SCOTT SIMON, host:
Journalists base their work and reputations in certain principles, but as NPR's Jason Beaubien discovered, principles can become obstacles when they bump up against unanticipated circumstances. Here's his Reporters Notebook.
JASON BEAUBIEN: I don't pay bribes. That's my policy. I'll make a stink, I'll play the I'm a reporter card, I'll play dumb, but it didn't take long for the police in Mexico City to convince me to change my ways.
My family and I are moving to Mexico City and I was driving our car loaded with stuff into the city for the first time. On the northern outskirts, three cops in a black pickup truck pulled me over. Mexico City has an anti-smog program called "Hoy No Circula" that bans certain cars from driving at certain times in the capital. The policemen said I was violating the ban and to follow them. They drove off a highway and onto an access road behind a shopping mall. One, who identified himself as the Comandante, had a plastic-laminated sheet with the color-coded smog rules. He insisted that I was in violation of a new regulation banning foreign cars on weekday mornings. Unbeknownst to me, however, this provision doesn't go into effect for another two months.
The Comandante said I could pay the fine on the spot. I asked, how much? Five thousand five hundred pesos, he said, or about 550 dollars. I said I couldn't pay that. OK, you can pay 3,000 pesos. I said I didn't have that much money. This was not a problem, he insisted. One of his men could take me to an ATM. No, I said, I can't do that. At this point I was standing next to my driver's side door. The three of them moved close to the car and blocked me in. The Comandante laid out my options: I could come with them down to the station and pay 5,500 pesos while his buddy impounds my car and my stuff for the night. Or I could pay 3,000 and they'll escort me home. How about 2,000? I suggested.
I've been mugged before and it was the same feeling. The sidekick took me to the ATM. As soon as they had the roughly 200 dollars, they disappeared. No receipt, no safe passage home, not even adios. They were gone.
As a reporter in Africa, I saw how corruption destroys public institutions, how it breeds cynicism and eats away at societies. But when you're all alone behind the shopping mall and three cops are demanding cash, what do you do? Is this where you make your stand against lining the pockets of corrupt public servants? Or do you pay up?
SCOTT: NPR's suddenly poor Jason Beaubien.
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