Saturday, March 3, 2012

Free speech or slander? Case of Anabel Hernández

An interesting case to be tried on free speech vs. unsubstantiated claims that may or may not be slander:
Journalist/writer Anabel Hernández, author of Señores del Narco, is facing a claim from former Attorney general and former head of the federal electoral institute of slanderous, false accusations.

Her book, among many other (and far more explosive claims), suggests Carpizo nabbed a big sum of money set aside for the hunt against El Chapo Guzmán. Yet the problem is only this: There seems to be very little concrete evidence for this rather incendiary claim, at least as offered in this book.

It is an interesting case as it raises some complicated yet crucial issues: To what an extent can a journalist really rely on what appears to be the lack of clear and concrete evidence, in order to make very strong accusations against public figures? I haven't read her book, so I have no idea of the merits of these claims, but reading an excerpt in Proceso this truly struck me as very sensationalist work, which, if it had the evidence to back up its many other claims, should really have made an impact on the political scene. And I don't think it has.

On principle I think the bar should be set very, very high for what a public official will have to endure. Yet should there be no limits at all on what s/he can be accused of, especially if, it appears, the evidence is very thin?

I am trying to put myself in the shoes of Carpizo, who I think is generally pretty well regarded. If he never took any of this money, he would naturally be interested in clearing his name - and, for good and for bad,  it seems the burden is on him to prove his innocence - and how would he do this except by suing Hernández?

Perhaps he was dirty, but it seems to me when you make a very concrete claim, you should have some matching concrete evidence. I would be very interested in opinions from others familiar with her work and the case, in particular as I may well be wrong here.


  1. Given that Carpizo is powerful and a journalist usually reports information that may well encourage further inquiry and research, I think many similar circumstances are worth considering and researching further.

    Rich, powerful, and politically connected people often have few checks on their power in Mexico or even in the United States, except maybe reporting of truth and opinions about the individuals. Canada may lead both in some of the protections it offers some sectors of society from the powerful.

    It is amazing how much influence can be bought if not obtained for free by having positions of power.

    I cannot say that I know enough about Carapizo's specific case, but I know that in the case of a journalist reporting about him, the report is worthy of consideration to say the least. Any attacks on the reporter are worthy of skepticism. Guilt in a court of law would be much harder to prove, of course, so one must not presume guilt, but nevertheless the report on a rich and powerful person is something that can serve as a lead towards evidence and similar patters.

    There are many tales of whistleblowers getting persecuted by tobacco companies, for example, who broke news about breaking laws that hurt their profits.

    Healthcare reform was blocked for decades until the insurance companies were prevented from losing too much money in newer versions.

    It's sometimes hard to know what propaganda is instigated by rich and powerful sources to discredit others, but it is knows that it has existed since pre-historic times with some leaders in ancient Egypt having their faces erased from buildings, since religious leaders were being persecuted for their believes... etc.

    Then there are always strategies to force people out of workplaces:

    and there are doctors that work directly in-house for employers' referal programs that 99% of the time minimize any injuries or are much more likely to coincidentally misdiagnose a disgruntled employee in a manner that discredits them.

    I would therefore always be skeptical of sources, especially indirect ones, that question a "little guy" and that reports on the big guy.

    Information must flow from more than one source, especially when most sources are easily influenced by the rich and powerful.

    Personal attacks on integrity are also questionable in my book, even on public figures, and seem to sometimes be political, such as if a union claims that a President drinks, for example.

  2. You might find the comment by Ernesto Villanueva in Proceso on this very issue worth a look:

    1. Interesting points, some basic reasonable precautions on journalism.

      Still the freedom of speech is indeed balanced by the freedom to sue for defamation, slander, and libel.

      I am glad to read a critical article even if all of a sudden controversy, counter-claims, and accusations brew. Journalists sometimes do their own research, see things with their own eyes, or have anonymous sources. They always subject themselves to criticism, especially when it is visible by others. I like to see free expression, free speech, and practically anything short of an intentional falsehood.

      Due diligence I agree with, but I would tend to assume that reporting that sounds like it raises an issue is worth looking into and judging, rather than banning and forbidding.

      That's me though, I believe freedom is a check on power and absolute power... and therefore a check on corruption.

  3. Thank you for the article and link!