MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s president-elect has come under criticism over a video of him kissing a female reporter on the cheek after she asked him a question, the second recent incident in which some said he showed a lack of respect to women covering him.
The encounter came as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won July’s presidential vote, was in Tijuana as part of a nationwide thank-you tour ahead of his Dec. 1 inauguration.
In the video, Lorena Garcia of the local newspaper El Mexicano asks Lopez Obrador about next year’s gubernatorial election in Baja California state, which is home to Tijuana. He smiles, does not answer, turns around, gives her a quick peck and then continues walking to his car.
Airy cheek-kisses between men and women are common as a casual greeting in Mexican culture, but less so for formal, professional encounters, especially involving people who do not known each other.
Garcia said in an interview with MVS radio that it was the first time she had ever met Lopez Obrador in person and she found the gesture “inappropriate.”
“We are working. We do not have the intention of receiving or seeking a greeting of this kind,” Garcia said. “Understand that we are doing our job. It is not something that I would like to continue happening to me every time I go out to report.”
The encounter took place Sept. 20 but only gained widespread attention this week as the video spread via social and traditional media.
Lopez Obrador was also criticized recently for addressing two women reporters as “sweethearts” when they tried to interview him through the window of his car.
In both cases, Lopez Obrador’s actions came as he declined to answer the female journalists’ questions.
“I am always going to treat you like this with great respect and affection,” Lopez Obrador said about the earlier incident. Asked if it was sexist, he replied: “I have another vision, it is not like that.”
Lopez Obrador has raised eyebrows for his populist personal style, uncommon for an elected president. He rolls around in an unarmored sedan, refuses armed bodyguards, has promised to sell off the presidential jet once in office and intends to live in his own home instead of the presidential residence.
He speaks to and takes questions from the media far more often than his predecessor, and that accessibility often leads to casual interactions with reporters and citizens — the likes of which are uncharted territory for Mexico.
Jesus Ramirez, who will be Lopez Obrador’s press secretary after Dec. 1, told El Universal newspaper that the “sweethearts” remark was a normal interaction and he did not consider it an insult, but “if … they feel offended, I accept and understand their annoyance.”
About the kiss, he said it reflected Lopez Obrador’s personal style of interacting with many people.
“I think we have to put things in perspective,” Ramirez was quoted as saying. “The journalist has a right to express her annoyance, and if she felt offended that must be pointed out because it is about respecting people.”