We’ve seen the media doing this for a long time in their coverage of Israel and attacks by terrorists.
CNN has perpetrated a classic instance of the genre in its reporting on the shooting of a migrant at the Texas border with Mexico on Wednesday, 23 May.
The headline reads:
Border Patrol agent kills undocumented woman in Texas
That certainly sounds bad.
If your immediate suspicion is that the Border Patrol agent was under attack at the time he drew a weapon and shot someone, well, award yourself a gold star. But CNN couldn’t simply report that.
Here’s the wording used in the report filed online.
An undocumented immigrant was shot and killed Wednesday by a Border Patrol agent in Rio Bravo, Texas, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
The agent was responding to a report of illegal activity near a culvert and discovered a group of undocumented immigrants, the agency said. The agent tried to apprehend the group, but he came under attack by people using blunt objects. The agent fired at least one round, fatally wounding one person, CBP said.
Actually, that summary is not really what CBP said.
“Came under attack by people using blunt objects”? Which people would those be? Some random teenagers passing by the culvert on the way to McDonald’s? Moms on a toot, heading for the day spa? The men’s church group, stopping to attack a Border Patrol agent on the way back from doing home repairs for the elderly?
Of course not. It was the group the agent was trying to apprehend: the group of undocumented immigrants. That’s who attacked the agent.
That is clear in the statements from both the Laredo Sector and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. (See the CNN video at the link.)
The CBP Laredo Sector has this to say:
On May 23, 2018, at approximately 12:22 p.m., a lone Border Patrol Agent responded to a report of illegal activity near a culvert by Centeno Lane in Rio Bravo, Texas where he discovered a group of illegal aliens. Initial reports indicate that as the agent attempted to apprehend the group, he came under attack by multiple subjects using blunt objects. The agent fired at least one round from his service issue firearm, fatally wounding one of the assailants. The rest of the group fled the scene.
The CBP statement reads:
A woman has died as the result of a gunshot wound during an incident in which a Border Patrol agent was allegedly assaulted by a group of illegal aliens he was attempting to apprehend near Rio Bravo, TX at approximately 12:22 p.m. Central Time on May 23, 2018.
The agent…responded to a report of illegal activity near the Centeno Lane Culvert in Rio Bravo, Texas where he discovered a group of suspected illegal aliens and ordered them to get on the ground. According to the agent, the group ignored his verbal commands and instead rushed him. The agent discharged one round from his service-issued firearm, striking one member of the group. The rest of the group fled the scene.
CNN proceeds to characterize these as “conflicting accounts,” and displays that language prominently in the banner on its video treatment.
The accounts do not, by any reasonable standard, conflict. They don’t imply any different understanding of the event. No one, reading the two reports, would come away with any idea other than that the agent encountered a group of illegal aliens near the culvert, tried to apprehend them, was attacked by them, and used his firearm to defend himself, resulting in the fatal shooting of one of the group.
At the very most, the Laredo Sector statement may indicate that not everyone in the group was thought, by Laredo Sector, to be someone illegally crossing the border at that specific time. (Switching from “illegal aliens” — the term of U.S. law — to “subjects,” another term of law, is the clue on that. The status of some people in the attacking group may have been unclear.)
But it’s clear from both statements that the agent was attacked by the group he was trying to apprehend, and not by some random posse of people who showed up separately, out of nowhere, with blunt objects. (It’s also clear that, since he was attacked, as affirmed in both statements, none of that actually matters to the questions of self-defense and justification.)
Yet CNN is at pains to leave the impression of conflicting accounts – apparently exploiting the fact that the language is not identical – and that the shooting was therefore quite possibly improper, and someone is misrepresenting something here, or holding something back.
That isn’t skepticism or journalistic neutrality; it’s demagogic advocacy.
A news audience that places its trust in CNN won’t inquire into this any further, or think about it hard enough to parse the misdirection CNN itself is engaging in. Many viewers will simply feel worse about this incident than we already should, and believe indignantly that the Border Patrol is at fault, or out of control, or in some way mistreating the people illegally crossing the border.
Fortunately, the Border Patrol will of course inquire into the entire incident, and we can have confidence it will seek in good faith to determine if the agent did anything wrong. There should be an investigation. It’s not OK for people to end up dead from border enforcement; it’s not the desired outcome, and our agents should be held to the highest standards. They would say so themselves. We should expect an inquiry, and we will get one.
But that’s the difference between the Border Patrol and CNN. The Border Patrol will have to meet a standard of accountability. CNN won’t. CNN will be able to continue presenting a misleading picture of Border Patrol operations, with no reckoning as regards truth or accuracy.
Those who call CNN out for biased headlines and innuendo-laden themes will too often be dismissed as merely having an opposing political view. This may be vaguely comforting to some partisans, but it doesn’t make what CNN is doing right — or even just meaningless.
In fact, it makes it a waste of time for those who see through CNN’s misleading coverage to try to remain engaged in the same information arena. It’s not a friendly “compromise,” to take CNN’s prejudicial, and essentially false, premise here as the basic truth. Glossing over slanted “news” of this kind is a sell-out of intellectual and moral principle. You can’t require sell-outs as the basis for dialogue, and expect honest or useful “dialogue” to result.
I don’t know if the Border Patrol agent acted properly. Other agents with experience in these situations will have to determine that.
I am certain that what happened near Rio Bravo on Wednesday was not a morality-play parable exposing the vicious thuggery of the U.S. Border Patrol, the wrongness of the concept of national borders, or the evil nature of anyone’s political enemies.
It was an incident with an awful ending that no one wants. It needs investigation. Meanwhile, our policy focus — aside from border security, which we require at the very least to keep terrorists and criminals out — should be on stemming the tide of migration, by reviving programs to help pacify, modernize, and economically energize Central America. The day we see the local governments of Central America themselves in charge – fearless, and breaking the backs of MS-13 and other vicious cartel gangs – that’s the day the tide will start receding at our border.