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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Awarding-winning journalists for Univision talk about challenges in investigating controversial "Fast and Furious"



Despite difficulties in obtaining public records and information from both the U.S. and Mexican governments, reporters with Univision’s investigative unit were able to uncover numerous unknown details about the controversial gun-smuggling scandal known as Operation Fast and Furious.

For its efforts in reporting on the repercussions from that operation, IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) awarded Univision with its Broadcast Video award for the investigative documentary “Rápido y Furioso: Armando al Enemigo (“Fast and Furious: Arming the Enemy” in English).

Gerardo Reyes and Tomás Ocaña received the award on behalf of the U.S. based Spanish language network and spoke with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas about the work in producing the report.

The hour-long program, which took over a year to produce, also was recently awarded a 2013 Peabody Award.

Reyes, head of the investigative unit, said that his team took a different editorial approach when conducting its investigation. The daily newsroom had been covering the scandal as the investigative unit began to work on the documentary. The two units collaborated with each other, which helped them gain the trust of sources and obtain key information--including a list of the actual weapons being tracked.

“The days in which investigative units were closed-off groups that didn’t have contact with the daily reporters, those are in the past,” Reyes said. “Now you have to work every day with the newsroom and stop having privileged or elitist groups.”

Operation Fast and Furious was a U.S.-directed operation that allowed over 2,500 guns to be purchased and allowed to “walk” over the Mexico border where they eventually landed in the hands of drug cartel members.  Conducted the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the operation lasted from 2009 to early 2011 and aimed to gather information on the drug cartel activities. 

Officials in Mexico were initially not told by their American counterparts of the operation. Two of those guns tracked were involved in the killing of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry on Dec. 10, 2010, in the state of Arizona. The guns were traced to a gun store outside the city of Phoenix.

On the Mexican side, guns from the operation were used in various killings, most notably in the Jan. 31, 2010, shooting of house party in border city of Cd. Juarez, Mexico, which left 16 people dead.

The U.S. government received intense criticism for conducting the operation. Congressional investigations revealed that officials at U.S. Justice Department were aware of the operation despite initially denying knowledge on it. Several top ATF officials resigned after details came out about the operation.

In pursuing the story, Ocaña noted the difficulty in obtaining information on the operation from either country and was surprised that Mexican officials were not more cooperative. Following the revelation of the operation’s extent, Mexican politicians and media were angered by what Mexico’s then Attorney General Marisela Morales called “an attack on the safety of Mexicans,” as reported by the LA Times.

“One of our frustrations was that no one, despite our insistence, in the government wanted to talk with us, no one wanted to give us explanations on what they had done to ask the United States about the operation,” Ocaña said.  

In their decision, IRE judges pointed to the fact that the Univision reporters used “a database of 60,000 entries [that] was combined with US government documents to find 57 previously unreported lost weapons under the ‘Fast and Furious’ program and to show the depth in human cost.”

In the following video in Spanish, Univision journalists Gerardo Reyes and Tomás Ocaña talk about their work in producing the investigative documentary "Rápido y Furioso: Armando al Enemigo," which won both an IRE award and Peabody award. Interview: Alejandro Martínez. Video Edit: Daniel Guerra.



1 comment

 
Sharon Stevenson wrote 4 years 11 weeks ago

Small errors...where's Knight's editor?

The following were errors in this story that shouldl have been caught by an editor. While most are seem to be by someone who is not totally fluent in English, as the reporters themselves might have been, Knight as a journalist organization should make sure that the material published under its name is carefully editied. • “Rápido y Furioso: Armando al Enemigo (“Fast and Furious: Arming the Enemy” in English). "...in English" is superfluous, unnecessary. • Conducted BY the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) NEEDS COMMA • On the Mexican side, NO COMMA; in the Jan. 31, 2010, NO COMMA • officials AT U.S. Justice Department… knowledge OF it. • In pursuing the story, Ocaña NO COMMA This is not to criticize the awards for the story. It shows great effort, richly deserving the awards!

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