Fox News and Trump are trying to manufacture another caravan crisis to argue for a border wall

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Fox News is cynically seizing on a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the U.S. southern border to bolster President Donald Trump’s political position after he partially shut down the government to obtain funding to build a border wall. The effort comes just months after Fox aired dozens of hours of fearmongering coverage about another caravan in a failed attempt to help the Republican Party win the 2018 midterm elections.

Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade made the network’s strategy explicit during Wednesday’s broadcast. “The big question is would this group, this caravan, this latest caravan, be heading toward the United States if there were a wall?” Doocy asked before criticizing Democrats for not negotiating with the president to end the shutdown.

Later in the show, Kilmeade asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the caravan helps Trump “sell his side of the story.” Sanders replied, “This is just another example of why the president's message has been right all along.”

On Monday night, a caravan of migrants bound for the United States began departing from a rally point in Honduras. Honduran officials estimate that between 800 and 2,000 people were in the caravan. The first members of the group crossed the Guatemalan border on Tuesday.

Fox has been covering the caravan since last Thursday, when correspondent Griff Jenkins first reported on Fox & Friends about an advertisement urging would-be migrants to assemble in Honduras. The network’s coverage has steadily increased ever since. On Tuesday, discussion of the caravan came up during 12 of the network’s 19 hours of live programming.

The network’s caravan fixation comes amid devastating new polls that show widespread opposition to Trump’s shutdown and wall. Fox’s right-wing hosts have been trying to use the caravan to rescue the president, repeatedly citing it as evidence that Trump was correct to partially shut down the government.

As early as last Friday, Sean Hannity argued that the then-nascent caravan would make the “humanitarian side of this crisis ... even more urgent” and called for the president to “address this crisis at our southern border” by declaring a national emergency to obtain funding for the wall, if necessary.

The next night -- several days before the caravan departed -- Jeanine Pirro argued that “you’re out-and-out crazy” if you disagree that the new caravan poses a national emergency. She described it as  “another caravan of thousands moving in a highly organized fashion similar to military convoys” and said its members have allegedly “exhibited violence” and include people “from Africa, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and more.”

By Tuesday, Lou Dobbs’ show was running alternating graphics stating “New caravan forms” and “Build the wall,” while Hannity was slamming Democrats for refusing to negotiate with Trump even “as a new migrant caravan is on the move now tonight.”

Fox’s all-consuming coverage has caught the eye of the president, who regularly watches hours of the network’s programming each day and uses it to inform his messaging.

When Trump called in to Pirro’s show for an interview minutes after her Saturday night monologue on the caravan, she asked about an “emergency at the southern border” and he listed the caravan among his evidence of a “crisis.”

And on Tuesday morning, Trump live-tweeted Fox & Friends’ caravan coverage, using it as the network had apparently intended -- as a weapon in his battle for a border wall.

Fox’s heavy caravan coverage, the unsubtle way in which its commentators use the issue to promote the president, and Trump’s own role in running with the network’s angle, all mimic what happened in the run-up to the midterm elections last October. As the migrant caravan traveled through Central America, Fox began flooding the zone with fearmongering coverage that stressed the supposed danger the migrants posed to Americans. The network’s commentators urged Republicans to make the caravan their central election issue, and a watching Trump began feverishly highlighting it in his public statements. The president’s remarks in turn turned the story into major news, and it consumed the other cable news networks as well as major newspapers in the final days of the campaign.

The strategy failed. Fox and Trump were able to focus attention on the issue of immigration, which may have energized some conservative voters. But Trump’s vicious immigration rhetoric “alienated everyone else.” Republicans were swamped at the polls and Democrats won back the House of Representatives.

But a few months later, they’ve taken up the strategy all over again.