Migrant caravan coverage not accurate, complete
Journalism best serves the public when reporters deliver news and information on important stories that are relevant to the lives of their viewers and readers. Television journalism soars when reporters find a way to answer the questions viewers are asking their TV screens while watching coverage of a major event.
That’s why it was maddening and frustrating to watch this past week’s coverage of the so-called “caravan” of thousands of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans plowing through Mexico’s southern border and their subsequent march toward the United States.
I found myself yelling the same question at my television screen over and over: “Who is paying for this?” I asked in vain as embedded reporters interviewed various Central Americans about the hardships in their native countries. “Who is organizing this?” I yelled.
But, for some reason, the reporters never asked the question.
Thousands of foreigners marching nearly 2,000 miles across Mexico to demand entry into the U.S. is certainly a huge story, and it’s great that the networks sent reporters down to cover it. But how is the support system, organizational infrastructure, logistical planning and financial backing not a big part of this story?
Any average American watching this enormous undertaking would naturally be curious as to how the entire thing is being managed and how it originated. Thousands of people don’t spontaneously decide to leave their homes and walk thousands of miles, violating multiple international borders, without some help. We are all curious about this part of the story; why aren’t the reporters?
Instead, our hour-by-hour reports are ladened with heart-wrenching interviews (mostly of women with children) about the awful conditions in Honduras and the hope for a better life in America. All the while, supervisors and managers of the exodus are seen in the background wearing lime-green safety vests. Could we maybe get an interview with the jefe at some point? Ask him who bought his cool vest?
Another shameful part of the ongoing coverage is the willfully ignorant word used to describe this bizarre odyssey. It was immediately labeled a “caravan” by some unknown media overlord. “Caravan” is a benign, almost pleasant word to describe these events, but it does not fully describe the story we are witnessing.
The most generous verb to associate with the mass of humanity trekking across Mexico would be “exodus,” but the more accurate would be the blunt yet descriptive “invasion.” Because the intent of the participants is not solely to flee their nations of origin, as the word “exodus” would suggest, but to end up in one particular nation at the end of their trek.
If the sole purpose of this exercise was for the participants to leave their hostile countries, then the story would be over. They’ve made it to Mexico, a country with the 15th-largest economy in the world, less than 4 percent unemployment and more cultural and ethnic similarities to their own countries than the United States. But their plan was not just to leave their country for a safer, friendly one. Their plan was to reach America and demand entry.
That’s an invasion.
Reporters have also played fast and loose with the terms “asylum” and “refugee.” The American understanding of these terms specifically relate to a person of special humanitarian concern to the U.S. These concerns would involve being subject to political, religious or racial persecution. Refugee status and asylum are not awarded to someone seeking safe harbor from high crime rates or poor economic conditions.
Despite these basic facts, reporters consistently called the parade of humanity “refugees seeking asylum.” This even after their own reporting divines these peoples’ true intentions. Interview after interview uncover the desire to come to America to get a job and find shelter from the criminal cartels in Central America. Compelling reasons to emigrate, but not legal reasons for sanctuary within the international understanding of asylum.
These willful missteps by so many reporters covering the same story in nearly the exact same way, it’s easy for a viewer to conclude that there is either a blatant agenda coloring the way these events are being reported or there is a pervasive laziness infesting the journalistic ethos of America’s mainstream media that it’s just simpler for everyone to do and say the same thing than it is to find a deeper, more accurate angle on the story.
Either way, the American people are not being well-served by the Fourth Estate on this one.
⦁ Larry O’Connor writes about politics and the media for The Washington Times and can be heard weekday afternoons on WMAL radio in Washington. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryOConnor.