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When It Comes To The Top Purveyors Of The Anti-Immigrant Disinformation Pipeline, Few Are Worse Than Fox News’ Bill Melugin

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There’s A Reason Why Melugin Is A Favorite Of Anti-Immigrant Lawmakers, Candidates, And Their Allies

If a tweet from the southern border is going viral among anti-immigrant lawmakers, candidates and their allies, chances are it originated with Fox News and their designated border flak Bill Melugin. He’s built his “brand” by exploiting migrants, and has directed a pipeline of anti-immigrant propaganda from his perch at Fox News to anti-immigrant advocates and believers. While he won local Emmys for investigative reporting in Los Angeles, it’s his border content that’s gotten him national recognition. Unfortunately, it seems real journalism doesn’t fit there, with facts and context all too cumbersome and only serving to clog up the flow of nativist propaganda. 

But that’s why certain folks love him. GOP lawmakers like Arizona Rep. Chip Roy have publicly praised the Fox News correspondent (“God bless Bill Melugin,” he gushed last year) while Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, and Ron DeSantis have retweeted his posts to millions of followers. Melugin has also been a constant in Fox News programming since his hiring in 2021, appearing on air more than 420 times through May 2023. But there’s a reason why he’s so popular with this particular crowd — and it’s certainly not for journalistic expertise or knowledge of immigration policy. 

“Melugin plays the role of a straight journalist, but he uses Border Patrol talking points to push an anti-immigrant agenda,” Media Matters said in a report last year. And as a reminder, the Border Patrol’s union is a far-right outfit that endorsed Donald Trump twice. In fact, its 2016 endorsement of the future impeached former president was the first time the union had endorsed a presidential candidate. The union’s president, Brandon Judd, also peddles the great replacement conspiracy theory rhetoric and pals around with hate groups. So Melugin and Border Patrol are a great fit.

In fact, the media watchdog calls Melugin the network’s “top anti-migrant reporter.” That’s quite a feat for an outlet that has, for lack of a better word, boasted a roster that’s including Laura Ingraham, and, in the past, white nationalist conspiracy theory pusher Tucker Carlson. Ingraham this past year spread the hoax that migrants had displaced unhoused veterans from a hotel in New York, while Carlson has been responsible for mainstreaming the great replacement conspiracy theory on television.

“As much as Melugin wants to portray himself as a straight reporter, he clearly favors a restrictionist approach to immigration that’s heavily reliant on criminalization of border crossing,” Media Matters said, noting he was “the key driver of one of the biggest immigration stories of 2021, the perceived crisis of Haitian migrants who had established a small camp under the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.” While the subsequent internal probe by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found that agents used “unnecessary” force and derogatory language against victims, the report was widely slammed for failing to interview even one Haitian migrant. 

And, while some pictures paint a thousand words, Melugin crafts his only ever to paint the two emotions he wants Americans to associate with immigrants: hate and fear. Melugin’s draw among Republicans and their allies is from purposefully sharing incendiary content designed to create a sensation, something he’s openly admitted. “I don’t know what else I have to show to wake people up,” Media Matters said he complained earlier this year, sounding more like the anti-immigrant advocate that he is than the reporter he plays on TV. But, he does work at Fox, so there’s that.

Not only has Melugin also adopted the lingo used by Border Patrol agents, he’s been embedded by the same Texas office that’s helped carry out Gov. Greg Abbott’s expensive and likely illegal Operation Lone Star scheme. The Texas Department of Public Safety gave Melugin a seat on a state helicopter so that he could continue his anti-Black, anti-immigrant fear mongering at Del Rio from the air. Talk about flying the unfriendly skies.

Melugin’s rapid rise is remarkable considering he’s the guy who earned notoriety for spreading the since-debunked claim that a Starbucks barista had intentionally dropped a tampon into an out-of-uniform police officer’s Frappuccino, causing a national uproar. “But investigators have concluded it was just a cleaning cloth that accidentally ended up in the drink,” The Daily Beast reported in late 2020. “An apologetic barista told the LASD she scooped it up after it had fallen into ice and unknowingly blended it into the drink. Surveillance video also showed nothing suspicious.” 

“By his own admission, if he wasn’t in journalism, he would go to law school to become a prosecutor,” Media Matters said. “He excels at manufacturing what left-wing activists call copaganda, and he has been handsomely rewarded for it.” There was no reason to take Melugin seriously after his sensational claim was exposed. But he would find a home at Fox News the next year. 

Unfortunately, this right-wing ecosystem where Republicans and right-wing media allies circulate anti-immigrant lies is very real – and it’s deadly. While the Biden administration has continued to repeat its messaging that the southern border is not open (while also seeking to widen legal immigration channels), false “open border” claims pushed by Republican officials, conservative media outlets and right-wing personalities have fueled some arrivals at the border. These messages in fact aid criminal cartels, by manipulating already-desperate people into thinking there’s an “open border,” when there isn’t. We certainly don’t see any of these actors relentlessly highlighting the Border Patrol video stressing that the border is in fact not wide open. 

In just one example of right-wing disinformation this past April, The Dallas Morning News border correspondent Alfredo Corchado shared how a Venezuelan migrant had been attracted to the U.S. by right-wing messaging, notably from racist conservative outlet Breitbart. In the clip, the migrant says he fled because of conditions in his country, noting that citizens there are persecuted, are unable to buy food, and can’t even get medical attention unless they have a connection. When asked what prompted him to try to make an asylum claim, the man said it was because of information he saw on social media. 

“The news came from Breitbart?” Corchado asked. “Yes, correct,” the man replied. He added that because he’s not from here, he’s not sure if the source is reliable or not. It’s Breitbart — of course it’s not. 

It should be no shock if Fox and Melugin attempt to get even more incendiary, if that’s at all possible. Since Fox abruptly fired Carlson earlier this year (possible reasons include the network’s massive defamation settlement with Dominion, a controversial leaked text, Carlson  being a total creep, or a combination of all of the above), ratings have become about as appealing as a cleaning rag Frappuccino. “Fox’s new prime-time lineup finds that ratings have fallen roughly 30% since Tucker Carlson’s firing, and over 45% in the key 25-54 year-old demographic,” Media Matters said

While Tucker replacement Jesse Watters is no stranger to racist programming, he lacks the sordid anti-immigrant zeal of his predecessor. So don’t be surprised if Melugin amps the ante to make up for this xenophobic deficit. Journalists of integrity should be extremely cautious when approaching his content. He’s shown he’s willing to further his career and get more screen time by exploiting desperate people. But that’s right on brand for Fox News these days.