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CNN Looks More Like A Breitbart-Lite After Publishing Xenophobic Clickbait Lacking Important Context

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CNN this week published a story that feeds right into the anti-immigrant narrative of the far-right, approaching the same xenophobic Bill Melugin/FOX News-like clickbait that we see on other channels. Specifically, the CNN story proclaimed that “[s]mugglers with ties to ISIS helped migrants enter the U.S., raising alarm bells across government.” While we need more information to this initial reporting, buried in the article is a key paragraph essentially throwing cold water on the sensationalized headline. 

“The intelligence community now believes it is unlikely that he was assisting these individuals at the behest of ISIS,” the report said. “Most are believed to be seeking a better life in the United States.” In a key quote, Adrienne Watson, National Security Council spokesman, said there “was no indication—and remains no indication—that any of the individuals facilitated by this network have a connection to a foreign terrorist organization or are engaged in plotting a terrorist attack in the United States.”

Let that sink in “no indication—and remains no indication…” and then try to square that with the headline and sensational claims elsewhere in the story. But without that important context featured just as prominently as the retweet-hungry clickbait, Republican lawmakers and prominent right-wing voices predictably ran with the information in order to disinform, misinform and advance their anti-immigrant and self-serving political agendas.

“Why doesn’t the Biden administration care about the disaster at the southern border?” House Judiciary chair Jim Jordan tweeted. Andy Biggs, an Arizona congressman who defied a subpoena related to his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and has since launched a bogus impeachment effort against President Biden, tweeted to his nearly 760,000 followers that “[a] terrorist with ties to ISIS helped to smuggle Uzbek nationals into our country. Our government has not yet tracked them down.” 

Note Rep. Biggs unqualified assertion that a “terrorist” was engaged in smuggling efforts soliciting an image of a nefarious plot that is contradictory to the facts at hand. In other words, Rep. Biggs is lying about what the story actually says, but can get away with it because most people just read the headline. Rep. Biggs tweet exemplifies how the right-wing misinformation machine plays a distorted game of telephone, stripping a bit of the necessary context or adding a bit of speculation or loosely-related assertions for maximum fearmongering and a bit more confusion.         

“We have no national security thanks to the Biden Administration’s open border,” Biggs continued.  The reality is that the border has never been more well-funded and harder to cross without detection. But as Rep. Biggs has done on many occasions, his social media echoes the messaging of anti-immigrant hate groups, as many other Republicans have done since the start of Biden’s presidency,

Unfortunately, we’re at a place in time where this dangerous clickbait can have violent and deadly consequences. Last week we witnessed Republican candidates at the first GOP presidential debate in Wisconsin calling for sending troops into Mexico. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has turned his call for leaving people “stone cold dead” at the border into an applause line. Even more disturbingly, he’s now selling campaign merchandise promoting this deadly violence.

Journalist and immigration expert Molly O’Toole breaks the CNN story down even more. “How are these key grafs [meaning: paragraphs], which undermine the entire framing of the story, so far down,” she questions:

“CNN also aired a segment on the story that ran a confusing chyron given what was reported in the segment ‘the Biden administration was able to understand this more as a case of kind of run-of-the-mill human smuggling less than a potential terrorist threat,” tweeted America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller.

“The CNN segment went on to say ‘U.S. officials now say no evidence that any of these migrants are involved in any terrorist ISIS plotting, ISIS planning.’ However the right-wing is now exploiting the headline to drive their nativist narratives.”

The clickbait comes as horrific tragedies in our communities continue to show that white supremacist violence remains the great domestic terror threat facing our nation, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and experts. Yet bad actors continue to portray all asylum-seekers arriving at the southern border as national security threats even as a racist gunman murdered three Black Americans simply going about their day in Jacksonville, Florida, just a few days ago. Sheriff T.K. Waters “said that the shooter made clear in his writings that he hated Black people,” the Associated Press reported

The shooting followed racist and antisemitic terror attacks in El Paso, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo in recent years. Earlier this year, again in El Paso, a gunman threatened a group of migrants who were gathered outside a church. The man reportedly claimed that he was “eyes for America.” The same man again harassed migrants outside a Greyhound station later that night, where he was reportedly heard saying “[t]his is my country” before being taken into custody.

“There are serious national security threats facing the nation but reporting needs to be honest about what those actually are & avoiding sensationalized headlines for difficult & nuanced stories that have the potential for dehumanizing disinformation is as critical as ever,” Mueller continued in his social media posts.