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President vs. pundits

23 May 2019

Donald Trump and AMLO have this in common…both have to deal with hostile media commentary.  AMLO though, as he has since he was merely the “mayor” of the Federal District, has found a simple way to neutralize his critics… make them irrelevant to the conversation.  Where Trump, apparently, fires off “tweets” at night in response to whatever the media said about him the previous day, and his minions are made available to friendly talking heads later in the day to parse whatever those tweets might say (and offer corrections), and previous Mexican presidents almost never spoke directly to the media (except for their favored insiders) or made decisions behind closed doors, then sent their intermediaries out to justify the mysterious actions of the leader, at seven AM, Monday through Friday — livestreamed and usually broadcast as well — the Mexican President steps to a podium in front of a red backdrop for an hour or so free-wheeling press briefing, address to the public, and general information session.  And, a few jabs at what we call here, the “comentocracia”.

Jorge Zepeda Patterson in El País:

Columnists used to be the interpreters of public affairs, those who shaped public opinion.  Nowadays, they aren’t able to influence the opinions of their relatives, convince their wives, children, parents, siblings… or so President Andres Manuel López Obrador said in effect earlier this week.   As it pointed out, practically all the columnists are against him, while practically all the people support him.

Perhaps the phenomenon is not as categorical as the president describes it, that is only known by the relatives of all those scribes, but it does address a fact:  the president’s approval rating is overwhelmingly high, despite most media messages, and especially the opinion pieces, overwhelmingly adverse. The most read columnists , the elite radio and television pundits,  talk ABOUT government and in particular the president every day. There is no lack of material, thanks to AMLO’s picturesque style and his 7 to 8 AM Monday through Friday impromtu press talk, and his inclinatin to confront his adversaries.  The tension between the president and theso-called comentocracy is unprecedented in the country. Usually the government is used to some critical pens, but the publicity and communications channels with a few exceptions, ended up giving favorable or at least coprehensive coverage to the “sovereign.  Most of the  star journalists, those with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers on social networks, tend to support the president.

We will have to closely follow the outcome of this confrontation because there are no safe bets. So far López Obrador is winning the game, but many warn that this is the honeymoon often enjoyed by incoming presidents. Then, the wear and tear of governance and the impossibility of fulfilling the expectations will end up giving the advantage to the pundits.

And certainly the pundits are doing everything possible to exhaust the honeymoon as soon as possible. The microphones and the columns dissect every day what in their opinion are absurdities, contradictions, errors, and what the find ridiculous in the president and his administration. After presenting the various mistakes, the pundits  usually conclude, for the umpteenth time in the week, what they had prophesied since the campaign: the inexorable failure of López Obrador, his inability to govern.

The president waged his struggle by resorting to the strategy he intends to follow in terms of public spending: eliminate intermediaries. The administration’s welfare programs want to dispense with providing benefits through NGO’s and the bureaucracy to deliver resources through direct deposits into the beneficiary’s bank account. Something similar to what he’s doing in the matter of communication.

His decision to submit one hour a day to open questions from reporters, broadcast freely on the Web and on social networks, has the purpose of establishing a direct bridge with citizens, bypassing the mediator. AMLO scoops the press, clarifies doubts, offers explanations.  In the past, the commentators and political columnists were indispensable because of the enormous opacity of the uses and customs of power. The president was enigmatic, indecipherable, always with cards up his sleeve. The system required Initiates capable of decoding intentions and motives hidden behind the curtains of power.

Today the president is trying to make those pundits and experts obsolete by the simple expedient of exposing himself directly to the public. Before we have the opportunity to read the reactions of all these writers to the surprise resignation of the director of the Institute of Social Security (IMSS),,  the president offers his reactions at 7:20 in the morning , informs who will be his substitute and how the criticism of the former director will be corrected.


What’s left for the pundits to say isn’t much.


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