PoliticsMidterm Elections


Covering The Caravan — Without Amplifying Political Rhetoric

Critics are blaming outlets for covering the caravan too much. But a journalism professor says it all depends on the depth of the coverage.
Posted at 6:49 PM, Nov 05, 2018

With the elections hours away, President Donald Trump continues to thrill his base with unfounded declarations about the caravan of migrants, which is weeks away from reaching the U.S. border. 

"The lawless caravan, the one you've been watching, come from 20 different countries and include among them criminals and gang members convicted of crimes ranging from armed robbery to sexual assault," Trump said at a rally in West Virginia on Friday. 

"We're not letting these people invade our country," Trump said at a rally in Georgia on Sunday.

It's no secret the president is hoping to create a sense of national emergency in order to rile up his voters, and in order to divert the nation's attention away from less flattering issues. And as always, he can count on his allies in the media to help him achieve just that.

"It's a health issue, we don't know what people have coming in here, we have disease in this country we haven't had for decades," Fox News host Laura Ingraham said.   

"There is a substantial set of people who are law-breakers, who are dangerous, who are MS-13 members," former Speaker of the House and Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said. 

But, some commentators are also blaming less conservative outlets for covering the caravan too much — even if that coverage is fact-based and balanced. They say that giving the issue "such large doses of attention" plays into the president's hands.

On the other hand, many journalists, including New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro, argue that thousands of migrants heading towards the U.S. during the midterms is QUOTE "news, plain & simple."

So who's right here? And how should journalists cover the caravan without amplifying Trump's rhetoric or that of his opponents?

"The fact that Trump has a flamboyant, sensationalist, basically delusional sound bite about it does not mean that it's not a story," said Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin.  

Gitlin says there are plenty of important news stories related to the caravan; but the key is to take viewers beyond the president's sensational tweets.

"We have to see these as facets of a gigantic story about what's really driving the world. And it's this combination of corruption, invasion, drug trafficking, money laundering, etcetera." 

Guatemela, Honduras  and El Salvador, where most of the caravan migrants come from, have some of the highest homicide rates in North and South America. That violence has been spurred by gang activity, drug trafficking and poverty. 

And these issues are directly connected to U.S. political meddling decades ago and continued U.S. demand for drugs.  

"So the United States, here, is not simply a receptacle for desperate people, it's also part of the problem and important part of the problem that generates this eagerness to move and get someplace safe," Gitlin said.

"Things should be reported even if Trump wants to exploit them. They should just be reported intelligently and spaciously rather than hysterically," Gitlin added. 

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN