When "60 Minutes" Asks for My Contacts...
She wanted my "contacts" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - a city where I lived in for a good chunk of 2003 - to do a story on "Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems."
And, oh, could I also provide her with translators because, she writes, "I cannot speak Portuguese so an English speaker would be great"?
I will publish the text of her email - and my response, in which I explain why the very premise of her story, and how she plans on doing it, will prevent it from telling the whole truth - below...
And I will explain to her (and to all) why the days when this project blindly helped Commercial Media correspondents with their projects, except under carefully specified and disclosed circumstances, are now over... Everyone in the Commercial Media now knows that when it comes to any corner of our América (especially the América with an accent), the Narco News team has the best "contacts among the lumberjacks" and knows the terrain of drug policy better than any other news organization where somebody also publishes in English.
As of today, I announce: Only those Commercial Media colleagues who have demonstrated, through their consistent published or broadcasted reports, a truthfulness high above the normal low standards regarding drugs and democracy in our América, will receive any help or assistance from our network.
The 60 Minutes producer writes:
Hi there Al
I was hoping you could help.
I am... in the very early stages of looking at a story on Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems.
At this stage I am looking for a focus for the story - and would really appreciate any advice on people I should be talking to. Obviously people working in a human rights capacity - the police etc etc.
And please bear in mind that I cannot speak Portugese so an English speaker would be great.
Thanks so much
(Name of colleague)
To which I reply:
How many days, weeks, or months did you plan on spending in Rio de Janeiro in order to do a "60 Minutes" story on what you call "Rio's out of control crime rate and drug problems"?
Do you think you can do that story as a non-Portuguese speaker, with just an English-language translator?
Let me start with the most simple truth: Rio doesn't have an "out of control crime rate and drug problems."
Rio has a "policy problem." Rio has a problem named drug prohibition.
It is the policy that causes the price of some drugs (and the profits involved with trafficking them) to be so exorbitantly high.
It is the policy that brings kids into drug dealing, that leads them to have to join or form gangs to develop and protect market-share (and thus causes gang wars), that provides them with the cash to buy heavy weaponry used to cause more bloodshed, and that puts them into direct contact with, and under the rules of, larger organized crime organizations.
It is the policy that corrupts the police and politicians who the dealers need to look the other way at some while rounding up the competition, and that then causes a disproportionate amount of public safety resources (police time, prison space, court dockets) to be devoted to a "drug war" thus leaving the system unable to cope with any other crime or problem effectively.
It is the policy that causes the poor addict to have to pay unreachable prices for the average working stiff to get his fix, and thus sends disorganized platoons of addicts out in the streets to steal and often harm other citizens in order to get that unreasonable amount of money.
It is the policy that enriches the bankers and the money launderers, those "respectable" men in suits and ties, who wield so much influence over, well... the creation of the policies!
If you've done a story on "out of control crime and drug problems" in other cities (since that kind of story seems to fit a certain Commercial Media formula: just fill in the blanks of the name of the city, the street-lingo used there to describe the drugs and gangs, and the unconscionable linkage, again and again, to the public mind to associate "drugs" with "crime" and, viola, that's the story the Commercial Media, including its so-called investigative arms, always does, and does so poorly), then please send me a link or transcript of other stories you've done on the themes of drugs and/or crime and/or events in our América.
If your previous work on these themes was honest about the real problem - the policies imposed on Brazil and others by Washington, Wall Street, and the international monetary, banking, diplomacy (including the UN), and trade organizations - and you can demonstrate it, then I will probably be happy to help you (I lived in Rio for a good part of 2003, and of course have all kinds of great contacts, even some who can translate).
If you haven't got that kind of portfolio to show it, then, I'm sorry, please don't take it personally, but I don't think that any reporter who doesn't learn Portuguese can do justice to this story with just a visit to Rio.
I understand that the demands of TV news magazine shows are rough on the journalist... running from deadline to deadline... limited resources... limited time to get really in depth on a story... And I sympathize. I've been in your shoes in my years in the Commercial Media.
But those demands are inconsistent with truthful journalism. Narco News has done the story of Rio de Janeiro from the favela slums to City Hall to the courts to the governor's mansion to the Harm Reduction programs trying to solve the problem to the school halls where innocents have been shot because of this policy... and we will continue to update it until the policy is ended.
The story is the policy, not the media myth of "out of control crime and drug problems." The quaint image of brown people on hillside slums taking drugs and committing crimes, I'll agree, keeps people in the developed world glued to the chair in front of the TV long enough to then watch the advertisements... It's a cute little story... The only problem with it is... It's deceptive and untrue!
And the formulaic ways that Commercial Media approach the story only heaps more harm on the real problems, and provokes a kind of public prejudice and fear that builds greater support for the policies that cause the problem in the first place.
So, if you've got the clips that show a greater conscience and truthfulness on these issues than the Commercial Media offers us in 95 percent of all its work, let's see them, and then maybe I can help you.
But if not, you're just going to have to wait to read it in Narco News.
from somewhere in a country called América,
(The only reason I don't post the producer's name here is because there are - gasp! - less ethical folks out there who, for thirty pieces of silver, would be happy to lead 60 Minutes around Rio and translate for them, and would probably contact her just to bid in the sell-out auction. But this is Narco News, baby! We don't go by the old standards of decrepit journalism... we set the new standards... Authentic Journalism! Which is, of course, why they all contact us wanting our sources and contacts... But the best ones out there are as fed up with the Commercial Media as we are... They are Civil Society... and we work not for advertisers or their bean-counters, but, for them, the people.)