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Doxing a New York Times Reporter Demands Condemnation, Not Perfunctory Talking Points

John Feeley

Since the end of the Second World War, and even more so since the Carter Administration, U.S. foreign policy routinely involves a delicate balancing act between self-professed American values and self-evident U.S. interests.

The push and pull between these two guiding principles within all Administrations, regardless of party, is a structural fact of the policy “sausage making” among agencies and the White House.  No President or executive branch interagency process will ever please all stakeholders on a given issue, and to the extent internal strife exists, it is a sign the system is working as designed.   

On occasions realpolitik interests will win out over long cherished values due to pressing, domestic political realities.  Other times, specific transactional interests - such as commercial or law enforcement equity - may take a back seat to a statement or action of principle based on human rights or environmental stewardship. 

In our bilateral relationship with Mexico, however, that dynamic “balance” has been lost.   

In the name of protecting its perceived Southwest Border immigration equities, the Biden Administration has granted the Mexican government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) inordinate leverage which has allowed the Mexican President to hijack and disregard most other bilateral issues, particularly those that involve democracy, human rights and freedom of the press.   

A recent example provides ample evidence of this policy capture.   

On February 21, the New York Times published an article citing Biden Administration sources who claimed that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had been investigating AMLO’s links to narco-financing in the 2018 presidential campaign, but that no charges were being pursued.  This followed a longer, January 30th piece in Pro Publica which detailed significant DEA information concerning AMLO’s links to drug cartels during his failed 2006 presidential bid. 

Famously thin-skinned, the Mexican populist president took to his bully pulpit the day after the New York Times was published and decried the publication of a what he insinuated was a “non-story.”   

While suggesting that the story should never have been run, he also claimed that both the DEA and the New York Times had purposely slandered him, and in so doing, they had attacked the Mexican people.  Most chillingly, AMLO conflated his dignity and honor with that of the Mexican people and claimed they were “above the law.”  Finally, AMLO personally attacked the Times bureau chief in Mexico and posted her private cell phone number during his press conference. 

Since Lopez Obrador came to office, 46 journalists have been assassinated in Mexico, according to Reporters Without Borders, making the country one of the most dangerous assignments a journalist can be given.   

In that context, when the Mexican President calls out a journalist, it’s as good as putting a target on their back.   

Did the U.S. Embassy react to defend both the principle of freedom of the press and condemn this brazen threat on an American citizen journalist doing her job?  No, it did not.   

The Ambassador, as well as the Department of State, remained silent out of fear of upsetting AMLO.   

Two days later, in response to another reporter’s question, the White House spokesperson gave a mealy-mouthed response to the doxing episode, saying, “Oh. I had not seen that. Obviously, that is not something we support. We support freedom of the press, which is why we do this every day.” 

This generic and stale talking point signals that when push comes to shove the United States truly doesn’t care about journalists’ safety in Mexico.  It indicates that the U.S. government is willing to sublimate one of our most enduring values - freedom of expression - to a transactional desire that Mexico keep migrants from crossing our border. 

While no one denies migration is an important issue for President Biden, who faces intense bipartisan criticism for his handling of the border, it is important to calculate the opportunity cost of allowing a foreign president to threaten an American citizen journalist and then give his henchman her cellphone number, which can be used to geolocate her, harass her, and intercept her communications with sources.  

The Secretary of State and the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico can still make this right.   

A very clear and public statement of condemnation for President Lopez Obrador’s unjustifiable reaction to a negative New York Times story is imperative if the Biden Administration wishes to restore a healthy dynamic balance to its interests and its values in dealing with Mexico.

The Wilson Center does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wilson Center, its staff, or its board. 

About the Author

John Feeley

John Feeley

Executive Director, Center for Media Integrity of the Americas; Former U.S. Ambassador to Panama
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more