Newsrooms face conundrum with caravan coverage

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. ...

Posted: Oct 24, 2018 11:02 AM
Updated: Oct 24, 2018 11:02 AM

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

This is Oliver Darcy in for Brian Stelter.

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Too much caravan coverage?

It's a provocative question, but step back and ask yourself: Why is a caravan of migrants 1,000 miles away from the US border saturating American news coverage? I'm not diminishing the humanitarian element to the story, which does warrant attention, but the truth is that it's unlikely the story would be covered so thoroughly on the airwaves, in the newspapers and on various websites if President Trump were not talking about it. It's news because Trump has made it news. This is an issue that, with just two weeks to go until the midterm election, Trump wants to discuss. And it's working.

"What started out as one of Fox News' pet issues has become a major media narrative thanks to the feedback loop between the network and President Donald Trump," writes Lis Power, the director of media intelligence for the liberal watchdog group Media Matters. Power notes that CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have devoted hours of coverage in the last several days to the caravan.

>> Media Matters president Angelo Carusone asks in a tweet: "For perspective: It'll take this group what..another 20-30 days to get to the border. Other than a prez election, what impending issue gets this much coverage this far out?"

The conundrum for newsrooms

Now, to be fair, much of the coverage news organizations are dedicating to the caravan situation has been good. Network correspondents like CNN's Bill Weir, ABC's Matt Gutman, CBS' Adriana Diaz and others have been telling the stories of the people in the caravan, putting a face on this humanitarian crisis.

In addition, a significant chunk of the coverage is focused on debunking conspiracy theories floated by the president and his allies in right-wing media. But that still raises a question newsrooms have repeatedly had to face in the Trump era: Do you ignore the issue and let Trump and his media allies peddle falsehoods, or do you spend time fact-checking the disinformation, potentially at the cost of giving the issue oxygen and legitimizing it as a news story?

Speaking of fact-checking

Fox News' chief news anchor Shepard Smith spent a portion of his program fact-checking some of the fear-mongering that has been peddled by his own colleagues on his own network. In a segment, Smith stressed that the caravan is near 1,000 miles away from the southern US border. "It's nowhere near the US border. The group today is at the southern tip of Mexico. ... Google says that is a 1,082-mile walk to McAllen, Texas, on the US border. A 353-hour walk, says Google. At 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, they are at least 44 days away at minimum."

Meanwhile, also on Fox...

Fox News has been down in Texas at the border all week as the network covers the caravan — and on Tuesday the channel aired a report from correspondent Griff Jenkins. In the report, Jenkins is seen hiding in the bushes -- he says in the package that he "laid in the bushes in wait" — waiting for a family to cross the border illegally. As a handful of immigrants attempted to cross, Jenkins emerges and the group heads back across the river. "GRIFF FOILS ILLEGALS' ATTEMPT TO CROSS BORDER," the chyron read.

Eventually, Jenkins finds the group that attempted to cross and peppers them with questions. When Jenkins asks a woman in the group if she was attempting to knowingly cross illegally, the woman answers that she was fleeing Honduras for lack of economic opportunity. The chyron on Fox? "ILLEGAL ADMITS TO KNOWINGLY BREAKING THE LAW." I checked in with a Fox News spokesperson to see if the network had any comment on the segment, but didn't receive a reply...

"An unethical excuse for journalism"

Someone who did want to discuss the Fox News segment was Columbia Journalism School professor Todd Gitlin who told me by email he found the segment to be "an unethical excuse for journalism, presented sensationally in order to stir up hostility to immigrants and to rally Trump's base." Gitlin, who said the segment amounted to a "propaganda exercise masquerading as journalism," told me that Jenkins "violates one of the canons of serious journalism — that the reporter does not intervene in the action described in the news report."

>> Gitlin also noted: "What the relation is between the 'caravan' and these river-crossers is by no means clear."

FOR THE RECORD

-- Matthew Yglesias examines what he calls the "hack gap" and how it allows conservatives to place a "huge constant thumb on the scale" in terms of news coverage... (Vox)

-- Refinery29 lays off more than 40 full time employees (about 10% of its staff) as the publisher misses its revenue target for the year... (WSJ)

-- Media law professor Jonathan Peters writes about how "libel law is having a moment..." (CJR)

Read more of Tuesday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

-- Fox News host Jeanine Pirro was scolded on Tuesday by a sitting judge during proceedings involving a lawsuit filed by DeRay McKesson. The sitting judge said of Pirro, "She's a judge, a former DA. You'd think she'd understand what we are dealing with. ... You'd think she could be clear and accurate. You think she would know better..." (THR)

-- Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has laid off all 12 journalists from his new media website... (The Verge)

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