What is the Dallas Morning News smoking?

The goal-hanger Dallas Morning News is back in true form with another half-baked story on the House of Death murder case.

(Beware of the attack of the pop-up ads when checking their story out.)

The Dallas Morning News’ story, “Cartel figure lashes out,” about the House of Death informant, Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, dances along the surface of the real story and continues to soft-pedal the ongoing, documented cover-up in this case by the Justice and Homeland Security departments. This isn’t investigative reporting by a long shot; it’s little more than "he said/she said" mainstream-media pabulum.

Following is a deconstruction of that pabulum.
From the Dallas Morning News story out today:

Mr. Ramírez made his remarks in a written response to questions submitted through his attorney, Jodi Goodwin. He had agreed to speak with reporters from The Dallas Morning News, which first reported about his role in the cartel killings in March 2004; the Mexico city weekly magazine Proceso; the London Observer; and Narco News, an Internet blog, but prison officials transferred him hours before the scheduled interview.

First of all, as we all know, Narco News is not a “blog,” but rather an online investigative news publication featuring reports from a host of battle-hardened journalists. But that is a fact the Dallas Morning News is reluctant to concede because it would force them to confer credibility on a publication that has consistently advanced the House of Death story beyond their piece-meal and shallow coverage.

The Dallas Morning News did publish the first “he said/she said” reporting on the House of Death murders in March 2004 as it boasts (which was followed by a comprehensive investigative piece by Narco News in April of that year that advanced the story far beyond the Dallas Morning News’ coverage to that point).

The mainstream daily, for all its bluster, has failed to continue following the House of Death story with any level of consistency, and at one point had nearly a year lapse in reporting -- and it also failed to investigate the role of the Department of Justice, or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in the now documented House of Death cover-up. (But, as you will see, in this story, the Morning News’ does finally broach that subject in a most feeble way.)

More from the Dallas Morning News:

… Mr. Ramírez insists he played no direct role in any killing, but critics of his role with ICE have said he was not just a spectator, as agency officials have said.

Reports in The News about his role in the cartel killings rocked the El Paso office of ICE, where four special agents were investigated and two supervisors were transferred. ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

This is more unsubstantiated bluster on the part of the Morning News.

How do they know what really prompted the transfers at ICE, or if, in fact, their reports “rocked” the El Paso office? To date, there has been absolutely nothing made public about any official investigation into the House of Death case, something the Morning News’ concedes in its own story.

“Two years ago, ICE ordered an internal investigation to restore confidence in the El Paso office. Its findings remain confidential …,” The Morning News reports.

And who are these “critics” the Morning News’ speaks of? The term “critics” is used twice in the story, but those critics are never identified. Could the “critics” be the documented reports of Narco News, that pesky “blog” this big-city mainstream newspaper can’t seem to keep up with on the story?

The Dallas Morning News’ story continues:

…Critics of the operation have asked whether ICE agents could have prevented some of the killings across the border, and exactly what and when the U.S. attorney's office knew about the killings.

Questions have been raised specifically about the roles of Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney in San Antonio, and Juanita Fielden, assistant U.S. attorney in El Paso.

Sandalio González, former Drug Enforcement Administration agent in charge in El Paso, says Mr. Sutton ignored allegations of misconduct by ICE and Ms. Fielden that Mr. González outlined in a lengthy memo to the U.S. attorney's office and the ICE chief in El Paso.

… Mr. Gonzalez made his allegations against Mr. Sutton and Ms. Fielden through the Merit System Protection Board in 2004. The News obtained the document containing his allegation through a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request.

This is one of the rare times (only the second by my count) that the Dallas Morning News has mentioned Sutton’s name and the U.S. Attorney’s office in the context of an alleged cover-up of the U.S. government’s complicity in the House of Death mass murder.

Even at that, it is lame and only by indirect implication. And again, that word “critics” pops up. Who are these critics? Could those “critics” be the investigative reporting of that irksome “blog” Narco News, which has been digging up documents and reporting on the House of Death cover-up for some two years now?

And when did the Dallas Morning News get the FOIA information? Because it is curious that Narco News obtained the same information through a FOIA request and reported on it on March 23, 2005. The Morning News came out with a story on the same subject on March 29 -- without mentioning that Narco News posted the FOIA information on its Web site six days earlier. Damn, that pesky “blog” beat them to the punch again.

(And it was in that same March 29, 2005,   Dallas Morning News story that Sutton’s name, in the context of a possible cover-up, is mentioned by the newspaper for the first time, in one sentence at the end of the story. By the way, the online version of that story is dated May 20, 2005, even though the URL address indicates it was published on March 29. Go figure.)

More from the hard-hitting Dallas Morning News:

… Mr. Ramírez said he played the role of drug trafficker to help the U.S. government dismantle the cartel. He said he was in constant contact with his American overseers, talking to them three or four times a day. He said he occasionally briefed other U.S. agencies, including the FBI, the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

… Mr. González said DEA agents met with the informant for briefings but were not told of his role in the killings.

There’s a big omission of fact on this matter by the Dallas Morning News. The DEA deactivated Ramirez Peyro as an informant in June 2003, more than a month prior to the first House of Death murder, after he was caught trying to run a load of drugs across the New Mexico border behind the DEA’s back.

So why doesn’t the Morning News mention that fact, previously reported and documented by Narco News? The Dallas Morning News lays it all on former DEA El Paso Special Agent in Charge Gonzalez to address, which might cause some readers to think Gonzalez is the only source of that information.

Of course DEA agents met with Ramirez Peyro while he was an active DEA informant, and immediately after a DEA agent and his family were stopped by Santillan’s men in Juarez. But it would be a whole different matter if DEA agents were meeting with him while the murders were occurring between August 2003 and mid-January 2004 (prior to the DEA agent being stopped). The Dallas Morning News doesn’t bother to do the extra reporting necessary to clarify for the readers the crucial timeline elements in this story. Again, it’s “he said/she said” reporting at its best, which isn’t saying much.

More from the Dallas Morning News story:

Mr. Ramírez also alleged, in the responses through his lawyer, that some U.S. Customs inspectors and some members of the DEA had links to the drug cartel.

He said he turned over to his minders recordings of conversations in which Mr. Santillán talked about connections between the cartel and the "three letter" agency – which he took as a reference to the DEA – and the fact that "Vicente Carrillo Fuentes had absolutely no worries about the DEA."

This is really a smear against DEA without offering readers important context. It also unfairly serves to tarnish Gonzalez, the DEA supervisor who blew the whistle on the House of Death case, because it indirectly implies he might somehow not be credible.

It’s an excusable example of shoddy, surface-level reporting in a story that has been framed by the newspaper as “authoritative” and “objective.”

It is no secret, if the Dallas Morning News reads its cheat-sheet, the so-called “blog” Narco News, that DEA agents have on many occasions been accused of being corruptly involved with narco-traffickers. The Bogota Connection investigation by Narco News makes that very clear.

And Narco News’ House of Death coverage points out that the head of DEA, Karen Tandy, has been implicated in the House of Death cover-up -- at least in the wake of the ICE informant’s complicity in those murders coming to public light (again nowhere mentioned by the Dallas Morning News’ coverage).

But the crucial question in the House of Death case is whether DEA agents in the field were corruptly involved with the narco-trafficker Santillan’s operation. The Dallas Morning News provides no such evidence, nor does the informant, beyond vague statements that are absent the perspective of place and time.

And you have to ask yourself, if DEA agents were in the pocket of the narco-trafficker Santillan in Juarez, then why did he have his men pull over a DEA agent and his family, apparently by mistake, with the intention of delivering them to the House of Death to be murdered. That bonehead move is what blew the lid off the House of Death mass murder in the first place. It doesn’t make sense, nor does the Dallas Morning News’ attempt to make sense of it for us.

More from The News:

… In a sworn statement dated Aug. 11 and filed in federal court in Bloomington, Minn., Mr. Ramírez said he was told that the office of the Mexican president had an arrangement with a cartel. He said that Mr. Santillán "explained to me that President [Vicente] Fox took the position to arrange, consult with, the cartel from Juárez. ... He was going to attack the enemy cartels, being from Tijuana and from the Gulf, and then the cartel from Juárez would be operating ... without the government being ... on top of them."

Mr. Ramírez said he personally made arrangements with Colombian drug traffickers to transport drugs with the help of the Mexican navy and federal agents

The Mexican government flatly denied the allegations.

"Obviously there is no substance to what this man is saying," said Ricardo Cabrera, assistant to the government's top organized crime investigator, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. "We have been lauded by the U.S. government for our continuous fight against all drug cartels. This person is saying these things, making allegations of corruption, to save his case and fight deportation to Mexico."

Narco News reported on the informant’s sworn statement early this week and put the entire testimony online for its readers so they could explore the entire context of the informant’s allegations. So again, the troublesome “blog” beat the big daily to the story.

And in a stellar example of more “he said/she said” journalism, the Morning News provides a response to the informant’s allegations about corruption within the Mexican government by quoting a Mexican government law-enforcement official. This representative of a government recently accused by “critics” of stealing an election claims there is “no substance to what this man [Ramirez Peyro] is saying.”

Funny thing is, though, Ramriez Peyro himself is an ex-Mexican cop and the people whom he supervised in the murders at the House of Death were Mexican cops. It seems “no substance” is a bit of a strong phrase in this case, a fact the Dallas Morning News fails to point out in context to readers.  

And finally, in the face of all of its own faults in reporting on this story, the Dallas Morning News chooses to waste ink on calling into question the ethics of another media outlet:

… Jodi Goodwin, the attorney for the former informant, Guillérmo Eduardo Ramírez Peyro, said he was moved because Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. government agency for which he had worked, didn't want him to talk with the media.

She said ICE was angry that her client had appeared in a news report in August on WFAA-TV (Channel 8). She said that Mr. Ramírez didn't know he was being interviewed or taped for a television report and that a hidden camera was used.

Michael Valentine, WFAA executive news director, denied that. "We never had a hidden camera," he said. The WFAA reporter, Mark Smith, couldn't be reached for comment. ICE declined to comment on the reason Mr. Ramírez was moved.

So the Dallas Morning News has the gall to essentially act as a forum for accusing WFAA of unethical behavior by choosing to include this information in its story -- while The Morning News itself has egg on its face for omitting critical facts and context in its own coverage. What a joke.

But even if we examine the accusation on its face, that somehow WFAA is responsible for the informant being deep-sixed by the U.S. government, then by any reasonable standard of good civic journalism, the Dallas Morning News should also report, in far more detail, about why the government is preventing the informant from exercising his freedom of speech.

Why devote so much ink to impugning the credibility of another media outlet while choosing to ignore that underlying First Amendment issue?

In addition, the informant, if you read his full under-oath testimony, makes clear that he has been moved numerous times over the past year in an effort to keep him away from the public spotlight. So it seems the WFAA interview is a mere pretext for continuing that pattern of suppression of the truth.

The Dallas Morning News’ latest report also is inexcusable in its attack on WFAA in light of the fact that it was one of the TV station’s producers, Mark Smith, who first tracked down the whereabouts of the informant Ramirez Peyro. If WFAA had not engaged in that bit of investigative reporting, the Dallas Morning News wouldn’t have had an opportunity at this time to interview Ramirez Peyro to begin with, or the opportunity to take its cheap shot against the WFAA “producer” (they didn’t even get his title right) Smith.

By the way, WFAA-TV and the Dallas Morning News are both owned by the same media conglomerate, Belo Corp. So, as further evidence of the Morning News’ bizarre news judgments in this story, it appears the daily is also calling into question the credibility and ethics of its own corporate parent, at least indirectly – which the newspaper seems to be adept at accomplishing.

I wonder how the executives at Belo Corp. are reacting to a report from one of its subsidiaries alleging that another of its subsidiaries engaged in unethical journalism? Seems like a bit of a Catch 22 for them, and more evidence of the incredible cheap shot taken at Mark Smith.

Maybe Smith’s real mistake was being aggressive in pursuing the story in the first place?

And to top it off, The Dallas Morning News, while mentioning other media outlets in its story, conveniently fails to credit its in-state rival the Houston Chronicle for that daily paper’s solid reporting on the informant’s legal case. (The Chronicle’s story, reported in early September, actually does credit Narco News properly for it’s work on the House of Death story.)

In the final analysis, The Dallas Morning News, in its current report, appears to be serving, wittingly or not, as little more than a shill for the interests of U.S. government agencies that have been accused of participating in a cover-up in the House of Death mass murder by “critics” and a pesky little “blog” (dammit, a real news publication featuring authentic investigative reporting, online, free for all) that has continually out-reported this mainstream bastion of pabulum by uncovering documented evidence of that cover-up.

The bottom line in real journalism is not about who scores the first goal in the “scoop” game, but rather, who is willing to stay in the arena and battle to the bitter end for the truth of the story. And by that measure, in my view, the Dallas Morning News has clearly dropped the ball, and is now simply hanging out by the goal, waiting to score goals off of the hard work of other media outlets who have continued to drive this story up the field.

The Dallas Morning News can put all that in its pipe and smoke it….

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