Nothing has changed: A conversation about the killing of journalists in Mexico
'In the Mouth of the Wolf,' by Katherine Corcoran, examines the epidemic of journalist killings in Mexico and the perils of losing press freedom.
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In 2012, shortly after Mexican magazine Proceso published an article on corruption involving two Veracruz politicians, reporter Regina Martinez, a fearless journalist out of Mexico’s Gulf Coast state who wrote for Proceso, was bludgeoned to death in her bathroom. The message was clear: No journalist in Mexico was safe.
Katherine Corcoran, then leading the Associated Press coverage in Mexico, admired Martínez’s work. Troubled by the news of her death, Corcoran journeyed to Veracruz to find out what had happened. Regina hadn’t even written the controversial article. But did she have something else that someone didn’t want published?
Once there, Katherine bonded with four of Regina’s grief-stricken mentees, each desperate to prove who was to blame for the death of their friend. Together they battled cover-ups, narco-officials, red tape, and threats to sift through the mess of lies-and discover what got Regina killed.
The results of her investigation come to light in her new book, In the Mouth of the Wolf, where she also confronts how silencing the free press threatens basic protections and rule of law across the globe. Corcoran’s important work is especially vital this year, as 2022 is the deadliest year on record for journalists in Mexico, with 15 people killed so far this year.
Why did you decide to focus your journalistic career on Mexico /Central America?
I grew up in the Midwest at a time when there were no Mexican immigrants. The only Latinos in my town were from Puerto Rico. So when I moved West to be a journalist, I discovered a whole new community, dynamic and history that I didn’t know before, and it fascinated me. Eventually it led me to covering Mexico on sporadic trips and then working there full time.
How did you come up with this idea for the book and why did you choose to write about Regina’s story?
Regina’s murder came after many in the previous years, but it stuck with me the most. She was a woman, my contemporary, and I had tried to hire her once to do a story for the Associated Press. She couldn’t, but we had a brief interaction. The journalist killings were confusing because there was no formal investigating by the state, and state officials told us they were corrupt and that’s what got them killed. We all knew Regina wasn’t corrupt. So that propelled me to find out what really happened.
It’s been more than 10 years since the assassination of Regina Martinez and many other journalists in the country, but the situation has only gotten worse for those who dare to seek the truth. How is it possible that nothing has changed?
Nothing has changed because of Mexico’s near impunity. The justice system doesn’t work and is known for letting powerful people go free while imprisoning poor people, often who didn’t commit the crime they are convicted of. Also, journalism in Mexico has become more aggressive and independent, and more journalists are exposing things that public officials don’t want exposed.
Somehow, people have become more desensitized to hearing about murders of journalists in other countries. Do you think U.S./European societies have become insensitive to issues like press freedom?
I think the United States takes press freedom for granted, although it now does so at a peril to democracy. The free press is constantly targeted now in the U.S. as corrupt and the enemy of the people. Journalists covering stories in the U.S. can now become targets just for being journalists. If we let that erosion continue, we will be in a place where government officials completely control the message, leaving them to operate with impunity.
Do you think there is a real threat to press freedom in US and Europe?
I don’t know much about the situation in Europe but definitely in the U.S. Journalists are under attack all the time now in the U.S., including physically. There is now a Freedom Tracker to record those attacks, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago. People don’t understand reporters or what we do. We need to be more transparent with our communities so they understand why good journalism is important.
Sometimes journalism/media seem more like a communications/P.R service than a real tool for investigation. Who should we blame?
We should blame the media companies that resort to lazy reporting rather than making the investment needed to fulfill their watchdog roles.
What is the goal of this book? What do you hope readers take away from it?
I want readers to understand what journalists do when we do our jobs well, the risks many take to fi nd the truth, and what happens to a society when we are no longer able to do our jobs without peril or threat; what it means to lose a free and vibrant independent press. I want the world to support the journalists in Mexico, but also to consider in their own countries, particularly the United States, how the free press is under attack and whether that’s a road they want to travel.