IN THE WOLF’S MOUTH: Murder, a cover-up and the true cost of press silence. By Katherine Corcoran. Bloomsbury. 336 pages. $28.
Corrupt governance, poverty, drug trafficking and journalists who can be bought off are a dangerous mix for democracy.
Accomplished Mexican investigative journalist Regina Martinez paid with her life for her relentless reporting on the criminal behavior of public officials, government ministers, police, and anyone else who violated public trust.
In this book, former Associated Press reporter and bureau chief Katherine Corcoran embarks on an all-consuming quest while in Mexico: Who Killed Martinez?
Corcoran’s book is what we in journalism like to call “a cautionary tale” – a story about what could happen if we don’t solve a problem – in the case of Mexico, an under-attacked and disrespected medium, and therefore easy for unscrupulous people politicians and government have the power to control.
Could this happen in the United States? Remember a president’s recent characterization of the US media as an “enemy of the people”.
As Corcoran observes, “A society without truth is a scary place to live.”
Certainly, journalists in Mexico work in much higher danger zones than in the United States. Thirteen journalists have been killed in Mexico so far in 2022, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times. By comparison, 12 journalists have been killed in the United States over the past 30 years.
In Mexico, the phrase “trust no one” applies. Elected officials and government staff have often made deals with the devil – dishonest politicians, drug cartels and civil servants at all levels with side incomes – as have many journalists, believing that to do otherwise can have them killed.
Martinez didn’t seem fazed by the danger. Short in stature, the workaholic reporter never compromised her ideals, which likely got her killed, Corcoran concludes, because she got too close in reporting yet another story of government wrongdoing.
Corcoran and other Mexican reporters were unable to definitively identify what Martinez was working on when she was killed. But as the book makes clear, she had many subjects to choose from.
For example, earlier this month, The New York Times reported that hackers bored into Mexico’s Ministry of Defense, revealing its “growing influence over civilian government, its attempts to evade cooperation on a landmark investigation into human rights and spying on journalists”.
Corcoran has done a masterful job of piecing together the complicated story of Martinez’s life, work, and murder. She had drawn so many characters that it is difficult to follow them. A chart of recurring characters in the book is included; it contains 35 names.
In America, we’re conditioned by movies and TV to expect the bad guys to be caught in the end, but that’s not happening here. Yes, the police have arrested someone, but Corcoran and other reporters in this story widely believe the real Martinez killer remains free.
Corcoran is now part of a project training Mexican editors to guide investigative journalism and ensure the safety of their reporters.