News Outlets Backtrack From Claims Border Agents ‘Whipped’ Illegal Immigrants

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
September 28, 2021 Updated: September 28, 2021

News outlets are backing away from claims that Border Patrol agents “whipped” or struck at illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, though some are still using wording that doesn’t appear to be backed by evidence.

The false claims reverberated widely, making it to the White House press briefing room, where a reporter told White House press secretary Jen Psaki that agents were “using what appeared to be whips” on Haitian nationals.

Psaki and other top administration officials, including President Joe Biden, subsequently condemned the agents for attempting to stop the illegal immigrants.

But images and videos from the scene show no whips being used.

The initial claim was from The El Paso Times, a local outlet that has reporters at the border.

“The agent swung his whip menacingly, charging his horse toward the men in the river who were trying to return to an encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio after buying food and water in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico,” a Sept. 19 story from the outlet read.

That language has been altered.

It now says that “The agent menacingly swung his reins like a whip.”

A “clarification” says that the outlet’s reporting team, in fact, did not see “an actual whip.”

But the damage was already done. Yamiche Alcindor, a PBS reporter, shared the story with over 1.2 million followers on Twitter and asked Psaki about the situation in Washington.

“There are photographs and reports of border agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips on Haitian migrants,” Alcindor said in the briefing room at the White House.

The El Paso Times, its reporter who wrote the piece, and Alcindor haven’t alerted their followers on social media to the correction.

Other outlets also got the story wrong.

The New York Times sourced footage from Sawyer Hackett, the executive director of the leftwing People First Future group. Hackett wrote on Twitter that agents were “rounding up Haitian refugees with whips.”

A New York Times story hyperlinks to Hackett’s series of tweets, an action that signals reporters verified the claims and believe they are true.

A follow-up story from the paper claimed agents were “using the reins of their horses to strike at running migrants.” That story linked to the initial story as the source of the claim.

The language was later altered. It now says agents were “waving their reins while pushing migrants back.”

A correction says the article “overstated what is known about the behavior of some Border Patrol agents on horseback.”

“While the agents waved their reins while pushing migrants back into the Rio Grande, The Times has not seen conclusive evidence that migrants were struck with the reins,” the correction stated.

The paper did not alert readers to the correction and the hyperlink to Hackett’s posts is still there.

Twitter did not append the posts with any labels.

Axios, meanwhile, revised its claims twice.

The news outlet deleted a tweet on Sept. 20 after posting photographs it claimed showed agents “swinging whips” at immigrants. No whips were visible in the pictures.

The outlet nearly a week later, on Saturday, deleted another tweet that alleged Border Patrol agents were seen “whipping at” immigrants.

But at least one Axios story still says agents were “whipping at” immigrants. The story links to an NBC News Twitter post that does not contain that language. It also was appended with an editor’s note that says the piece “was corrected to show the mounted agents were reportedly whipping at the migrants—not using whips.”

Representatives for Axios, the New York Times, and the El Paso Times did not return requests for comment.

The fake news reverberated across the nation. Psaki, Biden, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the photographs and video footage was horrific and suspended horse patrols in the Del Rio sector for now.

Epoch Times Photo
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback faces off with illegal immigrants on the banks of the Rio Grande River at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 19, 2021. (Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden said last week that there were “people being strapped” despite no images or video showing that.

“It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay,” the Democrat added.

Mayorkas launched an investigation and said the images from the border “do not reflect who we are.”

At least one image and video shows agents swinging reins, but none show agents striking any immigrants.

Psaki, alerted to the corrections on Monday, was asked whether the walkbacks changed anything for the administration.

“I don’t think anyone could look at those photos and think that was appropriate action or behavior or something that should be accepted within our administration. There’s an investigation. That’s ongoing. We’ll let that play out. But our reaction to the photos has not changed,” she said.

The narrative about what happened has drawn pushback.

Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council, told The Epoch Times that agents did not use reins to strike anybody. He said the Biden administration was “perpetuating the narrative that police are bad.”

“There are a lot of news organizations that sparked this controversy with their rush to judgment in their inaccurate reporting. And I think if you’ve talked around the country, and talked to most people who consume left of center media they would still be under the impression that border agents were whipping immigrants at the border, which we know was not true,” Jeffrey McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, told The Epoch Times.

Some news outlets report things they know aren’t true, according to Adam Guillette, president of Accuracy in Media, a media watchdog.

He pointed to undercover recordings by Project Veritas of New York Times staffers and cited previous situations where multiple outlets were forced to correct initial stories, such as reporting on the Covington Catholic students.

“They’re not trying to go after a broad demographic with their readership, rather they know that the only base that they’re going to get is rabid anti-Trump, anti-Republican progressives. So they’re going to write whatever stories they can that appeal to that demographic,” Guillette told The Epoch Times.

In the future, whenever initial reports present “alarming optics,” news organizations should wait and work to determine whether the situation is as it seems, McCall recommends.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.