Stelter: Migrant story requires more reporting, less shouting

Posted at 9:33 PM, Nov 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-25 23:33:24-05

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Framing the border coverage

What will be the lead story on Monday? Is it the plight of Central American migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States? Or an “invasion” at the southern border with Mexico? As always, it depends on the news sources you choose.

Since mid-October Fox News and President Trump‘s focus on the “caravan” has risen and fallen almost in tandem. Fox has labeled the situation a “crisis” and Trump has vowed not to let the migrants cross the border.

The TV coverage subsided right after the midterm elections, but picked up again by mid-November. And for the better part of a week, Fox’s pro-Trump talk shows have been on high alert for the impending arrival of the migrants. The network’s banners have been practically screaming about it. A graphic on “Judge Jeanine” Saturday night called it “BATTLE FOR THE SOUTHERN BORDER.”

As is so often the case, these situations call for more reporting, less shouting. Case in point, CNN’s Nick Watt was live from the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Sunday evening as officials from both the US and Mexico worked to disperse a group of migrants. The use of tear gas was top of mind — as illustrated in an instantly iconic Reuters photo.

Hopefully someone will be able to interview the woman in the photo, and hopefully the “BATTLE” hype will be replaced by robust reporting in the days to come.

Trump was watching CBS…

This was a case of superb timing by “60 Minutes.”

Correspondent Scott Pelley had a story on Sunday’s program about family separations at the border. The president was evidently watching, because he tweeted soon afterward, calling it a “phony story” and labeling the newsmagazine “fake.” Why? Because “we had the exact same policy as the Obama Administration.”

But numerous reporters said Trump was full of it. Some said he “lied,” others said the tweet was “false.”

The Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel, who was covering the breakups earlier than anybody, tweeted that Trump “had a blanket policy to separate parents & kids at the border, incl. kids as young as 18 months and some who were still breastfeeding.”

And NBC’s Jacob Soboroff, who was inside the camps, tweeted that Trump “is the only president to *ever* systematically separate migrant children from their parents as a stated deterrent policy.”

Either Trump doesn’t understand his own policy, or he’s misleading his followers on purpose.

A “channel” for Trump’s fear-mongering?

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about how newsrooms allowed themselves “to be manipulated by President Trump to heighten fears about the immigrant caravan.”

Obviously, he wrote, “there were many journalists who pushed back on the president’s narrative, but on the whole I’m afraid news organizations became a channel for carefully calculated fear-mongering about refugees.”

I think that’s a commonly held concern. But there’s also a counterargument, expressed by Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty. She said newsrooms used the “caravan” to “dig deeper into the forces that put people on this treacherous path of migration.”

Tumulty was one of my guests on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” With the expectation of a new “caravan” news cycle, I started Sunday’s show by talking about the two Americas living side by side — in different news worlds — one that’s been hearing about dangerous immigrants, the other that’s been hearing about the danger of manmade climate change. There’s hardly any overlap between the two…

Pro-Trump talk shows ignored climate change report

Hundreds of scientists helped produce the climate assessment that came out on Friday afternoon. The government report countered Trump’s climate claims… And it was mostly just ignored by pro-Trump shows and commentators. In my humble opinion, that’s a form of climate change denialism.

But outside the pro-Trump bubble, there was widespread coverage of the dire new report. The warnings were played up high on news websites and nightly newscasts. There were followups on Saturday and Sunday. I was left wondering: Did this attempt at a “news dump” backfire?

Sorta, kinda. “It didn’t get totally buried,” Daily Beast editor in chief Noah Shachtman told me. “But I think it did kind of work. Look, anytime you put out news on a Friday afternoon during Black Friday, it’s just not going to get the same kind of traffic that it does, the same kind of attention it does in the middle of a regular news week.”

Media week ahead calendar

This week: The holiday party season begins!

Tuesday: The Fox News streaming service Fox Nation comes online…

Tuesday: UK Parliament holding a hearing on misinformation…

Wednesday: National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse…

Thursday: The NYT will hold its first-ever live announcement of its 10 Best Books of the year list…

Friday: G20 summit opens in Argentina…

Saturday: College football’s conference championship weekend…

Sunday evening: Hanukkah begins…

All eyes on Mississippi

Trump will hold two rallies for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s runoff election. Will it be enough to fend off Mike Espy? Politico says the race has Republicans “holding their breath.”

On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” I spoke with Lamar White Jr., whose work may have tipped the race. He’s the publisher of the Bayou Brief, and he was the first to post an explosive video of Hyde-Smith talking about a “public hanging.” He told me, “I still don’t understand exactly what she meant by it. It’s not a compliment…”

→ The bottom line, via former NYT exec editor Howell Raines, appearing on MSNBC: “If you say ‘hanging’ in Mississippi, you can only be talking about an instrument of racial suppression…”

Bill Kristol to Dana Bash on “SOTU:” Republicans “should be worried about the seat…”


— In Monday’s Times, Amy Chozick profiles new Harvard Crimson editor Kristine E. Guillaume, “the third black president and first black woman to helm the organization since its founding in 1873…” (NYT)

Margaret Sullivan’s Monday column: On the power of the follow-up question… And why it must be protected… (WaPo)

AT&T and other big television distributors are pledging to “refund customers who paid to watch a showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson after AT&T shanked its webcast of the much-anticipated match…” (WSJ)

The death toll is still rising in CA…

I’ve been corresponding with Gina Lefebvre, a resident of Paradise who has been displaced along with thousands of others. “I think just the massive scale of the devastation on so many levels is important for people to know,” she said. She has no idea where her two kids will be going to school now. And the housing crisis is acute. “It’s a nightmare right now,” she said.

On Sunday I asked her about sources of news. She said she’s been following all the local outlets along with the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times and Washington Post.

Here’s the thing: The Camp Fire death toll is still rising — it currently stands at 85 — with 249 people still unaccounted for. So this disaster is arguably becoming a bigger story by the day. But it’s no longer “breaking news,” so coverage is fading.

That’s why we need to highlight the local and national coverage that’s still going on. Over the weekend, CNN’s Ryan Young profiled the editors of the Chico Enterprise-Record and Paradise Post… Watch/read here…

Another Facebook scandal brewing

Donie O’Sullivan emails: Greetings from JFK, on my way to London to chase this wild Facebook story. I’ll be joining Hadas Gold and our team there.

What the new story is about: Earlier this summer CNN, The Guardian, and other news orgs filed motions to unseal internal Facebook documents that are part of a little-known lawsuit against the company in California. It’s a pretty wild tale, not least because Six4Three, the company behind the lawsuit, were the makers of “Pikini,” a former Facebook app that let users find pictures of their friends wearing bikinis. (HuffPost called the app ‘creepy’ when it was released in 2013.) Six4Three had obtained the internal documents through court discovery.

Last month, the media’s motions failed, Facebook got its way and the documents were not made public. But over the weekend it emerged that Damian Collins, an MP investigating Facebook in the United Kingdom, had got his hands on the internal docs — and he might use his parliamentary privilege and release them.

Will Collins release the docs?

Collins says he’s looking at the documents and considering what to do with them. On Tuesday, he is joining lawmakers from six other countries in London for what they are calling the inaugural “Grand Committee on Disinformation.” The lawmakers had asked Mark Zuckerberg to attend, but he declined and the company is sending a VP instead.

Read O’Sullivan’s full story here…

Read more of Sunday’s Reliable Sources newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

“Global trust crisis”

Tuesday’s hearing “suggests that Facebook’s public relations crisis in the U.S. is spilling over globally,” Axios’s Sara Fischer writes, dubbing this a “global trust crisis” for Facebook…