Broadcast networks’ prime-time news shows fell for Donald Trump’s border trap

By failing to contextualize an “alarming” immigration video with Trump’s efforts to kill a bipartisan border security bill, the Big Three networks are unwittingly bolstering his campaign

Nightly broadcast news shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC have recently aired video from the New York Post showing a group of migrants breaking through a razor wire border fence in El Paso, Texas.

While two networks noted the relevancy to Texas’ racial-profiling immigration law SB 4, none mentioned that former President Donald Trump killed a bipartisan border security bill full of right-wing policies, enabling him to use this sort of spectacle at the border to campaign on immigration.

The New York Post’s video was first picked up by CBS during the March 21 edition of CBS Evening News, the same day the Murdochs’ publication broke the story. The short segment featured a brief clip from CBS’ interview with Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens, who maintained — as guest anchor Jericka Duncan paraphrased — that “the U.S. needs tougher policies to deter illegal crossings.”

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Citation From the March 21, 2024, edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Norah O'Donnell

CBS could have mentioned some of the tough policies in the failed border security bill, but the network declined to do so.

The next day, ABC’s and NBC’s evening shows each dedicated nearly 2 minutes of coverage to the Post’s video, which ABC described as “alarming."

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Citation From the March 22, 2024, edition of NBC's NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

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Citation From the March 22, 2024, edition of ABC's ABC World News Tonight with David Muir

Both stories connected the incident to Senate Bill 4, Texas’ unconstitutional attempt to effectively legalize racial profiling and mass deportations, which is currently mired in legal challenges. While the potential impact of SB 4 offers important context to immigration stories coming out of Texas, it doesn’t paint the full picture of immigration’s broader role in the 2024 presidential election like the failure of the border bill does.

As all three prime-time shows reported back in January, Trump directed Republicans to kill the hardline border security bill so he could campaign on immigration. This time, broadcast networks’ failure to offer even a brief mention of that context played right into his hands.

When the right-wing media ecosystem inevitably produces another border spectacle like the Post’s, the mainstream networks should not omit that crucial detail.