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Outlets Denounced as ‘Enemies of People’ Still Promote Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Narratives

 Establishment outlets have helped spread the Trump administration’s message

Washington Post depiction (3/27/19) of a “Border at ‘Breaking Point'”

Washington Post depiction (3/27/19) of a “Border at ‘Breaking Point'” (Photo: Sergio Flores).

If you keep up with all the various xenophobic “crises” and “threats” propagated by corporate media—depicting the United States as an overwhelmed nation, besieged by teeming swarms of scheming foreigners intent on stealing jobs and seizing scarce public benefits from across the southern border—you’ll recall that the United States has apparently been under “invasion” for years now. Decades, even (Extra!, 1–2/95). The media have spread this contrived account even during periods where unauthorized immigration was continuously falling (FAIR.org, 12/1/13).

So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to see Fox News (4/11/19) trumpeting the fact that establishment outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times are joining them in spreading the Trump administration’s racist narrative. Here are some recent headlines, offered as evidence by Fox that “Mainstream Media Outlets Change Their Tune on Border Crisis Amid Illegal Immigration Surge”:

  • “Border at ‘Breaking Point’ as More Than 76,000 Unauthorized Migrants Cross in a Month” (New York Times, 3/5/19).
  • “US Has Hit ‘Breaking Point’ at Border Amid Immigration Surge, Customs and Border Protection Chief Says” (Washington Post, 3/27/19)
  • “The US Immigration System May Have Reached a Breaking Point” (New York Times, 4/10/19)

However, when one examines the Times and the Post’s sources for these alarming reports of an overloaded immigration system hitting a “breaking point,” one finds that they consist almost entirely of named and unnamed Trump administration officials, like Kevin McAleenan, then commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection agency, now acting secretary of Homeland Security. There’s no reason, of course, to treat official pronouncements about an alleged border crisis as objective truth, especially ones coming from the Trump administration.

As FAIR (12/13/18) has previously noted, crucial context is often ignored in coverage of Central American migrants. When these reports aren’t omitting altogether the reasons why people are migrating and seeking asylum in the United States, primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, journalists cite factors like “gang violence,” “death threats” and “deep poverty” without mentioning the connection between these realities and US foreign policy.

Washington’s history of providing political and military support to genocidal dictatorships, coups, oppressive military forces and civil wars has permanently damaged these countries, as documented in works like historian William Blum’s Rogue State. Unfair “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA removed trade barriers so that millions of Central American farmers were forced to compete with highly subsidized American agribusiness. Coverage also omits the fact that although the Trump administration is canceling development aid to these countries, it’s still providing lethal aid to repressive police and military forces, and even death squads, in the present (Intercept, 4/12/16; CounterPunch, 4/8/19).

These reports by the Post and the Times mention a growing backlog of over 800,000 immigration cases judges need to “decide quickly,” and an insufficient number of prisons to detain families amidst recent spikes in the number of people crossing the border over the past few months, but almost none of them bother to explain why the Trump administration is on track to double the backlog of cases it began with—in large part due to its acceleration of mass roundups (ThinkProgress, 9/26/18).

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None of these reports raise the important questions of why it is even necessary to “detain” asylum-seeking families (a euphemism for imprisoning people in concentration camps), why we should consider regular spikes and fluctuations in border crossings an “emergency,” or why it is necessary to “quickly” decide the cases of asylum-seekers who are facing death upon return to their countries—as Nathan Robinson did in Current Affairs (4/12/19).

None of these reports adequately consider the possibility that the Trump administration officials it relies on as sources are lying about wanting to reduce court backlogs and overcrowded prisons, and are intentionally punishing migrants in order to create the impression that the administration is hard at work to solve the “crises” it creates (Salon, 4/2/19). How else does one explain why the Trump administration consistently pursues actions that produce outcomes directly contrary to their stated objectives?

No one can argue that overfilled “detainment centers” and an increasing backlog of immigration cases aren’t the predictable results of initiating the longest government shutdown in history, refusing to hire enough immigration judges to adjudicate bigger caseloads, shutting down and rejecting more humane and cost-effective alternatives to imprisonment—some with 99 percent success rates—and pursuing a “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting and imprisoning all asylum-seekers as criminals, and denying their rights in violation of international law, in order to make “family detention” and separation standard practice.

This is important because, despite the Trump administration’s attempts (with the Post and Times’ help) to depict unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers as criminals, asylum-seekers are actually following the law, which mandates that one can only apply for asylum status when physically present in the United States.

It’s not difficult to figure out why establishment media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, despite being denounced by Donald Trump as “enemies of the people,” “fake news” and the “Opposition Party,” invariably amplify ridiculous narratives by the Trump administration on issues like immigration. If corporate journalists were to evaluate policymakers by the predictable consequences of their actions rather than their professed intentions, and reject face-value transmission of claims by official sources in favor of critical examination, it would jeopardize the revolving door between media and politics, and threaten corporate media’s business model of staying on the good side of the rich and powerful for a reliable stream of information—trustworthy or not.

Joshua Cho

Joshua Cho

Joshua Cho is a journalist, recent graduate of Boston College, and former intern at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

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