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The Sam Dillon Story

All the News That Wasn't Printed

September 29, 2000 -- Special to The Narco News Bulletin
Fifth in a Series

NYT's Dillon Hid Info from Pulitzer Committee

Published September 29, 2000 in El Universal (Mexico's largest daily) and 24 other Newspapers

Translated to English by The Narco News Bulletin

Polemic over a Pulitzer

NYT: Dillon, a Maneuver by the Presidency

By Carlos Ramírez

Ramírez Identifies Dillon's Key Source: A Top Aid to Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo

Zedillo Wanted to Destroy Beltrones to Eliminate His Own Connection to the Disgraced Carlos Salinas

Dillon Used Word of Zedillo aide Luis Téllez in His Report Without Having Seen the Documents

Times Correspondent: Journalistic Hit Man in Vendetta for Mexican President

Indicador Político

by Carlos Ramírez

September 29, 2000

Polemic over a Pulitzer

NYT: Dillon, a Maneuver by the Presidency

In its September issue, the US magazine Brill's Content, that covers the media, published a report about the Pulitzer prize in journalism of the United States and concluded that its delivery "is plagued by questions of fairness and accuracy -- and no one's doing anything about it." The NY Times correspondent in Mexico, Sam Dillon, won a Pulitzer for his reports on accusations of drug trafficking in Mexico, but facts have appeared that show Dillon hid information from the prize committee.

And Brill's Content magazine reported a clue about the Pulitzer prize in journalism. The administrator of the prize since 1993 is Seymour Topping, who worked for 34 years for the New York Times as international editor, administrative director, and editor of the regional newspapers of the New York daily. Topping, according to the magazine report, "is a sonorous man with a tuft of white hair, who has a tendency to answer questions in complete paragraphs replete with parenthetical clauses and hypothetical rejoinders; when interrupted, he just plows right on."

A review of the promotion file of the Pulitzer prize for Dillon and other correspondents in Mexico revealed an extraordinary fact: Dillon presented a list of eight works about corruption and drug trafficking in Mexico, some edited together with Craig Pyes, Julia Preston and Tim Golden, but he left out the story that disproved a good part of the information in the other stories. Thus, Dillon, the principal promoter of the prize to the committee on Mexican themes, hid information from the Pulitzer prize committee.

Worse, was the fact that a Mexican politician affected by the reports of Dillon, Preston, Pyes and Golden sent a letter to the president of the Pulitzer prize committee, George Rupp, to explain that a good portion of the central content of the reports on corruption and drug trafficking in Mexico were constructed from leaks that were not supported by trustworthy sources. And the Pulitzer committee also ignored a special investigation that the Mexican Attorney General made that concluded in October of 1997 - the prize was delivered in April 1998 - that the report by Sam Dillon and Craig Pyes, published on page one of the New York Times on Saturday, February 23, 1997, "contains the existence of crimes of defamation and libel." That is to say, it lied.

In its report on the Pulitzer, Brill's Content magazine followed the clues of two similar cases of journalists awarded or declared finalist for the Pulitzer but the content of their works was later determined to have been invented: Janet Cooke and Patricia Smith. The magazine cites a recent case of reports by the AP news agency in 1999 about the massacre of civilians in Korea by US troops, but the content later was proven false. When they asked Topping if he was worried about those revelations and if they affected the Pulitzer, he simply said "No."

Dillon, Preston, Golden and Pyes might find themselves in the same situation. But beforehand they would have to speak of the enormous irresponsibility by the Pulitzer committee because it ignored information that diminished the credibility of the New York Times works that were awarded. On January 23 the Pulitzer's Internet page published the list of the eight stories by the Times correspondents in Mexico. The central text was the accusation against Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Jorge Carrillo Olea, then governors of Sonora and Morelos. Carrillo Olea never sued, but Beltrones asked the Attorney General to investigate the accusations.

The ninth story, hidden by the foreign journalists from the Pulitzer committee, was the key to determine that the other eight stories lacked credibility. The work hidden by the journalists was published in the New York Times on May 20, 1997. And it had also included a letter from Beltrones to the New York Times published in full with a title that simply exonerated the Sonora governor from the prior accusations of the daily: "Mexican Official Does Not Have Connection with Drug Traffickers," almost as an editorial opinion of the letter, contradicting the reports of Dillon and Pyes. It was an elegant manner for the New York Times to correct its correspondents.

Dillon, Preston, Golden and Pyes included in their proposal to the Pulitzer the text of the February 23, 1997 story that had been disproved by the letter and by other publications in May, July, August, October and December of 1997. The prize was delivered on April 15, 1998, and on this day Dillon declared to the daily Reforma that the prize was a vindication of his reports and a response to the investigation of the Attorney General. But the same Dillon had signed with Pyes a report on the front page on March 20, 1997 (hidden from the Pulitzer committee) which in its tenth paragraph, much against their wishes, the journalists included facts that disproved their principal report of February 23rd: "Because officials of the administration remained silent about the result of the operation for various days that Mexico had confiscated $16 million dollars, Sandra Salmon, the US Consul in Sonoro, wrote a letter on March 7th congratulating the governor of Sonora, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, for cooperating in what she said was a splendid success."

They also wrote: "In April of 1996 a US Customs Service official based in Hermosillo opened an investigation and sought the help of Beltrones to identify the business groups in los Gaxiola. The governor "contributed enormously in this investigation" said Ms. Salmon in the March 7 letter to Beltrones.

The issue of the Pulitzer awarded to Dillon and associates was, in consequence, the product of the hiding of information that had disproved the content of the texts they sent to the prize committee. And the matter is going to go much farther because very soon in the United States, a book written by a North American journalist about the texts of Dillon, Preston, Golden and Pyes will be published that demonstrates the hidden style of journalism by the New York Times correspondents.

The key question is located in knowing why Dillon dared to accuse Beltrones without having all the proof in his hands. And there is only one response: A high source of the Mexican government had leaked the information to the journalist.

And the candle has now run out: the leaking official was Luis Téllez, then chief of the President's office. The motive: Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo wanted to diminish the political weight of those who had managed his announcement as substitute candidacy for the presidency in 1994. President Salinas had decided that it would be Zedillo. (Salinas aid) José Cordoba had prepared the video of (assassinated presidential candidate Luis Donaldo) Colosio designating Zedillo as his campaign chief, and Beltrones presented it in the President's office to the leaders of the PRI to steer them toward Zedillo. Salinas was already exiled, Cordoba had been marginalized and Beltrones had not yet been eliminated from politics.

There, Dillon, the all-powerful correspondent of the New York Times in Mexico, trusted the leak by Téllez, given as a tip but never proven by documents. The most grave fact was that knowing that his texts had been disproved by consular officials of the US and criticized by the attorney general as defamatory and libelous, Dillon sent them to the Pulitzer committee but took care to hide the report of March 20th because it disproved the rest. And obviously he trusted in the fact that the administrator of the Pulitzer was a veteran official of the New York Times.

With the Pulitzer in his suitcase but doubts about its credibility, Dillon ended his stay in Mexico and will have a year to write a book that surely will not tell the secret history of his prize in journalism.

Prior Stories in This Series on Corrupted Journalism

May 28, 2000: "Times Dumps Dillon"

June 7, 2000: "Top Mexican Journalist Challenges NY Times" (Includes resume of veteran journalist Carlos Ramírez, Mexico's most widely read columnist)

June 8, 2000: "Dillon Responds"

June 21, 2000: "A Pulitzer At Stake" (in which NY Times editor Andrew Rosenthal tried to silence Ramírez and ended up discredited before the international community)

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