Several mainstream TV news networks are pushing right-wing talking points in their coverage of recent immigration stunts by Republican governors. Instead of providing factual reporting on immigration in the United States, CNN, NBC, and MSNBC are misrepresenting the issue by giving credence to this framing.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration lied to a group of migrants in Texas, telling them they had free flights to Boston and then dropping them off in Martha’s Vineyard without informing local authorities. This move comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent groups of migrants to New York and Washington D.C.
Political stunts like these have generated lots of attention and praise from right-wing media. This year, Fox News has pushed several debunked and racist narratives on immigration, including the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. Fox’s claim that migrants and asylum seekers are “invading” the United States has now become an accepted position among the majority of Americans, according to one poll.
Relocating migrants to sanctuary cities has been facetiously heralded by many in the right-wing media ecosystem as a brilliant political strategy to force supposedly apathetic Democrat-controlled areas to confront the growing crisis along the southern border. Many have also mocked Vice President Kamala Harris’ comment that the border is “secure” and used it as evidence that DeSantis and Abbott are forcing the conversation.
In their own coverage, mainstream TV news networks are ceding rhetorical ground to the anti-immigrant right as the nation's eyes are locked on Martha's Vineyard. By raising alarm over the number of immigrants crossing the border and gesturing to the supposed “benefits” of the cruel stunt, these outlets are losing focus on conservatives' role as architects of the current humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
This is a pattern mainstream media has fallen into before. The initial framing of the “border crisis” was pushed by right-wing media and quickly became the dominant framing of border issues in the national news. During the media frenzy over the “migrant caravan” in 2018, right-wing media pushed the story, and mainstream networks ultimately followed.
Below are examples of CNN, MSNBC, and NBC adopting right-wing framing on the current situation at the border in discussions of Abbott and DeSantis’ immigration stunts:
- During the September 15 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, CNN anchor John Berman asked Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist to respond to the “underlying point” being made by DeSantis and Abbott that “certain parts of the country, perhaps the Northeast, places like Martha's Vineyard, don't grasp the impact of what they call illegal immigration.”
- On the September 16 edition of Morning Joe, MSNBC’s Willie Geist claimed that “it’s objectively true” that there’s a “crisis” at the border because “you have two million migrants being arrested,” before noting DeSantis’ stunt “is not the way to handle it obviously.”
- On the September 16 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Alisyn Camerota pushed back on Crist calling DeSantis’ stunt “kidnapping,” and asked if it’s “really kidnapping” since migrants were treated “humanely” once they arrived to Martha’s Vineyard. Camerota said, “Yes, they were lured under false pretenses, that’s true, but when they got to Martha’s Vineyard they were certainly treated very humanely. … The entire island came together to find them shelter and to get them food and to get them to a place where they can be processed. Is that really kidnapping?”
- Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on September 16, MSNBC host Al Sharpton condemned DeSantis’ stunt, but said, “This does not take away from the fact we have legitimate problems at the border. The border is not secure, but how you respond to that and who you target in that response is very interesting and troubling to me.”
- On the September 15 edition of CNN Tonight, anchor Laura Coates said, “I believe there is fair criticism about why there has not been the visiting to the border to see the issues that are there,” and echoed criticism of Harris’ handling of the border “given her repertoire includes this issue,” and said people view the border as “porous.”
- In an appearance on the September 16 edition of New Day, CNN’s Chris Wallace asserted, “There are two sides to this story,” and while “you may not like the tactics of DeSantis or Abbott,” the Republican governors have “accomplished their mission.”
- On NBC’s Meet the Press from September 18, host Chuck Todd said he thinks it’s “easy to condemn what Gov. DeSantis did,” before immediately pointing to supposed inaction from the Biden administration out of “concern that the administration just doesn't want to deal with this right now because of the politics of it.”
- During the September 16 edition of Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough criticized “progressives” for calling hysteria over immigration and a supposedly open border a “right-wing talking point,” and said Democrats “have to stop ignoring [immigration],” before denouncing DeSantis’ stunt as “inhumane” and “sick.”
- On CNN’s September 18 edition of State of the Union, host Jake Tapper downplayed the relocation of migrants as “trolling” on the part of DeSantis and Abbott, before agreeing that the Biden administration has not given enough attention to the border and shifting the conversation to border security.
- Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on September 15, MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan stated that DeSantis was playing to the “national scene” in a successful stunt designed to attract Republican donors, claiming that he was working to “excite the populist Trumpian base” that supports his campaign.
- On September 15, while interviewing a caregiver attending to a bus of migrants sent by Abbott to Washington, D.C., CNN’s Kate Bolduan raised the question of whether these stunts were “working,” to which the guest answered positively.
- In a discussion on the September 15 edition of CNN’s OutFront, anchor Erin Burnett pointed to the national coverage of the relocation, asking if there was “any benefit” to DeSantis’ strategy, before agreeing that it drew attention to the issue. CNN contributor David Urban, a former Trump administration staffer, refused to condemn the stunt (without challenge from Burnett), before repeatedly attacking the Biden administration’s lack of action on the border.