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August 23, 2001

Narco News 2001

Atrocity's Apologist

NYT's Juan Forero Covered for Embassy

A Narco News Global Alert

Forero Failed to Disclose the Presence of U.S. Embassy Official During Interviews With Plan Colombia Mercenary Pilots

By Al Giordano

Special to the Narco News Bulletin

U.S. 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.

Forero Failed to Disclose

A 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":

BOGOTÀ, Colombia, 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….

The Juan Forero Story

Who 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 Congress.

His First Global Disgrace

On 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:

"Carlos Castaño-Gil," reported Narco News in September 2000, "is the boss of one of the largest and the most violent drug trafficking organizations on earth."

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 of peasants."

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 practice."

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."

"Highly Distorted" Coverage

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 A.U.C.:

"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 (AUC).

"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….

"Nationwide, Human 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, 2001)."

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."

Forero "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 March 7th:

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 of beer.'

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 letting on.

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.

The Hidden Embassy Official

Forero's 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.

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