August 23, 2001
Narco News 2001
NYT's Juan Forero Covered
A Narco News Global Alert
to Disclose the Presence of U.S. Embassy Official During Interviews
With Plan Colombia Mercenary Pilots
By Al Giordano
to the Narco News Bulletin
news correspondents in Latin America
are sharpening their laptops like knives, but their wits remain
dull as doornails.
The countdown has begun: only six weeks
until the October 9th expiration date on the demilitarized zone
in Colombia, when the drug war could well go "boom."
And Juan Forero of the New York Times
is just another soldier-of-fortune, one with a press pass.
War has long meant good news for foreign
correspondents for United States newspapers: It brings dreams
of page one stories, media industry awards, maybe a Hollywood
movie deal later on. Never mind the human suffering of the folks
stuck on the battlefields. For inauthentic journalists, the blood
of others is merely a pretext for ink.
Here at The Narco News Bulletin,
we set out to cover the drug war sixteen months ago with the
idea of breaking the manufactured consensus behind U.S.-imposed
drug policy on the rest of our América. We'd rather end
a senseless war before it escalates than seek an illusory glory
through covering it. We quickly found that we had to monitor
and report about the abhorrent conduct of the United States news
media in Latin America. It's clear to us, in the summer of 2001,
that although the majority of correspondents are beating war
drums, no single major news media has fallen to the depths of
inauthentic coverage as dishonestly as the New York Times.
The Times wants war, and last week
showed its willingness to manipulate news coverage and hide key
facts from readers in order to justify atrocity.
The Times has now moved its South
American base from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Bogotá,
Colombia, and has installed as its resident agent-in-charge a
relatively untested correspondent by the name of Juan Forero.
Failed to Disclose
recent story by Forero reveals the
willingness of the Times to distort and hide the truth
from readers, violating basic ethics of journalism.
Forero, in an August 16th story, interviewed
mercenary pilots in Colombia. But he chose not to disclose that
a U.S. Embassy official was present, monitoring the interviews.
Meanwhile, the officially monitored story
occupied space on the pages of the Times, serving as a
cocaine-laced curtain over the bigger news story out of Colombia
that the newspaper did not report: the granting of sweeping martial-law
powers to the narco-corrupted Colombian military.
That same week, Colombian President Andrés
Pastrana executed a key order that handed over control from democratic
institutions like Congress and the judiciary to the notoriously
despotic Colombian military regime. On the same day that the
NY Times did not report the story, Scott Wilson of the
Washington Post wrote:
BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug.
16 -- The Colombian government announced today that President
Andres Pastrana had signed legislation giving the military broad
new powers to wage war with less scrutiny from government investigators,
a measure some U.S. lawmakers have warned could threaten a key
American aid package.
But the New York Times and its
rookie agent Forero chose not to report the news.
Instead of covering the big story, Forero
and the International Desk at the Times leant themselves
to a controlled publicity-play that should never have been allowed:
a deal to interview U.S. mercenaries in Colombia, but in a controlled
environment in which a U.S. Embassy official was present in the
room - thus ensuring that nobody was able to speak freely. The
mercenaries work for DynCorp, the top supplier of roustabout
pilots and soldiers of fortune to do the dirty work of Plan Colombia.
The Forero story on August 16th in the
New York Times read like a James Bond screenplay, one
that could have been titled "Mercenaries Are Forever":
Aug. 16 -- He was flying just above the tree line, moments after
spraying herbicide on a patch of coca, when the machine-gun fire
hit. Eight bullets, probably fired by leftist rebels or drug
traffickers, struck the fuselage and tail, knocking out the radio
as the cockpit filled with smoke.
But the pilot, an American
under contract in an anti-drug plan that has brought dozens of
private citizens into Colombia's drug war, said he knew such
attacks went with the job
Juan Forero Story
in hell is Juan Forero, this relative
rookie at the New York Times who has appeared out of nowhere
to faithfully execute the party line of wartime Washington and
its billionaire military contractors?
Three years ago, Juan Forero - a Colombian
citizen who resided in the United States - wrote for something
called the "Religion News Service," churning
out sophmoric ideological propaganda with titles like "Pope's
Visit Gives Cubans Hope for Freedom."
Two years ago, Forero was a reporter for
the Newark Star-Ledger, in New Jersey.
A year ago, Forero popped up as a New
York Times correspondent, writing some stories from New York
City - where, as the Times' discredited ex-bureau chief
in Mexico, Sam Dillon, once commented, that Times correspondents
"learn to obey" their bosses - but quickly ended up
on the Latin America beat, soon after narco-lobbyists had pushed
the $1.3 billion Plan Colombia military intervention through
First Global Disgrace
December 5, 2000, Forero caused his
first global disgrace, when he authored a hagiography - known
in the profession of journalism as a "puff piece,"
the kind that is done on rock stars and Hollywood moguls - but
he wrote it about the notorious drug-trafficking Colombian paramilitary
phenomenon, in which Forero hailed the "savvy public relations
efforts by its straight-talking leader, Carlos Castaño."
Three months prior, The Narco News
Bulletin had exposed a fact that has since become accepted
by serious news organizations, including the Washington Post
and Los Angeles Times and others:
Castaño and his business-backed
paramilitary troops, we reported, "protected narco-trafficking
charged a tax on their illicit income, and used to profits to
enrich themselves personally. Indeed, although he claims modest
roots, Castaño lives in luxury, sends his kids to private
school in England, and is a major landowner throughout Northern
Colombia -- land from which he helped displace tens of thousands
Castaño, we reported, "peddles
in 'anti-drugs' and drugs alike, with the support and backing
of the US and Colombian governments."
Ever since then, Human rights organizations
and serious journalists have had to - when writing about Castaño
and his paramilitary movement - mention this undeniable fact:
Castaño has been linked to high-level cocaine trafficking.
This has not been disputed by anyone - except by, to our knowledge,
by the omissions of a certain rookie New York Times correspondent,
the International Desk to whom he reports, and by Castaño
himself, who, a month before our report, claimed via e-mail to
the Miami Herald: "I don't accept that anybody, absolutely
nobody, without valid arguments and sustainable facts, can accuse
me of being tolerant of drug trafficking and much less drug traffickers,
simply because I have never been involved with this despicable
Castaño calls it "despicable,"
but drug trafficking is his business. And making illicit money
through the barrel of a gun, despite his rhetoric about patriotism,
is his obvious number-one motive.
Yet even after this report - documented
and based on recited facts - the New York Times continued,
bizarrely, behaving as publicist for the war criminal Castaño.
This, even after the Miami Herald's
Colombia correspondent Tim Johnson - who went on an academic
fellowship at Stanford University for a year (and has now resurfaced
as a Knight-Ridder news service correspondent) - responded via email to a critique in Narco News to say, "The funny thing about it is, I agree
with much of what you say
The paramilitaries have committed
more atrocities than the FARC."
Still, only weeks after this public exchange
between journalists, Juan Forero of the New York Times,
while failing to report the whole truth about this drug baron,
was feeding readers quotes like, "Castaño is the
only Colombian who has the nerve to attack the guerrillas, and
that makes him the good guy."
Later, in February 2001, Juan Forero of
the New York Times drew sharp public criticism from an
internationally respected media watchdog group, Fairness
and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Calling Forero's work a
"highly distorted version of events," FAIR issued a
global alert taking the novice Timesman to task for his biased
coverage of Colombia and, particularly, of Castaño's organization,
the "Self-Defense Forces of Colombia," a.k.a., the
"There were at least
27 massacres in the month of January alone, claiming the lives
of as many as 200 civilians. The killings are overwhelmingly
the work of right-wing paramilitaries with close ties to the
Colombian military, such as the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
"Despite the dramatic
nature of the attacks and the U.S.'s heavy financial involvement
in the war, the New York Times did not report on a single
massacre during the month of January. The findings of the human
rights groups' "Certification" report, including its
recommendation that the U.S. cease military funding to Colombia,
also went unmentioned.
"Far from documenting
the recent wave of paramilitary terror, the Times has told precisely
the opposite story. Juan Forero's January 22 dispatch from the
city of Barrancabermeja, headlined "Paramilitaries Adjust
Attack Strategies," gave a highly distorted version of events.
"Forero claims that
'the militia members are killing fewer people than the rebels,
who have responded to the threat in neighborhoods they long controlled
with a furious assault on those they accuse of supporting the
paramilitaries,' and that the New Granada battalion of the Colombian
military 'is sending specially trained urban commandos into the
neighborhoods to restore order.'
"The notion that
the rebels in Barrancabermeja have been responsible for more
killings than the paramilitaries contradicts all available evidence
Rights Watch reported that 'paramilitary groups are considered
responsible for at least 78 percent of the human rights violations
recorded in the six months from October 1999' (annual report,
Forero of the New York Times clearly
had access to the facts, but nonetheless wrote a blatant lie
when he claimed that the paramilitary "militia members are
killing fewer people than the rebels."
There was absolutely no factual basis
for this claim. Nor did Forero cite any; he simply made it up.
Again, we repeat the public admittance
by former Miami Herald correspondent Tim Johnson, when
he wrote to Narco News in September, 2000: "The paramilitaries
have committed more atrocities than the FARC."
"Really Eager to Do It"
But that Forero got caught in his lie
apparently didn't cause any pause on the part of the Times'
International fixer Andy Rosenthal, who told Village Voice
media critic Cynthia Cotts that he was shopping for a Bogotá
bureau chief and that Forero was "really eager to do it."
The Times-watcher Cotts wrote last
Now if only Juan Forero
would take off the blinders. In the past year of Colombia coverage,
the Times has not once published the words 'Navy SEAL'
or 'Green Beret.' But according to a February 23 Miami Herald
story, Colombia is swarming with U.S. mercenaries under contract
with private companies to execute Plan Colombia. These companies
include DynCorp, which provides plane and helicopter pilots
According to the Herald's Juan O. Tamayo, the U.S. government
has no authority to stop these mercenaries from associating with
paramilitaries or entering into combat. DynCorp employees are
'under strict orders to avoid journalists,' but congressional
sources say 'many are hard-boiled, hard-drinking veterans of
the U.S. military' for whom the best introduction is 'a case
And, on August 15th, the Village Voice
media critic, again, addressed the issues raised by the journalists
at the New York Times who are playing with fire and falsehood
on the coming war in Colombia.
Scott Wilson of the Washington Post
bureau in Colombia, according to Cotts, covered the same beat
more honestly. Yet, once again, Forero and his boss, Andy Rosenthal,
at the New York Times, are making a transparently ideological
mess of the hemisphere:
Like Wilson, Forero traveled
to a region where paramilitaries "have stepped up the killing."
But whereas Wilson focused on families of the massacre victims,
Forero interviewed the ranchers who have paid off the right-wing
paramilitaries in exchange for protection.
On August 11, the Times
ran another Forero story, this one promoting the same ranchers'
plan to begin exporting their beef to the world. There was no
mention that the ranchers are in bed with the murderers, but
then, that's something Americans apparently don't care about.
At heart, Rosenthal may be more pro-globalization than he is
Immediately, Rosenthal and Forero confirmed
their hubris, by publishing the story that blatantly covered-up
the presence of the U.S. Embassy official during Forero's interviews
with mercenary pilots.
Hidden Embassy Official
August 16th story contained an omission
that would have caused any ethical newspaper to fire the reporter
immediately. He failed to disclose that a U.S. Embassy official
had monitored the interview. Forero's only disclaimer, when he
took dictation from the DynCorp mercenaries, came in these paragraphs:
In the first interviews
among Americans working under a State Department contract in
Colombia, a group of pilots spoke today of their experiences
spraying fields of coca and heroin poppies that are often guarded
by leftist rebels. The Americans, three pilots and a supervisor,
agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their full names
not be published, for fear of retaliation by traffickers or rebels.
Later in the story, Forero wrote that
the comments by the pilots were "made during a casual roundtable
with two American reporters in Bogotá."
The other reporter present, Andrew Selsky
of Associated Press, disclosed the whole truth in his August
17th story when he reported that, "the conversation was
monitored by a U.S. Embassy official."
Forero and the Times chose to withhold
that information. Instead, Forero called the officially monitored
propaganda session a "casual roundtable" with "three
pilots and a supervisor." But Forero didn't quote any DynCorp
supervisors; that would have forced him to reveal that a U.S.
government official was present to censor the news.
How "casual" is any interview
while the Embassy official is present to make sure that the mercenary
pilots don't wander beyond the script?
By not disclosing that important fact
- that a U.S. Embassy official was present to monitor the interviews
- Forero lost all benefit of the doubt. It wasn't merely a rookie
mistake. It was cover-up, at a newspaper that, decades ago, exposed
U.S. government cover-ups, but now is complicit in them.
Attention to the Official Behind the Curtain