In the lead-up to the 2016 election, outlets like the New York Times essentially reprinted Russian propaganda with the Podesta leaks—e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman which were illegally obtained by Wikileaks, an organization that began as a fight for transparency but became something of a Kremlin laundromat thanks to financial troubles and a narcissistic buffoon at its helm who will do anything to maintain his celebrity. While Hillary Clinton’s deleted e-mails and State Department e-mails run off a private server in a garage in Colorado were a legitimate story for the media to cover (albeit nowhere near as important as they portrayed it to be), the Podesta dump was a dud. Here is how Wikipedia summarizes what the Times and other major media made front page news on par with the Access Hollywood “grab her by the pussy” Trump tape:
Some of the emails provide some insight into the inner workings of the Clinton campaign. For example, the emails show a discussion among campaign manager Robby Mook and top aides about possible campaign themes and slogans. Other emails revealed insights about the internal conflicts of the Clinton Foundation. The BBC published an article detailing 18 “revelations” revealed from their initial review of the leaked emails, including excerpts from Clinton’s speeches and politically-motivated payments to the Clinton Foundation.
Riveting. There’s no other way to say it: American mainstream media (defined as any organization which falls under the umbrella of the six conglomerates that own 90% of our media) largely became a Russian disinformation shop in October and November 2016. The Trump camp desperately wanted to turn the topic from the seemingly damaging tape of the Republican candidate bragging about committing serial sexual assault, and the Podesta e-mails hacked in March conveniently fell out of the sky hours after the Access Hollywood came out in late October. The media took the bait, and thanks to their religion of bothsidesim, we spent an equal amount of time on admitted sexual assault and the “possible campaign themes and slogans” of the first female presidential candidate in our nation’s history. Cool country we’ve got here, America.
It’s happening again. Right before an election. Trump and the Republicans have pivoted from lying about their desire to protect pre-existing conditions to pointing at a group of (not white) refugees and insinuating that they’re all a bunch of people “bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” And the media is taking the bait.
Good on CNN's Brian Stelter to point out how absurd it is to view this “caravan” as something that's bearing down on our border, but bad on CNN's Brian Stelter to not realize he just made the argument against this being a major story. If they're so far away, why is this worthy of so much coverage?
Also, they're refugees fleeing violence, despair and almost certain death—taking a journey that is one of the most dangerous in the world, all in the hopes that good people somewhere will empathize with their plight and help rebuild a life that was lost. These people are not a fucking “caravan,” and by framing them as such, the Brian Stelter's and CNN's of the world are pushing GOP propaganda again. This is Fox News-lite. All because mainstream media's major decision-makers care more about profits than truth. There's nothing else to say anymore: a lot of the product put out by our mainstream media centers—especially on TV—is just a disgrace to the profession of journalism.
Again, in every column I write critiquing the “mainstream media” I feel the need to emphasize that these are massive media organizations employing tens of thousands of people with dramatically varying degrees of power over their own product. Not everyone is responsible for these failures. Most aren't. I'm pointing the finger at the major decision makers—the people the anchors and producers report to and the people those people report to. In capitalism, executives have all the power, so the failure ultimately falls at their feet. Right?
You want to know what's really going on with this “caravan?” Turn off all TV news forever and start reading journalists like Vox's Dara Lind:
The crackdown has made an already dangerous journey more dangerous. The harder it is to get through Mexico without attracting attention from the authorities, the more that task falls to professional criminal organizations who might smuggle drugs alongside migrants or abuse migrants physically or sexually. The involvement of criminal organizations makes Mexico even more anxious to crack down.
For some Central Americans, the solution to this problem is hypervisibility: traveling out in the open, as part of a large group of people that can't simply be grabbed or disappeared. That's the reason small human rights organizations have gotten people together, on occasion, in “caravans” — and the appeal to hundreds or thousands of migrants who've joined them in trying to get to the US.
For some, it's a way to call political attention to what they're fleeing and what migrants have to endure; to others, it's a desperate exodus; to some, it's simply an opportunity that came along to hope for a better, safer life.
This is an important story that does connect to America. Our foreign policy and the disastrous War on Drugs have helped to create this dire situation for Central Americans, and we have a responsibility to these refugees to right our wrongs. How to assimilate and care for these people is a complex solution that should be fleshed out in the public sphere, but instead, major media is depicting this desperate group of people in the same bigoted light as the Republicans—who brought this story up to the national stage in the first place.
Many in the media will respond to my ire with the counter-argument of “well he's the president. He has the bully pulpit. We have no choice on this stuff sometimes”—to which I will respond with a snarky tweet from Crooked Media's Brian Beutler.
Do better major media. You have plenty of brilliant journalists on your rosters. Let them do journalism, instead of GOP agitprop.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.