How do criminal organizations react to media coverage? The case of Mexico's drug war


Expanding on a long tradition of literature that tries to identify the conditions under which criminal organizations publicly take credit for their violent acts of terrorism, this paper presents empirical evidence that media attention influences the use of credit-taking expressions by Mexican drug cartels. Using a data set of 1,800 banners publicly displayed by drug trafficking organizations to take credit for their crimes, we estimate reaction functions to determine the media effects on credit-taking. We avoid the mistaken common assumption that press freedom is a proxy for press coverage, and find evidence of Granger causality from media coverage to credit-taking. When media coverage increases, criminal organizations react by further increasing the number of banners publicly displayed. We attribute this effect to changes in criminal strategy: credit-taking criminals decide to become more public when they know that their message will get more attention from the press. Our estimates show that a “shock” in media coverage generates up to 1.9% additional credit-taking banners from criminals during the following weeks.

Last updated on 01/09/2018