Fox News dominates coverage of caged migrants in El Paso with anti-immigrant fearmongering, pro-government spin, and calls for stricter laws

Fox coverage frequently framed the inhumane conditions as an unfortunate necessity, and suggested solutions including “deport Central Americans right away”

In keeping with the network’s well-known brand of conservative misinformation, Fox News is dominating cable coverage of migrants caged by Customs and Border Protection in a parking lot in El Paso. Fox’s coverage -- from both the “news” and opinion divisions -- is predictable, suggesting that the migrants could be dangerous, immigration is out of control, and drastic measures including shutting down the border and mass deportations may be necessary.

On March 27, Washington Post reporter Nick Miroff tweeted images of CBP-detained migrants in El Paso, TX, behind a makeshift cage underneath a bridge “in the parking lot of a Border Patrol station because there is no room for them inside, or anywhere else.”

Since the photographs were first released through publication on March 29, Media Matters found that of the three major cable news networks, CNN aired just one segment on the situation in El Paso, and MSNBC aired three. In contrast, Fox News aired 10 segments -- more than double the coverage of both other networks combined.

CNN’s one segment was thoughtful and compassionate, and MSNBC’s Ali Velshi aired an informative backgrounder immediately followed by a policy discussion with a congressional critic of Trump’s border policy. But Fox News dominated coverage of this important story with anti-immigrant spin and calls for stricter laws.

News division reporter Casey Stegall claimed that the images showed “what the government is having to resort to,” suggesting that CBP had no choice but to cage people in a parking lot, exposed to the elements. Stegall warned that the “giant, makeshift detention cell” in El Paso “didn’t seem all that stable,” and voiced concerns from the “boots on the ground” -- CBP -- that “they worry about people getting angry, people losing their patience, and things getting out of control quickly.”

An hour later on America’s Newsroom, guest anchor Julie Banderas said that the “36,000 migrant families [who] arrived in El Paso” in fiscal year 2019 meant that we must “get Mexico to do something” about the influx of immigrants, or failing that, it might be time to “shut the border.” The El Paso photos, however, were not shown or specifically mentioned.

In a segment about the El Paso photos and CBP’s claims of an approaching “breaking point” at the border, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich complained that Congress hasn’t changed any laws to “stop this at its source with the asylum claims” or to make it easier for authorities to “deport Central Americans right away,” forcing CBP to “put them under a bridge.” She added that “this is not humane, but this is the only choice” CBP has. Pavlich also fearmongered about new migrants “filling stadiums and stadiums full of people” and said “it’s unfair to put Border Patrol and ICE agents into this position because they’re being accused of being inhumane when Congress isn’t changing the laws,” seeming to endorse the allegedly humane alternative of mass deportations.

The hosts of the March 29 edition of Fox & Friends used the images of caged migrants in El Paso to fearmonger about another caravan, dubbed “the mother of all caravans.” While airing images of the caged El Paso migrants, co-host Brian Kilmeade warned that with both groups, “we don’t even know the criminals that, percentage-wise, are probably in that mix” and “trying to bust through” to the United States. Despite the fearmongering, co-host Steve Doocy eventually admitted that “we don't know whether or not the 'mother of all caravans' is heading our way.”

The story of the people CBP has caged in El Paso is the latest expression of a well-defined trend: Fox News dominates discussion of important political issues by its sheer volume of coverage, allowing conservatives to set a misleading framing that ultimately misinforms discussions happening elsewhere.

Methodology: Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News programming from 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 27 to Friday, March 29 for mentions of “El Paso,” “bridge,” or “parking lot.”