Mexico: Chinese Whispers on Fox Exposé?

https://i0.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/desment.png
The El U cover story in question. Source: Proceso No. 1621, November 25, 2007, p. 7 [as far as I can figure: The PDF is a bit garbled.]

Chinese whispers or Telephone is a game in which each successive participant secretly whispers to the next a phrase or sentence whispered to them by the preceding participant. Cumulative errors from mishearing often result in the sentence heard by the last player differing greatly and amusingly from the one uttered by the first. It is most often played by children as a party game or in the playground. It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies of rumours.

La versión desmentida (Proceso, Mexico): El Universal (Mexico) runs a front-page story with a “sneak preview” of a forthcoming book, an insider account of the political dirty wars in Mexico in the run-up to the 2006 election.

Sort of a Mexican version of Scott McClellan‘s forthcoming (April) tell-all book on the Bush White House, “What Happened.”

American politics and Mexican politics get more and more similar. No disrespect to the suffering people of Mexico, but as an American, I find this sort of alarming. Don’t you?

Imagine if the “reality-based community” conversation, as reported by Ron Suskind in The New York Times Magazine, never actually took place:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Or rather, imagine that Newsweek reported that The Magazine had reported that conversation, when Suskind never actually reported that it took place, on the record, in The Magazine.

Or imagine Newsweek reporting both that The Magazine had, and that it had not, reported that.

File under “journalism fails to imitate literature imitating life” and “the Rashomon effect.”

El Universal was criticized earlier this year for running what it claimed was an e-mail from Zhenli Ye Gon (the DEA’s “man behind the meth”) to his friends and associates, without citing its source or explaining how it established its authenticity. See

I never did get a clear idea of the paper’s response to that flap. I should go back and research that.
It reminds one of the “smoking gun” letter in the Rathergate affair that caused such headaches for CBS and 60 Minutes, and will now be litigated by Rather, who lost his job over the affair.

The CBS news team was accused of not doing the due diligence on a document, attributed to an eyewitness who is now dead, which claimed that Dubya benefited from his family connections in getting out of going to Vietnam.

El viernes 23 el diario El Universal sorprendió a sus lectores al publicar una nota, firmada por los reporteros José Luis Ruiz y David Aponte, con supuestos detalles de un capítulo por adelantado del libro La diferencia. Radiografía de un sexenio, escrito por el excanciller Jorge Castañeda y el exvocero presidencial Rubén Aguilar.

On November 23, El Universal suprised its readers with an article, bylined to José Luis Ruiz and David Aponte, that supposedly contains details of a chapter from the book “The Difference: X-Ray of a Presidential Administration,” written by former foreign secretary and former presidential spokesman Rubén Aguilar.

La nota, que abarcó cinco de las seis columnas de primera plana de ese periódico, señalaba que el libro da cuenta de cómo en el sexenio pasado el presidente Vicente Fox intentó negociar con el jefe de Gobierno de la Ciudad de México, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, el juicio de desafuero emprendido en contra de este último.

The article, which occupied five of the six columns on the front page, claims that book describe how, during the Fox administration, Vicente Fox tried to negotiate with the governor of the Federal District, López Obrador, over the impeachment proceedings against the latter.

Y afirma que López Obrador le soltó un cortante “no” a Fox. “¡Lástima!”, diría el presidente. La nota sostiene que el contacto con el tabasqueño se hizo mediante un intermediario: José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti, quien fue secretario de Gobierno del Distrito Federal durante la administración lopezobradorista.

It states that López issued a crisp, cutting “no” to Fox. “Too bad!” the president reportedly said. The article maintains that the contact with the Tabasco politician was made through an intermediary, José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti, who was a member of the Federal District cabinent during the López Obrador administration.

Sin embargo, en la noche del mismo día el Grupo Editorial Random House Mondadori desmintió a El Universal. El pasaje en el que supuestamente López Obrador dice “no” y Fox responde “¡lástima!”, afirmó la casa editora en un comunicado, no existe en el libro de Castañeda y Aguilar.

However, that same day, in the evening, the book’s publisher, Random House Mondadori, denied the El Universal story.

El periódico publicó lo siguiente:

The newspaper ran the following statement:

“Rubén Aguilar fue el encargado de contactar al tabasqueño. Lo hizo vía telefónica a través del exsecretario de Gobierno José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti, cercano colaborador de López Obrador.

“Rubén Aguilar was in charge of contacting the man from Tabasco [López]. He did so by telephoning Ortiz Pinchetti, a close López associate.

“Era el sábado 23 de abril, la víspera de la marcha contra el desafuero.

“It was Saturday, April 23, the eve of the mass march against the impeachment proceeding.”

“La respuesta de López Obrador no tardó en llegar; fue recibida 20 minutos después: No.

“The response from López was not long in coming; it was received 20 minutes later: No.”

“ ‘¡Lástima!’, respondió Fox.”

“‘Too bad!’ responded Fox.

Ni esa expresión atribuida a Fox ni el capítulo entero existen en el libro La diferencia, precisó la editorial. Y explicó:

Neither this statement attributed to Fox nor the entire chapter are to be found in the book The Difference, the publisher explained.

“El episodio, ausente en el libro que estamos publicando, es descrito en su artículo (del diario) con detalle al grado que culmina así: ‘Al saber la negativa de López Obrador, Fox dijo: ¡Lástima!’ Esta expresión del mandatario no fue incluida en el libro.

“The episode, which is not in the book we are publishing, is described in the article in such detail that it ends thus: ‘On learning of López’s refusal, Fox said: Too bad!’ This statement by the president was not included in the book.”

“Les podemos asegurar que ni esta expresión ni el episodio completo narrado en su artículo se encuentra en el libro de Aguilar y Castañeda. Por lo que respecta a este asunto ignoramos a qué texto tuvo acceso El Universal, aunque reconocemos que, en términos generales, las breves alusiones a otros datos que contiene La diferencia son correctas”.

“We can assure you that neither this expression or the complete episode rarrate in this article is to be found in the book by Aguilar and Castañeda. We do not know what text El Universal had access to, although we acknowledge that, in general terms, the brief allusions to other information contained in the book are correct.”

Perhaps they had access to an unedited manuscript.

Dirigido al director editorial de ese diario, Raymundo Riva Palacio, el desmentido admite que el libro contiene un capítulo entero dedicado al desafuero, pero insiste en que el episodio descrito es inexistente.

Addressed to the editorial director of El Universal, Riva Palacio, the correction from the publisher admits that the book contains an entire chapter dedicated to the impeachment attempt, but inists that the episode described is not recounted.

En la página 12 de la misma edición, El Universal aportó incluso más detalles del episodio. Afirmó, por ejemplo, que Antonio Echevarría, a la sazón gobernador de Nayarit, le comunicó a Fox el supuesto interés de López Obrador por buscar un acuerdo.

On page 12 of the same edition, El Universal relates even more details of the episode. It reported for example, Antonio Echevarría, the governor of Nayarit at the time, communicated to Fox the supposed interest of López in reaching an accord.

López sought to negotiate, and also refused to negotiate?

“Hay voluntad para una negociación y el presidente Fox está dispuesto a viajar al DF, expuso Aguilar Valenzuela a Ortiz Pinchetti a través del teléfono.

“There is a willingness to negotiate and the president is willing to travel to the DF, Valenzuela and Pinchetti explained over the phone.”

“Fox estaba en el rancho San Cristóbal con su secretario de Economía, Eduardo Sojo; Ramón Muñoz, jefe de la Oficina de la Presidencia para la Innovación Gubernamental; Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, consejero jurídico, y Manuel Espino, líder nacional del PAN.

“Fox was at his ranch with his economy secretary, Sojo, Muñoz, head of the Presidential Government Innovation office [!]; Cabeza de Vaca, his legal counsel; and Espino, national president of the PAN political party.”

“Del DF llegaron en helicóptero el secretario de Gobernación, Santiago Creel; su asesora María Amparo Casar y Rubén Aguilar”.

“Arriving from the federal district by helicopter were Creel, Creel aide Amparo Casar and Aguilar.”

“Al saber de la negativa de López Obrador, Fox dijo: ¡Lástima! Esta expresión del mandatario no fue incluida en el libro (las cursivas son de Proceso).”

“Learning of the López refusal, Fox said: Too bad! This expression was not included in the book (emphasis added).”

El Universal dio por un hecho la existencia del pasaje, y en su nota de primera plana no aclaró que la frase de Fox no fue incluida en el libro, a diferencia del texto de la página 12.

El Universal stated the existence of the passage as a fact, and in its front-page article did not clarify that this statement by Fox was not included in the book, unlike what is stated in the article on p. 12.

The ombudsman of the Folha de S. Paulo here in Brazil coined a nice, crisp phrase for such moments, which happen often in the Brazilian press (and not just the Brazilian press, of course) as well: Folha v. Folha.

I like to refer to such moments as instances of “the identity of identity and non-identity” — an homage to that passage in Hegel’s Logic which Bertrand Russell famously objected to.

Another, relatively minor but telling, I think, example, Missing Link: Identity of Identity and Non-Identity in the Tech Section of the Estadão.

De hecho, cuando los autores de la nota hicieron referencia a la supuesta expresión de “¡Lástima”!, no citaron de qué fuente la obtuvieron.

In fact, when the authors of the article refer to the expression, “Too bad” they do not cite the source of the that information.

La medianoche del pasado viernes 23 Proceso buscó a uno de los autores de la nota, David Aponte, subdirector de Información del diario. Le dejó un mensaje en un buzón de voz, pero no respondió.

Proceso contacted one of the authors of the article, Mr. Aponte, for comment. We left a voicemail but got no response.

Este semanario hizo una lectura completa del capítulo dedicado al desafuero, pero no localizó el pasaje referido ni la palabra “¡Lástima!” En el índice onomástico del libro, la única cita respecto a Ortiz Pinchetti es sobre la frustrada construcción del aeropuerto.

This weekly read the complete chapter on the desafuero affair, but could not find the passage referred to or the phrase “Too bad!” In the book’s index of names, the only reference to Ortiz Pinchetti relates to the frustrated construction of the airport.

The terrible Atenco incident. See

En contraparte, el mismo viernes 23 el diario Reforma publicó un adelanto del libro de Castañeda y Aguilar, en una versión que, ésta sí autorizada por Random House Mondadori, ocupó una parte de la primera plana. En ella, los autores aluden y confirman el encuentro que el 6 de abril de 2004 sostuvieron Vicente Fox y el presidente de la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, Mariano Azuela, durante el cual este último insistió en la necesidad de desaforar a Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Reforma published a preview of the same book on its front page, a version that was, in fact, authorized by Random House Mondadori. In it, the authors allude to and confirm the meeting between Fox and Supreme Court chief justice Azuela on April 6, 2004, during which Azuela insisted on the need to remove López from office.

And never mind the question of the accuracy of the book itself.

All of which tends to confirm my bias in the matter: The Newspaper 2.0 needs more editors 1.0 and fewer content managers.

And the reason that Jimmy Wales claims for Wikipedia is enormously stupid is because Wikipedia does not care, in principle, about the reader’s right to consider the source.

Wikipedia is lousy with nonsense like this, for example:

The image “The Alpha and the Omega
The first of the Five Ws is who?
Qui parle? User profile for Wikipedia grand inquisitor Dantadd: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.” — Revelations 22:13-14.

It is like paying good money for bottle water without being able to know for a fact that the bottler has not just pumped the stuff straight from the stinking Rio Pinheiros.

I say that, of course, in part because I am an editor (and translator).

So, yes, this is what I have to sell.

But I am telling you: The small stuff really can come back around and bite you on the ass.

In the spirit of Regret the Error, let me see if El Universal issued a correction or clarification on this point.

Checking …

Results from a search for “Lástima” on the El U Web site: 3.

None of them the story in question.

I cannot seem to find the corrections section.

Does the newspaper have one?

The image “https://i0.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/nakedfox.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Proceso features The Difference: “From the inside: confessions, testimony, rumors … They strip Fox naked.”

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