Human Rights and Civil Society

AMLO takes on the New York Times

Source: AP News

03/13/2024 (written by rthompson) – On February 22, New York Times journalists Natalie Kitroeff, bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and Alan Feuer released a publication named U.S. probes allegations of narco ties to allies of Mexican President. Kitroeff and Feuer developed a story regarding claims that people close to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) accepted money from drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) shortly before his 2018 election and again after he was elected president. The story noted, however, that the investigation that found links between people close to AMLO and organized crime “came from informants whose accounts can be difficult to corroborate and sometimes end up being incorrect” (New York Times). Despite this disclaimer, AMLO took offense calling the New York Times a “filthy pamphlet.” 

As is common practice, the Times reporter sent AMLO’s spokesman a letter asking for the president’s comment on the story before it was published, and included her cellphone number as a means of contacting her. At AMLO’s daily press briefing that day, the president displayed the letter on a large screen and read it aloud, including Kitroeff’s phone number. Consequently, on February 26th Youtube took down part of AMLO’s daily news briefing for violating the site’s terms and conditions.

Response from journalists

The actions by AMLO have spurred responses from journalists in Mexico. Political scientist and activist, Denise Dresser, spoke out on the matter and described AMLO’s comments as undemocratic. She posted on X, stating “President López Obrador position is serious and undemocratic. He does not mind violating the Personal Data Protection law and he claims that he would do it again. Another example of a man who thinks he is above all legal and ethical restrictions” (author’s own translation). Mexico’s law on Protection of Personal Data states “the government will guarantee individuals’ privacy” and sets out punishments for officials and others for “improperly using, taking, publishing, hiding, altering or destroying, fully or partially, personal data.” 

Reporter Gabriela Frías, from CNN in Spanish, also pointed out that AMLO knew what he was doing by exposing Natalie Kitroeff’s data. She wrote, “Mexico is a place where journalists are killed for doing their job” (author’s own translation). 

Foro TV communicator Mario Campos also shared his thoughts regarding the president’s comments. On his X account, Campos wrote, “It is not that López Obrador is having a bad day today, on the contrary, it is one of the days that has best shown what he is like, how he thinks and how he abuses power” (author’s own translation).

On February 28th, Jan-Albert Hootsen, representative for Mexico at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and 42 other journalists asked the president to respect their right to reply without putting the press at risk. “The vast majority of threats and harassment and intimidation that reporters in this country, both foreign and domestic, receive, are conveyed through messages on messaging apps to mobile phones,” Hootsen said (author’s own translation).

Response from AMLO and supporters

On Monday, February 26 supporters of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador protested in front of The New York Times headquarters to express their support for the president and their strong feelings against American media, which they called “interventionist.” They held posters that said, “You are not alone; New York Times fake news; AMLO is not a narco-president” (author’s own translation). They also chanted slogans like, “Oh, how scary, look at how I am trembling!” (authors own translation). AMLO responded that the journalists who raised their voices against him are exaggerating and recommended Kitroeff to change her phone number. 

At a press conference at the Cancún Airport terminal on February 29th, AMLO assured that his government is respectful of freedom of the press and the free expression of ideas as a reaction to the criticism he was facing. AMLO accused defenders of the press of hypocrisy since they are “silent like mummies” (author’s own translation). AMLO was specifically mentioning Julian Assange and the killings of journalists in Gaza due to the ongoing bombings.

While Mexican law prohibits officials from revealing personal information, López Obrador said “the political and moral authority of the president of Mexico is above that law.” In a statement posted on YouTube, the president wrote as a reaction to Youtube taking down his February 26th daily news briefing that “this (Youtube) is an arrogant and authoritarian attitude… They are in full decline.” He also said that the platform has been, “taken over by conservatives.”

Violence against Journalists

Mexico is one of the deadliest places in the world for reporters outside of war zones. The CPJ has documented the killings of at least 55 journalists in Mexico since 2018, when AMLO took office. “That means murdered journalists, but also intimidation,” says Mariana Suárez, Protection Coordinator at Article 19’s Mexico and Central American bureau. “On average, there’s an aggression against a journalist every 16 hours … and during electoral times, that violence tends to increase,” Suárez told Axios Latino. In most cases, it’s not just criminal groups that are behind those aggressions, but public officials at the local, state or federal level, Suárez added.


Associated Press. “Mexican president slams YouTube for taking down his video that shared a journalist’s phone number.” KTSM. February 26, 2024. 

Associated Press. “Mexican president defends disclosing a reporter’s phone number, saying the law doesn’t apply to him.” Associated Press. February 23, 2024. 

Feuer, Alan, and Natalie Kitroeff. “In Mexico, U.S. Eyed Company A Leader Kept.” New York Times. February 23, 2024. 

Franco, Marina E. “Mexican president’s dox of journalist shows perils of reporting in country.” AXIOS. February 27, 2024.

Gutíerrez, Eduardo Guerrero. “De pleito en pleito con la DEA.” El Financiero. February 26, 2024. 

Nación. “¿Cuál represión a la prensa? En México se garantiza la libertad de expresión”: AMLO por petición de periodistas.” El Universal. February 29, 2024. 

Nación. “Protestan afuera de New York Times.” El Universal. February 26, 2024.

Nación. “Periodistas en México defienden a corresponsal de The New York Times ante comentarios de AMLO.” El Universal. February 23, 2024.

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