Breitbart's reporting on the drug war in Mexico is outstanding
There's a huge story on the other side of a river, and the people doing the best job covering it aren't who you'd expect.
The Cartel Chronicles on Breitbart, a conservative website, is a robust, deep, and predictable source on the violence and heartbreak of the Mexican theater of the War on Drugs.
Breitbart is Donald Trump's bulldog and bullhorn, amplifying the president's talking points and attacking his enemies.
About the Mexican violence, though, Breitbart is a solid straight news source. It writes original daily news covering assassinations, shoot-ups at restaurants, women thrown in ditches and videos of beheadings. Some typical recent headlines:
Breitbart isn't afraid to go graphic. They post photos of men lynched and women beaten and killed and left in a ditch.
These are individual crime stories, for the most part, but they add up to a huge story. Since Mexico sent the military after the cartels in 2006, about 150,000 people have been killed. The disaster infects politics, industry, sports and entertainment. It's bigger than the opioid crisis, bigger than the Syrian War, bigger than Trump-Russia or the Trade War.
Given how big this story is, Breitbart's coverage stands in stark contrast to the quiet of most other news outlets. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the L.A. Times and the Miami Herald cover the big developments in the Mexican Drug War — the arrests of cartel leaders, a big change in policy by the Mexican president — but they seem to hold their nose about the day to day violence. Like writing about sordid stuff is beneath them.
Even the biggest newspapers in Mexico are missing the story. The giant El Universal writes only sporadically about the cartels. Same for the respected El Economista and the Reuters bureau in Mexico City.
Of course, Mexican newspapers aren't missing the story on purpose. According to articles and interviews with reporters, writing negatively about the cartels is a quick way to die. Papers on the American side of the border — the Brownsville Herald, the Monitor in McAllen, Tex., and the Laredo Morning Times — won't let their reporters cross the border because it's too dangerous.
As a Breitbart headline noted last week, 11 journalists have been killed in 2018 so far.
It has been determined to end the silence. Some of its staff traveled to Mexico and recruited citizen journalists "willing to risk their lives and expose the cartels silencing their communities," the site says.
These journalists are fantastic, with sources and scoops no one else has.
The only source that rivals Breitbart in depth and insight is Blog del Narco, a Spanish-language news site, written anonymously from Mexico. Bigger publications often start their stories with leads they got from Breitbart.
So, why is a conservative rag so committed to telling the daily story of Mexican mayhem?
Many say it's about politics. And, secretly, race. Breitbart is one of the most anti-illegal-immigration websites anywhere. By reminding everyone in America how scary Mexico is, are the Cartel Chronicles providing reasons to get tough on immigration: close the border, build the wall, and reject asylum seekers?
It seems to function that way. For example, on a post about how a Mexican cartel, the Viagras, cut out the still-beating hearts of living people, the most popular comment is: "These are the people the Democrats are fighting for."
Emails to Breitbart Cartel Chronicles editors for comment were not returned.
Brandon Darby, the editor, said on a podcast called The Other Side of Texas, "Obviously I have a right of center perspective, I want more border security," But "it's not a racial issue."
Breitbart is telling stories no one else will.
"People do themselves a disservice by only reading things they agree with," Darby said on the podcast.
And despite the baggage that comes with the name, "If you want to know what's going on in (the lives of real people in northern Mexico), we're the only platform that (the Mexican reporters) are writing for."
To its huge credit, the reporters don't call cartel members "animals" or "monsters," and don't editorialize for a wall or beefed-up border security.
They tend to write about Mexican violence the same way American newspapers write about our violence: straightforward, factual and with plenty of sympathy for the victims.
The Cartel Chronicles main shortcoming is how often they miss the opportunity to mention the fact that the violence never would have reached this low point if not for the (largely) Republican decision in the 1970s, '80s and '90s to throw people in jail for growing and using plants.
But however we got here, here we are. And whatever their motivations, Breitbart's Cartel Chronicles show you more truth about today's war next door, a war the rest of America seems happy to ignore.