MEXICO CITY — One day after the fifth journalist was killed in Mexico in six weeks, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched into another diatribe against the press.
“I mean he earns about 15 times more than me,” López Obrador said of journalist Carlos Loret de Mola. “You think it's because he's a highflying journalist, very intelligent, a very good writer? No, it's because of his attacks.”
López Obrador’s use of Loret de Mola’s alleged income drew condemnation from defenders of press freedom and the journalist himself. Loret de Mola, a radio, television and print journalist in Mexico who contributes columns to The Washington Post’s Spanish-language Post Opinión section, also said the number was incorrect.
It also repeated a pattern for López Obrador, who has continued to excoriate the media during a surge in attacks against Mexican journalists. His administration has been criticized for not doing more to protect them.
On Thursday evening, Heber López Vásquez, the director of RCP Noticias in the state of Oaxaca, was shot to death when he returned to his house after work. He was 39.
López Vásquez had received threats for months. He told colleagues he believed they were related to his reporting on corruption among local officials.
Last year, seven journalists were killed in Mexico. That was more than in any other country in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders. This year, the country is on pace to surpass that total by March.
Rather than addressing the causes behind López Vásquez’s killing or expressing concern about the continued onslaught against the Mexican media, López Obrador showed a slide that he claimed showed Loret de Mola’s salary. It included a sum he supposedly received from The Post.
López Obrador said he was seeking to verify the salary information with Mexico’s tax authority, which appeared to be a violation of Mexico’s privacy laws.
Loret de Mola has been a frequent critic of López Obrador. He recently published a story in Latinus showing the apparently opulent lifestyle of López Obrador’s son in Houston, a stark contrast to the public image of frugality projected by the president. Loret de Mola later referred to the piece in a column for The Post.
Loret de Mola condemned López Obrador’s presentation.
“What a thing! Using data from the Treasury to persecute a journalist,” he tweeted. “And also false data, inflated amounts!”
Post Opinión editor Elías López condemned “the escalation of denigrations, insults and use of confidential data from the Mexican government to attack Carlos Loret de Mola.”
“The state and its officials must guarantee freedom of expression and of the press,” he said in a statement.
It is not the first time this year that López Obrador has pivoted to attack the press shortly after the killing of a journalist.
After photojournalist Margarito Martínez was gunned down in Tijuana in January, López Obrador went on another tear.
“There are very few journalists who are complying with the noble vocation of informing, he said. “We have to be vigilant [and] show them to be biased, a sellout press who work for a greedy minority.”
After the killing of José Luis Gamboa Arenas in January, the director of the digital media outlet Inforegio in Veracruz, López Obrador said the media was using violence against journalists as a way to attack his administration.
“Our adversaries take advantage of everything to attack us, but in reality, deep down, it is not that they are sincerely concerned that human beings lose their lives,” he said. “What they always seek is to take advantage of even human pain, as long as it is to attack us, because they are very perverse.”
U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter this week urging the State Department to outline steps it will take to safeguard freedom of expression in Mexico and address persistent violence against Mexican reporters.
Kaine and Rubio, both members of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said the United States “must urge the Mexican government to seriously improve efforts to protect journalists.” They also noted López Obrador’s rhetoric.
“The years-long violence against journalists in Mexico cannot begin to lessen as long as the country’s leader continues to normalize hostility towards freedom of expression,” they wrote.
Journalists in Mexico are targeted for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re attacked by organized crime groups. In other cases, it appears that the assailants have links to public officials they’ve reported on.