The Media Today

Caravan coverage plays into Trump’s hands

October 23, 2018

As President Trump works to highlight immigration concerns ahead of the midterm elections, he’s found willing media partners. For days, Trump has stoked alarm about “the caravan,” a group of Central American migrants making their way northward. Relying on the sort of racial fear-mongering that was a feature of his 2016 campaign, Trump on Monday baselessly claimed that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the group.

The idea that the caravan was being used by Middle Eastern terrorists to camouflage their passage to the US began spreading on right-wing blogs last week, and made its way to Fox News on Monday morning. During a Fox & Friends segment on the caravan, Pete Hegseth claimed that “100 ISIS fighters” had been captured in Guatemala; a couple of hours later, Trump tweeted about it. Reporters who have been travelling with the migrants refuted the claim, and by Monday afternoon, it fell to Fox’s Shepard Smith to clarify that “Fox News knows of no evidence to suggest the president is accurate on that matter. And the president has offered no evidence to support what he has said.”

Over the past several days, the caravan story has received considerable coverage on Fox News and conservative radio shows, helping disseminate—and in some cases driving—Trump’s message. But coverage from other news organizations has also played into the narrative Trump and Republicans hope to push. The AP referred to “a ragged, growing army of migrants” in a since-deleted tweet and nearly all outlets are giving the story outsized attention, once again allowing Trump to act as the media’s assignment editor.

RELATED: Dancing around the word ‘racist’ in coverage of Trump

“The exodus of migrants walking through Mexico is, no doubt, a real story,” writes The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan. “It’s just not the same story that much of the American news media is incredulously—at times hysterically—telling.” Citing some of that hysterical reporting, Sullivan argues that the focus on the story is “a wonderful pre-midterms gift to President Trump.”

The actual caravan is made up of several thousand migrants, mostly from Honduras, who are currently making their way through southern Mexico. The LA Times’s Patrick J. McDonnell and Katie Linthicum report that the migrants they spoke with on the ground “expressed little awareness of US politics, and insisted that they were only trying to escape violence, corruption and poverty.” The reality of the situation hasn’t stopped Trump and some of his media allies from twisting the story to fit their own agenda. The focus on immigration, write The New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Astead W. Herndon, is “an escalation of Mr. Trump’s efforts to stoke fears about foreigners and crime ahead of the Nov. 6 vote.”

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Issues of race and immigration formed the backbone of Trump’s appeals to voters during his presidential run and since taking office. With midterm voting just two weeks away, the president appears intent on pushing those topics into the spotlight. The plight of migrants seeking refuge from violence and poverty demands coverage, but news outlets don’t have to frame that reporting on Trump’s terms.

Below, more on coverage of the caravan.


Other notable stories:

  • NPR’s Laurel Wamsley covers the response to a memo circulating at the Department of Health and Human Services that aims to narrow the definition of sex, a move that would impact recognition and protections of trans Americans. The memo, first reported by the Times, “inspired grave fears and fervent protest,” Wamsley writes, with protesters gathering in New York and Washington, and social media lighting up with statements of visibility from trans individuals.
  • The latest on Jamal Khashoggi: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that “it is clear that this savage murder did not happen at the drop of a dime but was a planned affair.” Meanwhile, Jared Kushner, who has built a close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said Monday that the Trump administration was still in the “fact-finding phase” with regard to Khashoggi’s murder. He admitted that it was “a terrible situation,” but also maintained that the US must work with its allies in the region, and defended Saudi Arabia as a strong partner there.
  • The Post’s Erik Wemple digs into the blowback Bloomberg News has felt as questions are raised and retractions demanded of its cover story on Chinese infiltration of US companies using computer hardware. Wemple writes that in the face of outright denials of the story’s claims from companies like Apple and Amazon, Bloomberg needs to “assign more reporters to the story, re-interview sources, ask for photos and emails. Should it fail in this effort, it’ll need to retract the entire thing.
  • A suspected intruder was shot at the Fox5 building in Washington, DC, after kicking down glass doors at the building’s entrance. The station reports that the man was “known to both Fox executives and police,” and that he had “leveled threats against both previously.”
  • From CJR’s series on the midterm elections, Aaron Cantú reports from New Mexico, where “changes to the nation’s health system are quite literally a life-and-death matter for a plurality of people.” As congressional races head into the final weeks, Cantú argues that reporters in the state must do a better job explaining to voters the various healthcare proposals and where candidates for office stand on the issue.

  • New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger spoke with CNN’s Brian Stelter about journalism in the age of Trump, earning trust from readers, and building on the paper’s successful subscriber model.

ICYMI: Saudi Arabia faces fresh scrutiny after Khashoggi’s murder

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.