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  • NY Times reporter explains how media outlets fall for Trump’s racism

    Maggie Haberman: Trump issues a "mushy edged-statement," "waits for media reaction," "then screams he was taken out of context"

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s defenders are attacking the media, claiming that his recent comments -- in which he called some undocumented immigrants “animals” in response to a question about suspected members of the gang MS-13 -- were taken out of context. But The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman explained that attacking the media for reporting on his vague, often racially coded statements has been a core part of Trump’s playbook since at least 2015.

    During a roundtable discussion on May 16 about California’s so-called sanctuary laws, Trump responded to a vague, hypothetical comment about suspected MS-13 members from a local sheriff by saying, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    His remark was unspecific and made no explicit reference to gang members. Media outlets reported on his ambiguous statement with headlines noting that he had referred to some undocumented immigrants as “animals.” Trump-friendly media outlets responded by accusing the media of taking his remarks out of context, arguing that he was referring explicitly to MS-13 gang members, even though that was not made clear in his statement. Trump echoed the talking point to his millions of Twitter followers on Friday, and as a result, at least one outlet, CNN, caved to right-wing pressure, clarifying its statement and criticizing coverage from other outlets.

    Haberman took to Twitter to explain how Trump’s vague, coded statements have provided him cover from criticism in the past, allowing him to dodge charges of racism, attack the media, and manipulate their coverage of him:

  • Conservative media disingenuously demanding context about Trump’s “animals” comment have ignored that same context for years

    Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.

    During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:

    “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”

    Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”

    Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.

    The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.

    Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.

    Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.

  • White supremacists praise John Kelly's disparaging of undocumented immigrants

    The hosts of the white supremacist show Fash the Nation also claimed that appointing Kris Kobach as Secretary of Homeland Security "sounds like a good plan"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's disparaging comments against undocumented immigrants, the white supremacist hosts of the podcast Fash the Nation praised his remarks, and added that Kelly referred to people who give their kids "made up bullshit names."

    During an interview with NPR, Kelly claimed that undocumented immigrants are "not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously, that’s a big thing. ... They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills." On the latest episode of the racist podcast Fash the Nation -- produced by white nationalist podcast hub The Right Stuff -- the hosts (who go by the names Jazzhands McFeels and Marcus Halberstram) agreed with Kelly's remarks and claimed that counterarguments pointing to Kelly's Irish immigrant heritage should be discounted, as "the Irish are European. We're not talking about Europeans. We're talking about third-world primitives who basically are still practicing human sacrifice in many ways."     

    From the May 12 edition of The Right Stuff's Fash the Nation:

    MARCUS HALBERSTRAM (HOST): Reading ahead a little bit, I see this article: "John Kelly says undocumented immigrants don't have skills to assimilate into U.S. society." Now this is obviously true and should be [a] completely uncontroversial statement but -- I'm surprised I didn't hear about this, some screeching about this on like Raw Story or whatever.  

    JAZZHANDS MCFEELS (HOST): Oh, well, this has been at least all of Friday and possibly part of Thursday. This and the White House staffer saying that, "well, McCain is dying anyway," have been like -- have been the premier stories on cable news. MSNBC, Bloomberg, CNN, everything has been wall to wall John Kelly. And of course, they're doing the usual bit of "well, John Kelly's Irish immigrant ancestors weren't welcome here either" and all that, the usual nonsense. And of course, The Washington Post tried to roll out this story. Of course, the headline was "John Kelly disparages rural people in America, Trump's base." That's not who he was talking about, at all. But of course, they run with that to make it seem like, you know -- low info voters will buy into that and think that Kelly's turning his back on white ruralites but that's just not the case, he's talking about --

    HALBERSTRAM: Dude, if anyone ever busts out the "mah Irish" argument, you just respond by saying, "yeah and if the Irish still -- didn't speak the correct language and wore garish, outlandish clothing, and gave made up bullshit names to their children, and bastardized the language completely when they did learn it, everybody would still hate them.”

    MCFEELS: Yeah.

    HALBERSTRAM: End of story.

    MCFEELS: Yeah. and the Irish are European. So, we're not talking about Europeans. We're talking about third-world primitives who basically are still practicing human sacrifice in many ways, heads on spikes on the border and stuff like that.

    HALBERSTRAM: People who never achieved any sort of civilization. It's the most like -- if society weren't all so like Jew-deized, this is just common sense, like people who can't form the basis of civilization on their own, it's like yeah, sure, they can come here, perform some sort of function and perhaps even flourish in the system that we have built, but you can't have too many of these people here because then their civilizational inability starts to manifest itself.

    MCFEELS: Yeah and with the way that the judicial system has been set up and the legal system, and the laws and legislation, you can't have any of them here because you get one in here and then that's like the anchor to get like all the rest of them with chain migration and everything else. And it's just a terrible thing, and of course, the other thing is and the argument we've made many times and others have made this argument as well, is that not only are these people not compatible with modern society, is that they're about to be made obsolete by automation. So the last thing, and this is looking far down the road but, 20 years from now when a lot of this stuff, farming and everything else becoming automated ... These people are gonna be -- what is their purpose here?

    HALBERSTRAM: One more scheme to get a little cheap labor and then you end up with this seething underclass of like, alien peoples. Gee, why does this sound so familiar?

    MCFEELs: Yeah, obsolete farm equipment is not what we need. Now, this is the quote from John Kelly. Now, he sounds "cucky" at first but you'll see what he really means here. … [reads quote of John Kelly] ... I mean, you can't really argue with that, and actually, a high number of them are criminals. Even if they're not in MS13, they're stealing identities, they're doing all manners of things before they even get to the United States. And by virtue of the fact that they're not sending their best, we're getting the worst people. So the ones that Mexico wants to keep are the ones that work hard and that pay their taxes and that don't commit crimes, so most of those people, whatever number there are of them, are staying in Mexico. The worst ones are coming here.

    [...]

    HALBERSTRAM: Yeah, I'm not on Twitter right now, otherwise I'd track that dude [Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post] down and have juxtaposed like, a normal looking guy in a plaid shirt and a trucker hat versus some like squat Indian, like, this is what we're talking about bro, and you know it as well as I do.

    During the show, the white supremacist hosts floated making Secretary of State of Kansas Kris Kobach Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach, an anti-immigration activist who is also a Breitbart columnist, has a history of criminalizing immigrants and has ties to white supremacy.

  • Homeland Security Secretary uses Fox News interview to lie about violence against border patrol agents

    As the Trump administration moves to house immigrant children in sheds, conservatives aim to gin up sympathy for the detainers

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    On May 16, Fox’s Laura Ingraham hosted Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on The Ingraham Angle for a softball interview in which Nielsen falsely claimed that there has been a 73 percent increase in assaults on border patrol agents. Ingraham’s failure to push back on Nielsen’s lie is representative of Fox’s recent strategy of circulating DHS’ lies in order to help foster sympathy for federal immigration agents who are terrorizing immigrant families.

    Last night on her show, Ingraham played a clip of a Senate hearing in which Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked Nielsen about DHS’ new policy that would separate immigrant families at the border and then asked, “How do you as DHS secretary combat ... the emotional push on this?” Nielsen responded, “It is the law,” adding, “For every [immigrant] sob story, we have 73 percent border assault increase. We have people like Kate Steinle. Where is the compassion for the flip side of this conversation?”

    Nielsen’s claim that there has been a 73 percent increase in “border assault,” presumably meaning assaults on Border Patrol agents, is false. According to The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency within DHS, has “falsely and grossly inflat[ed] the data” on cases of assault at the southern border, “making it appear to the public that far more agents were assaulted.”

    In the past, Ingraham and Fox News have done their part to hype DHS’ false narrative that agents are under attack and to promote the agency’s brand. Earlier this year, Ingraham and her Fox cohorts spent weeks distorting the facts of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez’s death to claim that he was the victim of a “vicious attack” at the southern border. But evidence indicated that Martinez’s death was an accident, and the FBI said it had “found no evidence of a homicide.” President Donald Trump repeated Fox’s botched reporting during a speech yesterday, calling Martinez’s death “horrific” and “violent.”

    In March, a spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) San Francisco field office resigned in protest after being asked to repeat the agency’s lie that “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community” as a result of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn her community about ICE raids. The lie was repeated on Fox throughout February and March, but a correction was never issued.

    And Fox’s morning show, Fox & Friends, repeatedly hosted representatives of Border Patrol-related organizations to praise the hosts for covering the asylum seekers fleeing violence in the “caravan” from Central America as “dangerous criminals” who were “going to come here and break the law.” The show has been criticized by others for this distorted and incendiary coverage.

  • Fox's botched reporting about a deceased border patrol agent makes it into Trump's speech to police officers

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During a speech on May 15 at a memorial for fallen police officers, President Donald Trump spoke at length about a deceased border patrol agent, Rogelio Martinez, whose mysterious death was hyped repeatedly on Fox News in an attempt to cast undocumented immigrants as violent. The network omitted key facts of the case to argue that Martinez was killed in “an apparent ambush” by immigrants at the border, but investigators and FBI officials say his death was likely an accident and that there’s no evidence of a homicide.

    At the memorial, Trump described Martinez’s death as “horrific” and “violent” and underscored that Martinez “bravely confronted the cartels, the smugglers, the human traffickers, the gangs that threaten our communities.” His language was reminiscent of that of Fox News hosts, who had described Martinez’s death as “gruesome” and a “vicious attack” and “apparent ambush.”

    But Fox’s reporting was incomplete and misleading. It was based almost entirely on claims from the union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents, and the network almost entirely ignored evidence from medical investigators and the FBI that showed Martinez’s death was likely the result of a lethal fall.

    Today, Trump appeared to repeat Fox’s flawed reporting and used Martinez’s death to advance his extremist immigration policies:

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Also here with us today is the family of border patrol agent Rogelio Martinez from El Paso, Texas. Agent Martinez, known as Roger to his friends and family, worked on a dangerous part of the southern border, a part that you've been reading about so much lately, and a part that we're doing a lot with. Agent Martinez took immense pride and joy in serving his country as a border patrol agent. He was extremely proud of what he did. Every day he would go to work and risk his life to keep America safe. Roger said he wanted to prevent terrorists and drugs from coming into our country. We all do. And we're going to get it done. But that's exactly what he did.

    He bravely confronted the cartels, the smugglers, the human traffickers, the gangs that threaten our communities. One night last November, Agent Martinez died in the line of duty. It was horrific, it was violent, and he was brave. To Agent Martinez's mom, Eliva, his son, Sergio, and the entire Martinez family, Roger's profound and unselfish love of country is an inspiration to every American.

  • ICE is wrongly designating immigrants as gang members to deport them -- and conservatives are thrilled

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has repeatedly used ambiguous criteria to wrongfully accuse undocumented Latino immigrants of being affiliated with gangs -- often the brutal, Los Angeles-founded street gang MS-13 -- as a pretense to arrest them. Right-wing media outlets have responded by hyping the narrative of the prevalence in the U.S. of MS-13 to promote ICE.

    There have been a number of reports that ICE uses vague and sometimes overly broad criteria to wrongfully label a person as affiliated with a gang, which allows officers to arrest people without a criminal warrant. The result is unjustified arrests of law-abiding undocumented immigrants and overinflated numbers of how many undocumented immigrants are gang members, which right-wing media broadcast to their audiences without proper context.

    Last week, hosts and guests on Fox News mentioned gangs in the context of immigration on at least five different occasions. The Washington Examiner and Drudge Report also hopped on the bandwagon.

    But according to a CityLab report, gang databases maintained by states and ICE are often “riddled with error.” The report pointed to California’s CalGang database as an example, which has been shown to include “unfounded entries” and “hundreds of names that should have been purged years ago.” Many juveniles were added to this database without being notified, and some of the information in these databases may be violating individuals’ privacy rights, the report states. The New Yorker reported that “ICE identifies someone as a gangster if he meets at least two criteria from a long list that includes ‘having gang tattoos,’ ‘frequenting an area notorious for gangs,’ and ‘wearing gang apparel.’” And The Intercept wrote that “gang documentation is a unilateral designation by law enforcement and is extremely difficult to challenge in criminal court. … Challenging gang classification by law enforcement is more difficult during deportation proceedings because defendants cannot compel the government to disclose the evidence against them as they can in criminal court.”

    As a result of these tactics, ICE has been targeting undocumented immigrants who haven’t been shown to be involved in any criminal activity. Daniel Ramirez Medina, for example, who was supposed to be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was placed in ICE custody, supposedly for gang involvement, for more than six weeks before being released. According to The Intercept, “the sum of the evidence is a tattoo on his arm that immigration officials believe is gang related, and statements that he allegedly made in custody” about people he spends time with. Similarly, ICE arrested -- and used excessive force against -- Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez after police erroneously identified him as a gang member. He was left with a fractured shoulder and loss of vision in one eye, and was denied proper medical attention while in custody. The New Yorker reported that because of ICE’s “nebulous indicators,” a teenager in Long Island, NY, was put in deportation proceedings for reasons including that he wore a Brooklyn Nets hat and allegedly performed “a gang handshake.” The third reason was his girlfriend: a 16-year-old U.S. citizen who had been kidnapped by a previous boyfriend after she ended their relationship when she found out he was an MS-13 member. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that the tactic of “using unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation to illegally detain teenagers” encourages profiling of Latinos, and the organization has filed a lawsuit alleging that federal immigration authorities were “wrongfully arresting Latino teens in New York” based on unfounded gang-related charges.

    Right-wing outlets are uninterested in telling such stories.

    Appearing on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom last week, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) pointed to Operation Raging Bull -- an anti-gang operation led by ICE in 2016 and 2017 -- to demonstrate the alleged pervasiveness of immigrant gang members in the U.S. When that operation concluded, the right-wing media sphere was set ablaze with headlines trumpeting ICE’s arrest of between 200 and 300 gang members (the final count was 214 arrests in the U.S.). But the right-wing media outcry breezed over the fact that more than half of those swept up in ICE’s “gang crackdown” were arrested not on criminal charges but on immigration violations.

    Misinformation about MS-13 is particularly prevalent among right-wing outlets, but mainstream media are also sometimes guilty of dramatizing coverage of the gang. Fordham Law professor John Pfaff once called out The Washington Post for “extrapolat[ing]” facts about MS-13’s presence in Long Island, NY, and Northern Virginia “to the nation as a whole” and warned of “the uncritical acceptance of law enforcement’s narrative.”