One Down, Who's Next? AP Bolivia Correspondent Resigns Following NarcoNews.com Exposé 10/27/00

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The Associated Press's long-time Bolivian correspondent, Peter McFarren, has resigned in the wake of a detailed exposé of his attempts to lobby the Bolivian government on behalf of the Bolivian Hydro-Resources Corporation for a $78 million water project. McFarren will quit effective November 1st.

McFarren, 45, was born in Bolivia and holds dual US citizenship. He has been the AP's man in Bolivia since 1983.

Water, as McFarren must know, is an especially sensitive issue in Bolivia these days. In April, Bolivian government efforts to privatize the water utilities provoked a mass insurrection. The Banzer regime had to resort to a state of emergency before backing away from the water plan. Protestors organized around the water fight also joined the nationwide wave of strikes, demonstrations, and blockades that shook the country in recent weeks.

As reported by Narco News' Al Giordano, who broke the story on his web site (http://www.narconews.com/mcfarrenstory1.html) on October 6th, the lobbying effort was only the most blatant example of McFarren's journalistic conflicts of interest and biased reporting. In the first of two reports on McFarren by Narco News, Giordano wrote that McFarren "is so deeply in the tank with an interlocking set of governmental and business interests that his coverage... cannot possibly be considered fair or impartial."

Giordano described the AP reporter as "a near mythical player in the highest levels of Bolivian society. It is not unusual for him to be the subject of press coverage himself as he rubs elbows socially with the Divine Caste of La Paz."

The Narco News series offers specific examples of McFarren's "promotional" work for the Bolivian government. In e-mail correspondence with DRCNet, Giordano singled out McFarren's smiley-face dispatches from the country's conflicted coca-growing regions.

"As recently as January and April of this year," Giordano told DRCNet, "McFarren tried to assure the world that drug interdiction was working, that the peasants were happy to grow bananas instead of coca, that the drug war had been won."

Those dispatches, which touted the success of Banzer's US-backed coca-eradication scheme, came only a few months before angry coca-growing peasants brought the country to a standstill. They were picked up by newspapers in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Little Rock, among others, and ran under headlines such as "Bolivian Coca Farmers are Going Bananas -- And Straight."

For Giordano, McFarren is representative of a systemic problem with US reporting on Latin America.

"The central office at AP, at the New York Times, at too many US media outlets, wants the news covered from Washington's point of view," he told DRCNet. "If Washington backs a regime, the reporter is expected to get quotes and have access to members of that regime."

"At the same time Bolivia was swept up in revolt, the same thing was happening in Yugoslavia. Compare the two types of press coverage and then try to say there is not a double standard in international reporting," argued Giordano.

American news consumers need not be at the mercy of the major media outlets, Giordano told DRCNet. "Believe less of what is in the commercial mainstream press and look more to alternate sources of information," he suggested. "There are too many people who wait until something appears in the LA Times or Washington Post before they take a story seriously."

McFarren's conflicts of interest are only the first part of this story. The reaction of his employer, the Associated Press, is the other part. When Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR -- http://www.fair.org), a liberal media watchdog group, approached AP, the organization's only response was to say that McFarren would resign November 1st.

According to a FAIR press release from October 23rd, when the group asked whether AP intended to investigate McFarren's conflicts of interest and inform readers and subscribing media outlets of the results, AP spokesman Jack Stokes replied, "We don't usually do that." According to the AP's code of ethics, however, a subscribing media outlet should "report matters regarding itself or its personnel with the same vigor and candor as it would other institutions or individuals." After consulting with FAIR, who picked up the story thanks to Danny Schechter (http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/), Giordano pitched the story to Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. Kurtz ran it on Tuesday (10/24).

A full accounting by the AP would involve not only McFarren's conflicts of interest, but also the failure of AP editors to question stories that fly in the face of longstanding reports of conflict and human rights abuses in Bolivia's eradication policies. Human Rights Watch, for example, has reported on incidents for at least the past five years, and DRCNet has been dealing with this issue for at least three and a half years. DRCNet coverage of this issue predating the recent tumults includes the following:

Clearly, McFarren must have realized his Bolivia reporting failed to tell the whole story.

Giordano was pleased to see the mainstream media respond to and report on the McFarren episode -- or, as he put it, "victories like this threaten my innate pessimism." But he was careful to point out that he only reports the news other people make.

"The real credit for McFarren's downfall belong to the Bolivian social movements who rose up, blockaded, and paralyzed the country for much of September and October. They, more than Narco News, deserve the credit for making McFarren out to be a liar."

Giordano is hopeful for the future of the region: "Watch the social movements in Latin America. As with McFarren, they are about to make liars out of many of these 'parajournalists' -- US correspondents who are paramilitaries with press passes."

Visit http://www.narconews.com for unique updates on the Latin American scene, and visit http://www.egroups.com/group/narconews/ to subscribe to NarcoNews e-mail bulletins.

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Issue #157, 10/27/00 War on Drugs: Coming to a Bookstore Near You | One Down, Who's Next? AP Bolivia Correspondent Resigns Following NarcoNews.com Exposé | In Britain, Seismic Shift Toward Cannabis Decrim Shakes Blair's Anti-Reform Policies | Drug War Oakland-Style: Rogue Cops Nailed, Car Seizures Okayed | Richmond, Virginia Police Chief Calls for New Drug Policies | Student HEA Reform Campaign Garners First Endorsements of Semester | New Proposition 36 Television Ad Now Viewable Online | Report Deems Oregon Medical Marijuana Patient Directory Successful | The Reformer's Calendar
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