As a final attempt to drive nativist votes to the polls, Donald Trump spent much of the last month warning of “an invasion” of Central American migrants making their way across Mexico to the United States.
In reality, this “caravan” of migrants is more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border, and will likely not arrive at the border for more than a month. Also, the U.S. military predicts that only about 20 percent of these migrants will actually complete the journey all the way from Mexico’s southern tip.
Yet, if you listen to assignment editors at the nation’s top papers, you would think that this caravan is the biggest crisis facing the United States since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to conduct work business.
A study by Media Matters for America’s Matt Gertz determined that “The New York Times and The Washington Post have run a total of 115 news stories in their print editions mentioning the caravan over the last three weeks,” including 13 on the Post’s front page and 12 on the Times.
As Gertz writes, many of these individual stories are well-reported and “debunk the president’s lies and conspiracy theories.” Nevertheless, “the sheer volume of the coverage can’t help but fuel Trump’s claims that the caravan’s approach represents a crisis and suck oxygen away from other stories in the lead-up to the midterm elections.”
Two years ago, in the waning days of the 2016 election, the New York Times “ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails” in just six days “as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” This media obsession with a relatively minor story likely cost Clinton the election. Indeed, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reignite this story just days before Election Day was probably enough to put Donald Trump in the White House.
Gertz’s report suggests that major media outlets are continuing to let Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans drive their coverage, rather than making objective assessments of which stories would best inform their readers about the stakes in the upcoming election.