Don’t go to Chicago?

Jon Duncanson has spent the better part of his work life in front of a camera, both in the field,  in countries such as Bosnia, Nicaragua, or El Salvador,  and behind the anchor desk in places like Chicago (where he won an Emmy (his fourth) for his work covering the tsunami in Indonesia). Most recently he’s been living with his wife and son in Puerto Vallarta. His life experiences bring an interesting perspective on how mainstream media has covered the violence in Mexico.  This was a post recently made to a New York Times story.

My Understanding: Don’t Go To Chicago

My 87-year-old mother left me a voicemail last night. My wife had gone off with our 8-year-old son to a Mexican Halloween party on the scary darkened grounds of the American School in Puerto Vallarta. Old Mom said, “I’m sure glad you’re in Mexico and not in Chicago now. I’ve been watching CNN all day about that Al Queda attempt.”

Perfect. Don’t go to Chicago. You’ll be blown up. But my 87-year-old, still-with-it mom knows that Mexico is a safe haven.

Night before last, a very close and respected friend called, a journalist, who in the last year has won both a Dupont and a Peabody award. “I am so afraid for you guys down there…”

I feel sorry for all my good (mostly journalist) friends in Chicago because they’re going to die there due to a couple of bombs that were targeted in their area. It’s not a joking matter. It deserves coverage.

It’s interesting to me, though, that Anderson Cooper plants himself on the Texas side of the border and condemns all of Mexico as a “failed state” because of the “drug war”. If 12 people are sadly shot down in that border town, the U.S. headlines scream it out.

I ran after Pablo Escobar in Colombia and nearly got blown up. I went to Bosnia five times. I lived in the jungles of Nicaragua with Commandante Zero.

I also covered the bloody gang wars in Chicago about every single day–often 3 times each day–for 3 years in the early 90’s. Then viewers tired of it. So we went on to something else. Yet amazingly we were happy. And we lived well. Huh?

Let’s get real. Al Queda is going to try to make inroads against American societal norms. Blowing those norms up gets attention. But life goes on, and most Americans move on. Quickly. As do the Brits. As do the Spaniards. The bulk of the population is not affected.

So why do my educated friends say they fear for our lives in Mexico? Where in all the so-called violence, does any due diligence person see that an American tourist–in country–has been killed in the drug wars? Every American tourist I see in Mexico (surprisingly, Canadians don’t worry about it–and there are a lot of Canadians) says, “all my friends say I’m crazy to go to Mexico!”

I used to watch stories I sent from the war in Nicaragua reach the New York desk, then bear no resemblance to what I wrote. It was always turned around and began, “The White House today said that the war in Nicaragua…” Edited. From a perspective not on the ground. I once watched a Newsweek reporter who was credited with the cover story on the Nicaraguan Contra war, go around apologizing to other journalists on the ground, because what he reported bore no resemblance to what was interpreted and re-written in New York and Washington.

Meantime, I now spend half my time in the States, half my time outside. Let me tell you frankly that as a U.S. journalist of over 20 years, what you see on or read in the news in the U.S. bears not a lot of resemblance to what’s actually happening. And almost everybody out of the country knows it. There are no U.S. reporters on the ground in Mexico (sitting in Mexico City doesn’t count) . But you’ve heard that the country is on fire. So what’s real?

It’s a rant. Sure. But what I’m saying is true.


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