A birthday note (1): Crime stories

This post was originally published on this site
Police work a crime scene in Perejil. The police were afraid that I would take a close-up of the body, which used to be the norm. The Panama News never was one of the necro-porn tabloids. Crime, however, is a concern of most Panamanians. In this gangland hit, a man who had just been into a mini-super on Via España got back into his car, with a woman in the passenger seat, when sicarios approached and killed him in a hail of bullets. The woman was not shot. To hear her screams, and to see police restrain her as she tried to say one last thing to the man she was with, belies that most awful of hack journalist conclusions, that she was “unharmed.” Crime is complex, and amenable to simplification into emotional buttons that serve to sell things — sex and death newspapers, guns, ‘law and order’ politicians, and so on — but those simplicities don’t help society or make you or me the least bit safer. Archive photo by Eric Jackson.

So, what’s “hard-hitting?”

an explanatory note on the 25th birthday of The Panama News

Is it that The Panama News avoids crime stories, or that actually we are full of them but choose to report different sorts of things?

More like the latter, but not precisely an indiscriminate or partisan scandal sheet, either.

As to public corruption, the people have a right to know about the public business. That doesn’t mean that public officials and public figures don’t have the right to their private lives. The president who has a mistress is by long-standing Panamanian manners not something to be published. I approve of that custom, which can be customarily broken if he puts her on the public payroll, gives her public property as a private gift, lets her use the presidential jet to visit friends in Europe or so on. I very much disapproved of Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair with a consenting adult becoming the center of US public discussion and then an impeachment case.

And what about in the Gringo community here?

All kinds of people come here fleeing from all kinds of things — more often creditors than criminal charges, frequently having been embarrassed and feeling no longer welcome where they were. Those who have done time for fraud, or who were lawyers who stole from their clients, or who are a hop, skip and jump ahead of the detectives looking into some scam of theirs at another latitude, and who come here with a sounds too good to be true investment offer — THOSE are noted in The Panama News as a community service. Those who committed grand larceny, got caught, served their time and are looking for a new start in life, if that’s all there is it’s not to my eyes newsworthy. Those whose offenses are such that the perpetrators are usually driven by things that never change — like compulsions toward pedophilia — need to be outed and it’s a matter of public duty for an honorable news medium to pass along word of that. American fanatics who come here to colonize as organized and armed movements, it’s a matter of patriotic duty for a Panamanian news medium in English to out.

You do have to be careful. I have over these past 25 years been accused of criminal defamation three times and have prevailed in each of those cases because what I published was true. But I have also had to run corrections, make retractions or apologize from time to time when I got something wrong. (And no, I do not apologize to the element among those who style themselves as he social elite of the American community, who are dazzled by any display of wealth and who repeatedly provide social cover for fraud artists who very often design to cheat other Americans.)

We have a post-invasion political caste accustomed to all manner of criminal activities, with impunity. To go with that we have partisan-aligned media that splash one party’s predations all over their portadas but cry foul whenever their people get nailed. And it gets so very worse when you acknowledge your own biases — as I think that all ethical journalists ought to do — and scandal hits the party with which you sympathize or are a member. (As a Panamanian I am an independent on the left side of the spectrum I am a Democrat, in the current context a Bernie Sanders fan.) But in the long run journalism that denies its friends’ — and its own — feet of clay does no movement or politician any great favor. It’s important to run disquieting news about and honest criticism of your own side, too.

But then, I’m just enough of a sickie to read and watch and laugh about some of the more lurid stuff. But that’s me, not The Panama News.

Finally, for those of you who are nervous about the possibility of becoming a crime victim, welcome to the club. But to avoid getting murdered, carrying a gun like the man who was slain at the scene above offers scant protection. On the other hand, you go a long way toward avoiding a surprise appointment with a hit man by staying away from the rackets, and from racketeers.

 

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