The Mexican journalist and the ‘alcoholic’ president

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui was fired for publicly calling on President Felipe Calderón to clarify rumours that he suffered from alcoholism, writes Felipe Correa.

The case

In February 2011, the well-known Mexican journalist, Carmen Aristegui, was dismissed for violating broadcasting company MVS Multivisión’s ethical code. It was alleged that Aristegui disseminated rumours as news. During her radio programme she reported that deputies from the opposition party unfurled a banner inside the Mexican Congress that said: “Would you let a drunk drive your car? Of course not! So why do you let one run the country?” Members of the governing party decided to leave the plenary hall in protest against the insult to the president.

After the report, Aristegui said there was no evidence to confirm whether President Felipe Calderón did have problems with alcohol. However, she emphasised that it was a delicate topic that needed formal clarification. “This deserves a serious, formal, and official response from the presidency of the republic,” she said. Aristegui added that in democracies around the world, the well-being of heads of states was in the public interest.

Two days after this event, MVS broadcast a formal message dismissing Aristegui on air. Her dismissal sparked a lively debate on social media networks and the media. Two weeks later, MVS revoked the dismissal, stating that Aristegui’s programme would continue and the case would  be subjected to an arbitration process to settle the dispute. After that Aristegui continued working for MVS and remains conducting the show nowadays.

Author opinion

This case reminds me of one occurred in 2004, when a New York Times journalist, Larry Rohter, wrote a story about Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil at that time. In this story, Rohter alleged that Lula had problems with alcoholism. In response, Lula tried to expel Rohter from the country.

Allegations that politicians have problems with alcohol are common but rarely evidence-based, leading often to libel. However, in the case that occurred in Mexico it seems to me that the journalist was just commenting on an act that happened in the Mexican Congress, and asking for clarification from the president. Commenting on an event occurring in Congress is different from claiming something in an investigative story. In the case of Rother, he did not report an event. He did an investigation and wrote a story insinuating (giving no evidences, but rumours) that the Brazilian president suffered from alcoholism. In the case of Aristegui, it is clear to me that it was not defamation and she shouldn't have been dismissed.

- Felipe Correa

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Comments (2)

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  1. Surely the crux of the matter is addressed by the answer to the question: Is he doing an acceptable job? Alcoholism is not necessarily a bar to that. Drunkenness is, and they are not the same. Many alcoholics are never drunk. William Pitt the Younger was an alcoholic. So was Churchill.

  2. I think Jack is right is highlighting the difference between alcoholism and drunkenness. But this is rather a matter of why Aristegui was dismissed. In today’s world leaders are expected to accept criticisms and deal with accusations even if they aren’t true. It sounds to me that Aristegui was punished for doing her job, which shouldn’t be the case. This antecedent could only encourage the silencing of reporters regarding sensitive issues. And this is not a good sign for democracy or free speech..

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