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Mexico's president attacks journalists

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

In the past week, it seems like Mexico's president has been fighting with a lot of people, from journalists to the country of Spain, with some criticism of the U.S. along the way. It started with a conflict of interest controversy involving his son. Now President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is aiming his rhetoric at specific journalists, with critics saying he's going too far.

We're joined by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

NADWORNY: So first off, what is the controversy around the president's son?

KAHN: Sure. A well-known journalist here at an investigative news site revealed that the president's son rented a large home outside Houston from an executive of a company that has contracts with a state-run oil company here, Pemex. The executive says he didn't know Lopez Obrador's son was the renter, and the son says he didn't know who the owner was. That's how it all began. Lopez Obrador insists there's no conflict here because his son isn't an adult and has nothing to do with the government. His son then divulged that he actually works for a company that does have contracts with the government.

NADWORNY: So the president then attacked the journalists that reported this story?

KAHN: Yes, and the attacks have been nonstop. The journalist is Carlos Loret de Molla - de Mola; I'm sorry - a longtime critic of President Lopez Obrador. Last Friday at the president's regular morning pressers - and these can go on for more than two hours - Lopez Obrador put up a slide with what he said was Loret de Mola's annual income versus his own income to show that the journalist makes drastically more than the president does.

NADWORNY: Wow.

KAHN: He also criticizes U.S. contributions via USAID to newsgroups, including the site that published the report on his son. He was talking about it again this morning. He went on to name even more journalists who he said - who he says just earn what he calls immoral salaries. He even added Jorge Ramos of the U.S. network Univision to that list. And this morning, the president was in Tijuana. And remember - this is the city where two journalists were killed there just last month. He said journalists say they are defenders of the truth...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: ...And then - and that they also uncover corruption. He said, no, they are none of that. They are hired thugs that do just the opposite. He insists reporters work for huge business interests that don't like him because he fights for the poor.

NADWORNY: And he also got into a diplomatic tussle with Spain this past week. What was that about?

KAHN: He's long complained about Spanish companies in Mexico that he says exploit the country. He asked for a pause in relations. Spain was not pleased. I was talking with Carlos Bravo, who is a political analyst at a university and think tank here. Bravo says a constant throughout the president's three years in power so far is to distract and to go on the attack.

CARLOS BRAVO: To kill the messenger, so to speak, instead of responding to the message - but he has clearly escalated this strategy to an unprecedented level.

KAHN: His institute, CIDE, where Bravo works, has also been a target of Lopez Obrador.

NADWORNY: The president was very popular when he came into office. Is he still popular? Is this antagonistic approach helping him or hurting him?

KAHN: He is still very popular. He's viewed as honest and not corrupt, and there is still widespread, deep anger over decades of corruption in Mexico. So his messages ring true for many. And coming up in April, he's put himself up for a popular referendum where people can say whether they want him to finish out his six-year term or not. So we'll be watching that later this spring and see how this all plays out.

NADWORNY: Thank you. NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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