Pesos for Play: How a Mexican Robber Baron Turned the New York Times into His Personal Blog
By Mike Cernovich and M.T. White
Foreign influence in U.S. politics and media is a hot topic at the New York Times, which fails to disclose its largest shareholder is a Mexican who oppresses his own people. Why did Carlos Slim purchase 16.8% of the New York Times, and what has he received from the deal?
Lest you dismiss this expose as a “right wing conspiracy theory,” consider that the most vocal critics of pay-for-play are left wing editors and commentators, including the New York Times’ own editor!
“Behind the Scenes, Billionaires’ Growing Control of News.”
New York Times editor Jim Rutenberg wrote an article covering the perils of allowing billionaires to control the news. While criticizing Peter Thiel for funding the Hulk Hogan litigation against Gawker, Rutenberg sets his sight on conservative Sheldon Aldeson:
Mr. Thiel’s campaign is in keeping with the pledge his favored candidate for president, Donald J. Trump, made to ease barriers to lawsuits against journalists. But it is actually the flip side of the media realm’s new coin. Many of his fellow billionaires have gained control of news organizations by buying them or starting them.
The most striking example can be found in Nevada, where the conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought The Las Vegas Review-Journal last year. Mr. Adelson is not shy about using his money to influence the politics of his state and country. And the sale was followed by reports of editors suddenly altering articles about Mr. Adelson’s business dealings to put them in a more flattering light, or holding from publication articles about him altogether.
Billionaires are a huge problem, Rutenberg notes, listing other examples:
Some in Utah voiced concern when a member of the wealthy and influential Huntsman family, Paul Huntsman, moved to buy one of the state’s two major dailies, the struggling Salt Lake Tribune. Mr. Huntsman’s brother, Jon, is the former Utah governor who ran for president in 2012. His father, Jon Sr. — the chief generator of the family fortune — has had a prominent role with the Mormon Church.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes who read Rutenberg will note one billionaire escaped criticism. Rutenberg’s article on billionaires in media didn’t bark at Carlos Slim.
How could an article claiming Thiel, Adelson, and Huntsman were using their billions to influence media coverage omit the New York Times’ largest shareholder? Slim has indeed received what he bargained for.
Brian Stelter is another critic of billionaires buying media outlets, and he indeed mentions Carlos Slim by name.
We should view Russia Today skeptically as the Russian government funds RT, media analysts point out. Indeed CNN’s Brian Stelter, in a hit piece on Larry King, falsely claimed King’s Ora TV was funded by Russia. (In fact, King’s show is distributed by RT, with King maintaining creative control.)
Yet in the same hit piece Stelter observed, “And that’s what the ensuing controversy is all about. King’s interview programs are produced by Ora, a media company owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. King owns a piece of the company.”
Will Stelter append a similar disclaimer on all references to the New York Times, given Slim’s considerable ownership interest in the Times?
What’s more is that Slim profits from immigration. Because of his cell phone monopoly, he receives exorbitant profits from calls made by America’s Mexican population to relatives in Mexico.
Should the Times be required to disclose, in every editorial about illegal immigration, that its largest shareholder profits from porous borders?
Although we can see that foreign influence on American media is insidious, what’s worse is how Slim gets a pass. He is a truly despicable man who has doomed millions of his fellow Mexicans to a life of poverty.
One question you might have is, “Who is Carlos Slim and why should we care?” That’s a great question. The American mainstream media has given Slim a pass, even though economists estimate that Mexico’s economy would be on par with the U.S.’s had Slims not rigged the system in his favor, stealing hundreds-of-billions for himself, thereby robbing poor Mexicans of the multiplying effect of money.
Mexican billionaire and crony capitalist Carlos Slim Helu exploited and assisted in the impoverishment of his own nation. Slim’s greed appears to know no bounds. Latin America and its 262 million subscribers to his telephone services isn’t enough. The 200 companies Slim controls — from telecom to tobacco, bicycles to banking, airlines, railways, hotels and printing — that occupy one third of Mexico’s leading stock market index?
Carlos Slim is the majority shareholder in the most powerful newspaper in the world: The New York Times. What’s wrong with a businessman like Slim investing in a so-called prestigious newspaper?
“The New York Times would never strike a deal with a U.S. tycoon of a similar profile, for fear of triggering real or apparent conflicts between the newspapers coverage and the investor’s interests,” wrote Andres Martinez of Slate.
“I started studying why the Mexican economy doesn’t grow,” said Mexican economist and journalist Denise Dresser in The New Yorker — a publication that isn’t known for printing right wing screed. “So much led me back to Carlos Slim.”
Words like “Robber Baron” and “Crony” have been used to describe Slim and his business practices. Who used these words? Anthony DePalma and Eduardo Porter — writer’s for The New York Times. However, that was before Slim bought in.
Just like the Mexican government did favors for him, it appears The New York Times is doing favors for Carlos Slim by creating barriers in its own archive, filtering out articles that cast him in a bad light. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the Publisher and Chairman of The Times, told CNBC that Slim was, “An excellent shareholder who fully respects boundaries regarding the independence of our journalism. He has never sought to influence what we report.” But the paper’s database of their godfather does not reflect that. It seems as rigged as the auction that got Slim his Telmex monopoly.
When Presidential Candidate Trump criticized Slim and The Times, suggesting the two were trying to influence the Presidential election, Arturo Elias, Slim’s son-in-law and spokesman told The Wall Street Journal, “Of course we aren’t interfering in the US election. We aren’t even active in Mexican politics.”
In response, Allan Wall, a former resident of Mexico who has written about Slim said “For Slim and company to say they are not involved in politics is really something, the guy hobnobs with any and all politicians that might be of use to him, and then to say he doesn’t involve himself with politics?”
In fact, if it wasn’t for political involvement, there’s a good chance Slim would not be the oligarch he is today. In the 80s, Slim became friends with Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the future President of Mexico. During the 80s, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico nationalized the banks — part of a 71 year pattern where the government would take hostage whole industries (like Telmex in the 1970s) and then later privatize them for cash. Slim benefitted from this cartel-like behavior of his government. The takeover of the banks caused many businessmen to flee and Slim went on a buying spree while buddying up to those in power.
Under Salinas, the Mexican government initiated its biggest round of privatization. “What Salinas did was broker and sale industries that had been in private hands in Mexico and then nationalized in previous regimes under the flag of socialism,” said Fernando Cortes, a Mexican Nationalist who has participated in the country’s politics but also comes from a family who lost their bank during the 1980s nationalization.
Telmex was the largest and most complex operation to be privatized and the biggest prize. Slim, through his company Grupo Carso, led a consortium to win the monopoly for $1.76 billion (it was estimated at being worth $8 billion) in an auction competitor’s denounced for being rigged. Cortes thinks Slim was a front man for Salinas. “He was part of the political business elite,” he said. “They didn’t want to give Telmex to international interests.”
Slim’s control of Telmex allowed him to hold the population of Mexico hostage by only maintaining the phone infrastructure at basic functionality, limiting modernization and then bilking the limited customer base for profits. “He kept it (the phone service) functional but his companies had some of the most complaints,” said Cortes. Since they were a monopoly, “Complaints would not be listened to.”
The data backs that up. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2012, Telmex had an 80% market share (compared to 65% average of a company in a European Union country) and a higher rate of profitability than other OECD countries DESPITE modernization of the phone system.
And the Mexican government was practically unresponsive to helping its populace. They were sycophants of their telecom godfather Slim. The OECD noted that regulatory decisions regarding telecommunications had either not been taken or delayed due to “regulatory capture” and abuse of amparos (legal injunctions). Over a four year period (2005–2009), the OECD estimated consumers lost $25 billion a year — $129 billion total — a net loss of 1.8% of Mexico’s GDP.
In the mid-90s the saying “Corruption is not a characteristic of the system. It is the system,” became popular in Mexico. And it seems no one mastered this system better than Slim. “He understands that politics — especially in Mexico — is just a tool to promote and control the regulations and industries of private businesses,” said Cortes.
This pertains to other industries besides telecom as well. Take for instance Slim’s involvement in the legalized drug trade of tobacco. With a seat on Philip Morris’ international board of directors (the tobacco giant bought shares in Slim’s Cigatam), he in effect became the chief lobbyist in Mexico for the Big Tobacco cartel.
As the country tried to march towards stricter controls on public smoking and advertising, Slim used his lobbying power, the courts and charitable donations to prevent it. Tobacco farmers were paid and bussed in to Mexico City to protest the new laws, his Sanborn’s retail/restaurant chains sued the government in attempt to tie the legislation up in the courts, and computers were given to school districts of certain politicians. The result was a country limping towards tobacco controls (with estimates of over 60,000 people dying per year due to tobacco related illnesses).
The farmers, who were used to protest the legislation, did not benefit from Slim’s assisting in this globalist racket. It became no longer profitable to produce the crop locally (mainly in Nayarit State), due to the importing of cheaper tobacco leaves. The transnational cartel also introduced higher quality standards on the local farmers, making it cost prohibitive to cultivate the crop locally. Javier Castellon, a Mexican Senator told journalist Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab: “In Mexico, the anti-tobacco campaigns didn’t hit farmers as hard as the companies’ global strategies have.” And who was the main Capo for the international tobacco cartel in Mexico?
Slim sold all his shares in Philip Morris in 2013 and left the board in 2015. “He was in the tobacco industry while it lasted,” said Cortes. Slim cashed out, but what of the farmers whose businesses were decimated, and the millions of lives destroyed by tobacco consumption?
A corrupt and heavily regulated system benefits the mega-rich like Slim because they can manipulate that system through lobbying efforts and legal wrangling while keeping competitors at bay. The barrier to entry is so high that only someone like the billionaire can afford to navigate the labyrinth of regulations and graft.
For an average middle class Mexican family, like Cortes’, starting a business is met with a series of challenges. In the case of importing tea from China (Cortes’ venture), it starts with 20% of the tea stolen at customs…then a fine due to “incorrect labelling”…then a specific lawyer — recommended by customs — hired to assist in getting the product released from customs…then every box of tea needing to be relabeled individually — all before the product ever hits store shelves. “They (the Mexican government) make it so impossible…How do you expect a people in a country to get ahead when the government just trips you? It’s just very, very hard,” Cortes said. “And then when you’re someone like Carlos Slim, you just make a call, and say ‘I’m going to be bend this law. I don’t care what you do, you just make it happen,’ and it’s so corrupt, people just [comply].”
So what is the average Mexican to do in a crippled economy where starting a business is as hard as finding a legit donkey show in Tijuana? If you’re like Cortes or a tobacco farmer you legally migrate to the United States. Those who are too poor to legally migrate or start a business, either come here illegally or seek their fortunes in a trade lacking regulatory hurdles — like illicit narcotics. Is a corrupt government system, captured by its rich elite that fosters economic inertia one of the causes of drug violence in Mexico? Why aren’t news outlets like The New York Times asking this question?
Also, why aren’t they asking with all the illegal immigration in to the US, who benefits from said immigration?
Maybe because Slim is expanding his operations stateside with properties such as Ora TV, TracFone and long distance connection fees. “The more Spanish speakers in the US, the more possible subscribers,” said Wall. “I think he thinks it (emigration) is inevitable,” said Cortes. “He wants to prepare to profit from the Latino community in the US.”
And who better to help his expansion of operations than The New York Times? Apparently they’ve embraced the mafia code of omerta when it comes to questionable practices of their godfather Slim. So, stories such as 250 small merchants suing after being kicked out to make way for a commercial development next to the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine — a business partnership between Slim and the Archbishop of Mexico — gets short shrift stateside. The Times got criticized for its (lack of) coverage of the “Panama Papers” story. Possibly anything to do with revelations of Slim’s business dealings revealed in the Mossack-Fonseca document dump?
“In my experience, oligarchs will also have newspapers as a sign of prestige and as a general tool of power — like having your own law firm or PR company,” said Johannes Wahlstrom, a Swedish investigative journalist, who has dealt with the paper in the past (assisting Julian Assange with Wikileaks release of the “Cablegate” documents).
Even before Slim purchased an interest, The Times was known for withholding information in order to curry favor with those in power (like outsourcing the decisions of which Wikileaks cables to publish to the U.S. government). As Wahlstrom said in an email, “The newspaper had long dealt with political power play rather than simply news reporting.”
A newspaper enamored with the organs of power, with a majority share held by a powerful Mexican oligarch. A match made in Heaven…for them. Potential Hell for everyone else.
After 2008, when Slim started investing in the paper, critical coverage became muted. In February 2009, less than a month after his announced loan, the paper published a slightly critical article by Marc Lacey. However, the word “crony” was never used and “robber baron” was only used to note how Slim was “stung” by Eduardo Porter’s usage of the term to describe him.
After that, the paper rarely mentioned their godfather, except in articles about his business dealings, or his visiting a museum with Shakira. It wasn’t until May 2011 that another story appeared slightly critical of Slim but with a headline reminiscent of Ayn Rand: “Mexico Takes Aim at a Titan in Telecom”.
It appears the paper has, at the very least, become a stateside propaganda blog for the oligarch. With the election of Enrique Pena Nieto in 2012, Slim’s hold on telecommunications became a target of the Mexican government. The next story to heavily feature Slim was in March 2013 that portrayed Nieto’s government going after him to deflect from the ongoing drug violence in the country. In August 2016, another story appeared with the headline: “Mexico’s Richest Man Confronts a New Foe: The State That Helped Make Him Rich”. The article, once again portrays Slim as a man against the system with paragraphs like: “Determined to bring his dominance to an end, leaders from Mexico’s three biggest political parties have put aside their own animosities in recent years, meeting in secret sessions to chip away at Mr. Slim’s domain.” All the articles mentioned above do mention Slim’s ownership stake in the paper and do quote those critical of him, but they do not feature the strong language once used by the likes of Eduardo Porter and Anthony DePalma before Slim bought an interest.
It’s easy to criticize a major and prestigious outlet like The Times, and write it off as a struggling rag who is blunting criticism of its benefactor. But the business practices of Slim have caused real-life struggle for his fellow Mexican citizens. Numbers, like costing Mexican customers $129 billion in phone fees are just that — numbers. Fact is, Mexico has a crippled economy that has been abused by the likes of Slim. It’s a situation so dire that people feel the need to risk their lives to come here.
They get on a bus headed for our border, but that bus might be going through Northern Mexico, towards Texas. It might get met by members of Los Zetas cartel. The women are either immediately raped or taken for use as sex slaves, the men are either shot or forced to fight one another in duel-to-the-death style combat, the survivors drafted in to the Zetas army. This isn’t a nightmare scenario dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter. It really happened (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_San_Fernando_massacre). Mexicans take these risks to make a better life for themselves, because the situation is so dire at home. And if they make it here, they still pay Carlos Slim a few bucks every time they make a long distance call to relatives back home.
Where is The New York Times in all this? At best, the reporters act like hostages in those cartel snuff films: On their knees, a proverbial knife to their throat, at the mercy of their captors. At worst, they are the masked bandit holding the knife, the USA its hostage, printing a glut of stories about foreign election influence, quoting undisclosed “sources” in the intelligence community alleging our government has been compromised. But it’s The Times that has been compromised and weaponized.
With the recent and contentious presidential election, where the President-elect himself loudly criticized the paper and its largest shareholder, did they in turn disclose this possible conflict of interest when talking about foreign involvement in elections? No.
In fact, the only time Slim’s name was mentioned in regards to possible influence was to snark. “It sure does get exhausting working for the global corporate media conspiracy” Jim Rutenberg wrote in a piece about criticism of the paper’s bias. “You never know what the puppet masters are going to order up next. (I wish that guy from Mexico, what’s-his-face-Slim would get off my back.)”
When David Sanger writes, “It is the first time that a foreign power (Russia) has unleashed cyberweapons to disrupt, or perhaps, influence a United States election,” is Slim’s ownership interest mentioned? No.
What about a post-election op-ed about possible Russian influence in Germany’s upcoming elections? When Jochen Bittner opines, “No doubt similar marching orders have been given to the armies of hackers who were sent to attack the Democrats (in the U.S.), and who are now plotting attacks on Germany,” is Slim’s ownership stake disclosed? Of course not.
The Times didn’t even break the story about Slim having dinner with President-elect Trump (The Washington Post did). Why wouldn’t they be first to report a story about their godfather meeting with the future President of the United States? Could it be due to it being reminiscent of Slim’s normal operating procedure of courting politicians regardless of ideologies? Could it be that it might open questions about Slim’s corrupt business dealings in his host country and attempts to mimic those practices here? Or could it raise the ultimate question: Why does a powerful newspaper — that has no scruples in attacking our President and accusing him of being compromised by Russians — take money from and provide cover for a billionaire who has left his own trail of coercing governments to enrich himself while leaving a trail of economic wreckage?
— — —
Mike Cernovich is documentary filmmaker, journalist, and author. His debut book Gorilla Mindset has received over 1,000 reviews across the Amazon domestic and international stores.
M.T. White is a novelist and journalist. You can find him on Twitter here.