Last September, the Columbia Journalism Review (the preeminent journal covering the media) ran a story with headline, “Most Americans say they have lost trust in the media.” The report was based on a survey conducted by the Knight Foundation and the Gallup polling organization.
In most cases, the media don’t blatantly lie. They simply select facts that support their own biases, and omit facts that do not fit their narrative. There’s a reason why witnesses at trials are required to swear “to tell the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Much like the old baseball adage, “a half swing is a whole strike,” a half truth is the same as a whole lie.
An email that popped up in my inbox from CNN on Wednesday both piqued my interest, and affirmed the public’s mistrust of the news media. The subject line read: “CNN – Acting ICE Director: Economic aid to Central American Countries would reduce number of migrants.” The body of the email included a transcript of Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan’s interview on CNN’s Newsroom broadcast. It sounded interesting, so I read it. Twice.
The reason I read it twice was because nowhere in the transcript could I find anything that Morgan said that supported CNN’s assertion that he believes economic aid to Central American countries would reduce the number of migrants. To be fair, he didn’t say it wouldn’t; but nowhere in his remarks did Morgan say that economic aid was the cure, or even a partial cure, for the migration crisis.
The interviewer, Poppy Harlow, came loaded with a “gotcha” question for Morgan. The Trump administration recently cut economic aid to the primary migrant-sending countries, both because it was the only leverage they have to get those governments to do more to address conditions in those countries, and because the economic aid clearly isn’t helping the people who are fleeing those countries.
In the interest of presenting the whole truth, to follow are interviewer Poppy Harlow’s exact questions and Morgan’s exact answers regarding the efficacy of economic aid in reducing migration: (You can also watch the interview here.)
Harlow: You testified before the senate Homeland Security Committee back in 2016 and you said, quote, there are definite push factors, weak economies, weak government, violence, family reunification and economic quality. So you point to the economy as a big driver of those people to the United States. But as you know, just a few months ago, the Trump administration cut all economic aid to the northern triangle countries. And I just wonder if you’re worried that that is going to make the situation worse and if that has exacerbated the — the crisis.
MORGAN: So, from a law enforcement perspective, if you look at that, with the information intelligence shows that they are coming here largely for economic equality and then to some degree for family reunification. And what we’ve shown, regardless of what’s happening or not in the northern triangle countries, the numbers continue to exceed. And they really continue to exceed because of the incentives.
Right now — and the cartels are making sure that — that everyone in the northern triangle countries know, if you grab a child and you come to our borders, you will be allowed into the United States, and largely to remain there untouched. They know that. That’s what’s driving them to come, the overwhelming. But right now 75 percent — up to 75 percent of the people coming across are family units or unaccompanied children.
Do you see anything in Morgan’s response that indicates a belief that economic aid reduced migration? Neither did I. In fact, he is pretty emphatic that what is driving mass migration is that showing up with a child in tow pretty much guarantees that you will be allowed to “remain [here]untouched.”
Not deterred by the lack of the desired response, Harlow tries again. So, again, here is exactly what she asked and exactly what he answered:
HARLOW: Except — so I — I hear you. But when you talk about sort of what the data shows, our colleague, Jake Tapper, reported just a few months ago, based on State Department data, that in El Salvador, for example, because of the aid you had the violence go down, the homicides go down. The Global Leadership Coalition, which is retired military leaders and diplomats and members of Congress say that not only did the aid work, but it delivered a return on investment for the American taxpayer.
Would more economic aid to the northern triangle countries be helpful to you?
MORGAN: For — from my perspective, of course. Just like the governor of Mexico, even though the governor of Mexico, for decades, has refused to step up and do what they said, we still continue to work with them. And we should still continue to work with the — the governments of the northern triangle countries to help them in any way they can. Absolutely.
But that’s not going to address the pull factors that our broken asylum laws are really largely responsible for these individuals coming to our country. It’s our own laws that are producing the incentives and pull factors to come.”
This time Morgan agrees that, in the abstract, economic aid to the Northern Triangle countries would be “helpful,” and that we should “continue to work with” and “help [these countries]in any way we can.” Still, far short of a definitive declaration that doing so would stem the mass migration. In the context of his entire statement, it is clear that Morgan is saying that under the right circumstances, economic aid could be beneficial to addressing some of the economic push factors of mass migration.
But, even more importantly, in the very next breath, Morgan does make a definitive assertion. About as unambiguously as it can possibly be stated, Morgan asserts that it is the pull factors – namely our own laws – that are the driving force behind the migration crisis.
If I’m umpiring this game, I’m calling CNN’s headline a half swing and a whole lie.