TUCSON, Ariz. -- Recently, a carefully constructed narrative surfaced along the Mexican border. Its creators have been interviewed by everyone from the Texas Observer to television stations and online outlets. The narrative is that of a young woman fed up with the travesties that occur every day in Mexico; the murders and corruption and violence and barbarities that have dominated the headlines for most of the past decade. She says her name is "Lucy," she is in her mid-20s and is a journalist in northern Mexico.
The country’s news reporters are targeted and assassinated for reporting on the situation, the narrative goes. They are cowed into silence. Then one day, this woman steps in fill the void. She begins to blog about what’s happening in her country, telling readers about the atrocities that reporters can no longer write about. "Lucy" calls it Blog Del Narco.
The narrative is a fascinating one, complete with drama and danger and a lone figure standing up for the truth. And now, that writer has written a book. This book is so dangerous, states her publisher that, “it’s a certainty she will be horribly murdered.”
But just how much of it is true?
A review of recent stories by the Fronteras Desk shows the owners of Blog Del Narco have published the same stories as the Mexican journalists they say they had to replace. It’s not known whether all the stories on the site were plagiarized from the reporters who actually wrote them, or if the Blog Del Narco writers simply lifted their stories from the same press bulletins that reporters received. At least one reporter now says his story was plagiarized.
What is clear however, is that Blog Del Narco reports on the exact same stories the Mexican journalists report on. Yet the blog, and now a new book written by the blog owners, claims they are the only ones reporting the truth in Mexico.
In a blurb about the new Blog Del Narco book, the blog's owners write: “The authorities and the traditional mediums of information wanted to create the image that here, nothing is happening when really, everything is happening.”
On Tuesday, the writers of Blog del Narco gave an interview to The Stream, an Al Jazeera online video show. The voice of “Lucy” was masked. It said, “If I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do it.”
That same day, Blog Del Narco published this story: “Armed commando robs armored trucked from Mexican Attorney General’s Office in Chihuahua.”
The story appeared nine hours earlier on Excelsior, a major Mexican news website: “Commando extracts armored trucks from Mexican Attorney General’s Office in Chihuahua.”
Here’s the first sentence in Excelsior’s story: “An armed commando broke into a lot of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office in the city of Chihuahua and using tow trucks, they took two armored vehicles and equipment for cloning credit cards.”
Here’s the story in Blog del Narco: “An armed commando broke into a lot of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office in the city of Chihuahua and using tow trucks, they took two armored vehicles and equipment for cloning credit cards.”
In the days after that story appeared, "Lucy" gave an interview to KENS 5 in Texas. “Journalism died long ago in Mexico,” she said.
Here’s Blog Del Narco’s story on a murdered bus driver in Guerrero: “Driver resists a kidnapping and is assassinated in Guerrero.”
Here’s the same story in Diario de Guerrero: “Bus driver killed inside his home.”
The piece's opening sentence in Blog Del Narco: “Struggling not to be taken by unknown men, a busdriver was murdered yesterday in the early morning hours.”
And in Diario de Guerrero: “Struggling not to be taken by unknown men, a busdriver was murdered yesterday in the early morning hours.”
On its face, Blog Del Narco’s website seems to provide a solid platform for people to report on violence. The moderator posts stories and videos while readers leave comments, tips and interact with each other in a chatbox. The blog has become a go-to place for news about violence in Mexico. Along with tips from readers, people also send in videos. The site claims to attract 25 million hits a month.
The owners of Blog Del Narco maintain that journalists are not doing their job in Mexico. And yet, the same stories run word-for-word on both the blog and the websites of major Mexican newspapers.
From the article, "Police capture El Yoco," in El Sol de Cuernavaca on Tuesday, April 2: "This Monday afternoon, in the middle of a firefight between police officers and presumed hitmen of the gang, Los Rojos, Luis Alberto Benitez Rodriguez "El Yoco" the brother of Miguel Angel Benitez Rodriguez, alias, "El Chisto", was arrested ... "
Blog Del Narco's version: "This Monday afternoon, in the middle of a firefight between police officers and presumed hitmen of the gang, Los Rojos, Luis Alberto Benitez Rodriguez "El Yoco" the brother of Miguel Angel Benitez Rodriguez, alias, "El Chisto", was arrested ... "
The Guardian journalist Rory Carroll would not respond to requests for interview.
But in his story, Carroll writes: “Blog Del Narco sprang up three years ago to fill the vacuum left by cowed journalistic colleagues who could not even report vital information such as narco roadblocks and kidnappings.”
This post on Blog Del Narco, from Wednesday, April 3: “They execute El Pantera, a Hitman for La Familia Michoacan.”
And the same story one full day earlier, published in Cambio de Michoacán, Tuesday, April 2: “They murder a delinquent in Buenavista; nicknamed El Pantera.”
Adam Parfrey owns Feral House, the publisher of “Dying for the Truth.” He refused to answer questions about the veracity of his claim that Blog Del Narco was the only outlet daring to report on violence.
When the Fronteras Desk pressed him, he wrote [sic], “now I know your reason for this "interview"--to minimize and belittle a popular blog because it no doubt gets millions more readers than whatever it is you do... by the way, you have not read the book so you cannot accuse it of plagiarizing anything at all... blog del narco has hundreds of intentionally silent partners who do not want credit for fear of being killed... unfortunately it seems your ulterior motive makes any communication with us a fools errand...”
Yet consider this story:
Blog Del Narco's post: “5 people executed in Guerrero. They leave a message.”
On the same day, the same story in La Prensa: “5 people executed in Guerrero. They leave a message.”
This story in La Prensa was not reported anonymously. It had reporter Paco Zorroza's byline on it.
Keeping Parfrey’s argument in mind, we asked Zorroza. He said his story was an original story and not a rewrite of a press release. His story appears on Blog Del Narco, plagiarized word-for-word.
Zorroza also said he never made an agreement with Blog Del Narco to use his stories.
Asked how this “silent agreement” was reached with Mexican journalists, Parfrey wrote, “Your intentions here are obvious and shameful. I won't further respond to such garbage.”
More than a week before the book's listed publication date, on April 7, Parfrey defended the origins of its material in the book’s review section on Amazon.com.
Parfrey was responding to another critic who was also questioning the apparent plagiarism on Blog Del Narco. He wrote [sic]: “Yesterday I received a call from the woman in charge of Blog Del Narco. I asked her about charges of "plagarism" and she remarked that the blog's information comes from journalists who wish to remain anonymous due to fear of being killed, police who wish to remain anonymous due to fear of being killed, and civilians who remain anonymous due to fear of being killed. Further she mentioned that every single word of the book was written by her. But like practically every non-fiction book written throughout the history of mankind, she accesses information sent her by other sources, particularly in this dangerous situation which has been fatal to friends of hers. She also mentioned that members of political parties are trying to minimize her book as well as the information seen online. I question your motives. You have not read the book. You are trying to disparage work of a brave person. You are a bad man.”
The issues here are problematic. On the one hand, Mexican reporters who copy and paste press bulletins are parroting the words of local government. That's not conducive to a healthy and free press.
But on the other hand, the Blog Del Narco is stealing the work of legitimate reporters who risk their lives to write original stories. The stories we reviewed show that those that weren't plagiarized were simply lifted verbatim from the exact same press releases of the government the blog criticizes. In either case, the Blog Del Narco then sells itself as the last vestige of honest journalism in the country.
That is a much more uncomfortable narrative than the one being presented by the publishers of Blog Del Narco, Feral House, or the American news media helping to further it.
Blog Del Narco has many questions to answer about its hero narrative. The owners of the site, "Lucy" or whomever, have not responded to inquiries from the Fronteras Desk.