudad Juárez than a story on how drug gangs operate in any American city.
Fortunately, there is not a wave of violence in the United States like the one ravaging Mexico, but that doesn’t mean there is not a problem. As noted in a recent report by the National Drug Intelligence Center of the Justice Department, Mexican drug cartels run operations in more than two hundred cities in the United States. According to the report, the Sinaloa cartel has presence in seventy-five cities, the Gulf cartel in at least thirty-seven cities, the Juárez Cartel in over thirty cities. And yet the American public knows very little about those networks.
The tentacles of the drug cartels run deep in the U.S. yet no media outlets in the country (with a few excellent exceptions) have conducted any investigations into the matter. Investigations by the press could assist authorities in slowing or shutting down these operations. What we get from these outlets instead are rehashed stories of violence in Mexico and rhetorical questions of said violence “spilling over” into the U.S.
On a related note, Ramos also wrote a guest post for the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog: Faced With Violence in Mexico, Editorial Standards Help Journalists Avoid Information Blackouts. In it, he covers the methods El Siglo and others are taking to cover news on organized crime in a manner that protects their journalists from deadly retaliation.