Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has long derided journalists as biased, pretentious “sellouts” who are aligned with his political enemies. His morning news conferences feature an occasional segment called “Who’s Who of Lies,” in which he names and shames reporters who he accuses of peddling “fake news.”
On Friday, López Obrador escalated his war against the media when he revealed to the public the supposed salary details of a famous investigative journalist who recently reported that one of the president’s sons has a lavish lifestyle at odds with the president’s austere image.
López Obrador said the journalist, Carlos Loret de Mola, earns much more than he does, comparing their salaries at a news conference on a large screen. Threatening to sick tax authorities on Loret, he suggested the journalist earns money for “hitting him” with critical stories.
Claiming Loret makes $1.6 million a year — compared with his $100,000 or so — he asked: “Do you think this is because he’s a highflying, very intelligent journalist, a good writer? No! It’s because of his hatchet jobs.”
The incident came the day after yet another journalist was gunned down in Mexico — the fifth so far this year — and sparked anger among press freedom advocates who said the president is not only failing to protect journalists but also stoking violence against them.
It also prompted questions about where López Obrador got the salary information and whether he violated privacy laws. Publication of a person’s financial records without permission is a crime in Mexico, according to legal experts.
“There is no pretext for this abuse of power,” said Daniel Moreno, director of the news website Political Animal. “It’s an unacceptable attack from any point of view.”
Loret responded on Twitter saying that the salary figures shown at the news conference were inflated, noting that while they were purported to be from last year they included earnings from Televisa, the television network where he once worked as an anchor but left in 2019.
“This would-be dictator is out of his mind,” said Loret, who now runs an investigative news platform and has a radio program.
He has published several investigations in recent years accusing members of López Obrador’s family and his political allies of corruption.
Loret recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post with a headline that used the president’s initials: “For AMLO, journalism is the number one enemy.”
But it was his report last month about the president’s 41-year-old son that seems to have hit a particular nerve with López Obrador.
The story alleged that José Ramón López, who served as a campaign manager for his father’s 2018 presidential bid, lives in a sprawling home outside Houston and drives a white Mercedes worth nearly $70,000.
Ramón López owns an artisanal chocolate business with two of his brothers. The report also found that in 2019 and 2020 he and his wife lived in a nearby mansion owned by Keith Schilling, who was an executive at oil company Baker Hughes, which has lucrative contracts with Mexican state oil company Pemex.
“The president is cornered,” Loret said. “He doesn’t know how to get rid of the scandal of his son’s house.”
When he took office three years ago, López Obrador turned the presidential mansion into a public museum and took a 60% pay cut. He has questioned why people would need more than a single pair of shoes or a credit card, and blames the neo-liberal “decadence” of past administrations for eroding the moral character of the nation. At the same time, he claims he has rooted out corruption like no other previous president.
López Obrador’s frequent attacks on the media come at a time when Mexican journalists are facing an unprecedented wave of violence.
In just the first 41 days of the year, five journalists have been slain. They include Heber López, the director of an online news site in Oaxaca state who was killed Thursday, and Lourdes Maldonado López, an investigative journalist in Tijuana killed last month.
Before she was shot to death outside her home, Maldonado attended one of the president’s news conferences to plea for help.
“I fear for my life,” she told López Obrador, explaining that she was locked in a labor dispute with one of his political allies, Jaime Bonilla Valdez, the owner of a media company that had once employed Maldonado.
López Obrador said he would assign an aide to follow up with Maldonado.
When asked last month about the killings of Maldonado and others, López Obrador said the cases would be investigated. Then he railed against his political opponents and said he hoped they would not to use the violence against journalists to “attack his administration.”
Special correspondent Cecilia Suarez in Mexico City contributed to this report.