CNN’s recent coverage has framed immigration developments like the now-postponed end of Title 42 and recent migrant crossings into El Paso, Texas, around right-wing narratives. The network seems to be taking cues from Fox News, condemning the supposed “crisis” at the border and leveraging crossings to speculate that an end to Title 42 will lead to an influx of migrants.
The right-wing media apparatus continues to successfully impact the overall media landscape, shaping an air of chaos and disarray that may have ultimately contributed to the postponement, once again, of the end of Title 42.
Early on December 12, Fox News – and, subsequently, CNN – picked up coverage of a large group of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border near El Paso, Texas. A large portion of the group are from Nicaragua and have fled political instability, violence, or persecution in their home countries and on their way to the U.S. border. The estimated 1,500 migrants had crossed the Rio Grande into the El Paso area of the southern border, initiating asylum requests within the country, as legally required. U.S. and international law protects asylum-seekers from being turned away if they are unable to return to their home country because of past or future persecution. But with the Trump-era Title 42 policy in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants have been turned around in large numbers through the temporary emergency public health measure.
Right-wing media have led a racist and inflammatory campaign against the end of Title 42, which was set to expire at midnight on December 21. The policy will remain in place for now after 19 Republican states filed an emergency application for the Supreme Court to issue an administrative stay, which was granted by Chief Justice John Roberts. The right-wing media apparatus has spent months fearmongering that the policy’s removal would lead to increased crime and drug trafficking, “potential terrorists” coming through the border, and would lead to demographic changes. (Even if Title 42 were to stay in place, there are some populations of migrants, such as those arriving from Nicaragua, who cannot be turned away because of strained diplomatic ties.) Officials estimate that 2.4 million migrants have been turned away from the border since Title 42’s implementation, but that number may be inflated due to multiple crossings by the same individuals.
Right-wing media frequently target migrants and immigration policies with fearmongering and racist attacks. In particular, Fox News spent the first half of 2022 peddling lies and conspiracy theories about migrants, whether it was pushing the “great replacement” theory or falsely decrying President Joe Biden’s “open border” policies. Cable networks like CNN have also jumped on this bandwagon in 2022, echoing right-wing talking points about a potential influx of migrants with the end of Title 42 and downplaying the seriousness of GOP governors’ immigration stunts. CNN leadership has also been pushing the network toward a more “neutral” tone on programming, which so far has resulted in positioning the network to capture the right-wing audience.
While covering what was expected to be the final days of Title 42, CNN and Fox News both chose to leverage the El Paso crossing to speculate about a post-Title 42 era without much, if any, context as to why there has been a recent uptick in border encounters. These networks chose to pick up the story only once it reached the border, rather than giving proper context for the driving factors for migration or touching on the humanitarian impact of these policies. Instead, the networks chose to fearmonger about a supposedly unsecure border, citing inherently inflated Customs and Border Patrol encounter statistics as evidence of disarray instead of an indication of vastly improved border security in comparison to other eras.
- On CNN’s This Morning on December 13, reporter Priscilla Alvarez quoted only Customs and Border Patrol in her report to contextualize what’s happening in El Paso as a “major surge in illegal crossings.”
- CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on December 13 blamed the “recent surge of migrants on the border” on the expected end of Title 42.
- On the December 14 edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Bolduan, correspondent Ed Lavandera cited concerns that the ending of Title 42 would cause migrant surges, ignoring his own reporting that for “many of the migrants we have spoken to tell us they are no even aware of what is happening with Title 42.”
- In the December 13 episode of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, anchor Jake Tapper asked Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) to confirm that the crossings constitute a “crisis,” noting that “it looks like one from where I am sitting.” Tapper also suggested that Biden go to the border in El Paso to “kick some butts and get the funding and relief that you need.”
- On December 14, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) appeared on CNN’s This Morning to urge the Biden administration to keep Title 42 and secure the border, saying, “The only thing that the border control is doing is processing a lot of them to come into the U.S. and then returning some of them under Title 42. If Title 42 goes away, this is going to just open up a lot of large numbers of people coming to border communities.” Cuellar continued to speak about other countries where migrants could seek asylum as opposed to the United States, and anchor Kaitlan Collins offered no pushback.
- On the December 14 edition of CNN’s This Morning, host Don Lemon described a “surge” and “crisis” in El Paso and offered no pushback to Alvarez’s speculation that this “may just be the beginning of this challenge” when Title 42 is lifted.
- On the December 15 edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Bolduan, Lavandera said the “intense” number of migrants in El Paso could be “just a fraction of what is coming” once Title 42 is lifted.
- On the December 16 edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Bolduan, correspondent Rosa Flores described the El Paso crossing as just a “sliver of the pie” and said the administration is hiring civilian contractors to process migrants so that Border Patrol can “actually do their jobs of national security.”
- CNN intelligence analyst John Miller and CNN Newsroom anchor Ana Cabrera stressed that cartels and Chinese money-laundering groups are getting “big money” due to “Mexican drug cartels that have taken over the human-trafficking business.”
Over on Fox News, as the tone of its border coverage spills across the media landscape, the network has described uncontrolled chaos, with frightening rhetoric and imagery:
- America’s Newsroom hosted Texas’ Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on December 13 to echo themes from the white nationalist great replacement theory, criticizing the Biden administration for “letting millions of people come in and [overrun] this country.” Patrick also expressed that Biden is allowing “our country to be invaded” by “an invading army of millions of immigrants who come here illegally,” which he believes is an impeachable offense.
- On the December 15 edition of America Reports, Fox News’ southern border correspondent Bill Melugin not only cited Border Patrol as the only source in his report, but he also zeroed in on “over 3,000 pounds of liquid meth” being seized at the southern border as evidence of rampant drug smuggling, even though the drugs in his report were caught.
- While speaking with Faulkner Focus anchor Harris Faulkner on December 13, Melugin claimed that “hundreds of [migrants] have been released by Border Patrol to the streets in El Paso in part because of that large caravan that came in over the weekend and because of those huge numbers they’re seeing.”
- During the December 12 edition of The Faulkner Focus, Faulkner complained that there was “yet another caravan” and that the asylum-seekers and migrants were “breaching our sovereignty in El Paso.”
- During The Ingraham Angle on December 14, Fox News host Laura Ingraham claimed that the Biden administration “roots for” an “unparalleled border surge,” calling the supposed surge a “purposeful, willful, wanton, intentional effort to overwhelm our Border Patrol” with “sex traffickers, cartel hit men, child molesters, and even … convicted murderers.”
- On December 14, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy called the situation at the southern border “an invasion” and lambasted both the Biden administration, for supposedly not declaring an emergency to release federal funds to the border, and the mayor of El Paso, for not declaring a state of emergency.
- On December 16, America’s Newsroom anchor Bill Hemmer reported on the “five days until the floodgates open,” anticipating that the end of Title 42 will “unleash pandemonium at the border.”
- On December 19, Fox & Friends co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy claimed that the Biden administration had signaled that the southern border is “open for business,” and that the Biden administration is “partnering with the cartels to do the last leg of the journey with your tax dollars,” calling it “the worst case of gaslighting I’ve ever seen.”
- On the December 19 edition of Fox & Friends, correspondent Peter Doocy connected the end of Title 42 to overflowing shelters in El Paso.
- On the December 18 edition of Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo, Bartiromo hosted Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who fearmongered about migrant criminality, harping on the “rapist to murderers to sex offenders” crossing through the border. Patrick also pushed a slew of great replacement narratives such as stating that Biden is “allowing America to be invaded.”