In her new book, "In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press," Katherine Corcoran digs deep into the killing of Mexican reporter Regina Martinez in April 2012 in the state of Veracruz.
Corcoran investigates who's behind the death of Martinez and what's behind the coverup. At the time of the murder, Corcoran was the Associated Press' bureau chief in Mexico City. Martinez was working on a story about political corruption as a reporter for Proceso, Mexico's top national magazine.
This Q&A has edited and condensed for brevity.
Q: You have been following the case of Regina Martinez literally since the day her body was found. You made countless trips to Xalapa, Veracruz, where Martinez worked and lived. What drove you to write this book?
A: I wanted to bring a wider audience to this issue. It's all these journalists who are being assassinated and nothing happens. If anything, it's just getting worse. At least a dozen have been killed in 2022. And I thought the thing that I can do as a foreign journalist is to bring this to a wider audience in the hopes that something could change.
Q: Give us a profile of a journalist in Mexico. How does Regina fit that profile?
A: Today the profile is a little different from when Regina was killed 10 years ago, They're younger. They're better trained. They really want to dig and be independent. And they work for small digital media. So they make nothing. A good salary for journalists outside of Mexico City is still probably $500 a month. Historically, if they wanted to do independent journalism, they didn't have the support of their media organizations. That has changed because more media organizations want that kind of investigative journalism, but they also don't know how to protect their own people. It's not part of what they consider to be their job. There aren't security protocols. So these reporters are out there pretty much by themselves, doing very dangerous work.
Q: Tell us about Regina.
A: She was a reporter ahead of her time in Mexico. The Mexican press under the PRI [Party of the Institutional Revolution], which ruled Mexico for 71 years, was pretty much controlled by that party. It wasn't state-owned media. It was always private. But the PRI had pretty good control over the major and local media outlets to just print the official stories. There have always been independent journalism ventures over the years trying to fight that trend. Some were more successful than others, but they were very few. When the Mexican systems there started to open up and move toward democracy, the press started to become more independent and more critical as well, mostly in Mexico City. So for Martinez to be that kind of journalist in a state that was still heavily controlled by the party — that was really unusual and really ahead of her time.
Q: So that got her killed?
A: The kind of reporting she did was basic, good journalism, and she loved to dig. She went out of the office to ask people. She went to see what things were like on the ground. She asked for documents. She verified her reporting. All of that was very unusual for her time, and it made her very unpopular. And I think the thing that struck me the most was that, had she been in the U.S., she would have uncovered some big scandals. But because she was in a heavily controlled state, her method of journalism basically put a target on her back and ultimately was a death sentence.
Q: Too often in Mexico, organized crime and the government are one and the same.
A: Yes, that's correct. My reporting uncovered that she had some very sensitive information that would have been very damaging to a powerful person, or persons. There were conflicting reports about whether she was even planning to write anything because at the time, she had told people she was so scared and was done doing that kind of public corruption reporting. Yet she gave hints to other people that she was. But regardless, she had this sensitive information. The criminals found out she had this information and they just wanted to make sure it never got out.
Q: Did you feel like your life was at risk?
A: I never felt that I personally was at risk. I worried the most about the people I was talking to, because they took great risk to talk to me and I think the hardest work and the most complicated part of the story was not blowing the cover or outing the people who were talking to me in any way that could be harmful to them.
Q: What do you want U.S. journalists, an American audience, to learn from the experience of Regina Martinez?
A: I want Americans to think about what happens to a society where the press is silenced. Because it's a very clear method of control that's used all around the world and it's now being used in our own country. I don't think that people see the underlying danger. I want people to see that in the U.S., that's the path we're on if we're going to do this "fake news, the press is the enemy of the people" — the misinformation we are witnessing.
In the Mouth of the Wolf
By: Katherine Corcoran.
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 336 pages, $27.