On Trump’s Immigration Agenda, AP Runs Opinion as News

November 1, 2018 Updated: November 3, 2018

News Analysis

The headline of an Associated Press article published on Oct. 30 reads like an opinion piece from The Washington Post or The New York Times.

Trump targets citizenship, stokes pre-election migrant fears,” reporters Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin, and Colleen Long declare.

Besides being opinionated and misleading, the first half of the headline stokes fear by suggesting that President Donald Trump is targeting citizenship in general. Contrary to The Associated Press’s insinuation, the president specifically proposed to limit birthright citizenship.

The second half of the headline is pure opinion, as even AP’s own reporting shows. In saying that the president is stoking “pre-election migrant fears,” AP not only assumes that politics motivate Trump’s efforts but labels the president’s immigration agenda as an effort to instill fear in American citizens.

There is no problem with having that opinion. Labeling it as “Top News,” however, is misleading.

The thesis of the article is that Trump’s recent rhetoric, promises, and actions on immigration are a “fear mongering” tactic designed to grab-up votes for Republicans in the midterm elections. The article includes no evidence to back up that thesis.

To substantiate their assertion, Lucey, Colvin, and Long would require confirmation from a source within the administration that what they allege is, in fact, happening.

The reporters did speak to administration officials who told them that decisions on Trump’s immigration proposals “are unlikely until after the midterm elections.”

That response undermined the core claim made in the second paragraph of the story, in which AP suggests that Trump “is rushing out hardline immigration declarations, promises, and actions as he tries to mobilize supporters to retain Republican control of Congress.”

The administration officials’ response didn’t fit AP’s narrative. AP placed the reporting under 33 paragraphs of copy.

At the top, the lead paragraph pitches an opinion as fact.

“Thousands of U.S. troops to stop an ‘invasion’ of migrants. Tent cities for asylum seekers. An end for the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship,” states the opening of the AP news report.

While the first two sentences are facts, the third is an opinion. There is no universal agreement that the Constitution guarantees birthright citizenship. Trump and White House lawyers don’t believe there is a guarantee; former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid once said “no sane country” would grant birthright citizenship when he introduced a bill challenging the practice; current Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have worked on bills with a similar goal; and there are legal experts who agree with Trump.

With that in mind, to state as fact that the Constitution guarantees birthright citizenship misleads the reader by presenting the issue as settled. By omitting the substance of the ongoing debate, AP has ignored the views of the Trump administration, current and former lawmakers, and legal experts on the issue.

The reporters could have recovered from the omission by clarifying that the issue isn’t settled in the second paragraph. They instead follow with the core of their story.

“With his eyes squarely on next Tuesday’s elections, President Donald Trump is rushing out hardline immigration declarations, promises, and actions as he tries to mobilize supporters to retain Republican control of Congress. His own campaign in 2016 concentrated on border fears, and that’s his final-week focus in the midterm fight,” the AP reports.

Contrary to the assertion, Trump has said that his immigration agenda has nothing to do with the midterms, as AP reports in its article.

The president has been regularly hammering on illegal immigration and border issues since taking office. He devoted extensive attention to the previous caravan, which arrived in late April, more than six months before the midterms election. These facts undermine AP’s narrative that Trump is using his immigration agenda to score votes for the GOP. AP did not include such facts in its article.

The article also labels Trump’s efforts to secure the border as a campaign “concentrated on border fears.” American voters consider border security as one of the top issues facing the country. Trump’s administration has been engaged in a wide-ranging effort to address the issue because the president was elected on a promise to fix the immigration system. To label the concerns of the voters as “border fears” whipped up by politicians is an opinion. Presenting it as fact is misleading.

In describing Trump’s views on the birthright issue, the reporters cite four experts who support AP’s view, writing that “most legal scholars say it would take a new constitutional amendment,” rather than an executive order, for the president to limit birthright citizenship.

AP refers to “most legal scholars” but does not substantiate the claim. If the reporters conducted a survey of legal scholars or reviewed one, the readers should know. No official survey of scholars exists. Meanwhile, the admission that not all experts agree on the issues undermines AP’s earlier statement in the article, in which it presented the Constitution guaranteeing birthright citizenship as settled fact.

The factual issues from AP don’t end with birthright citizenship. When AP returns to Trump’s plan for “tent cities” for illegal aliens, the wire service states that the administration plans for “prolonged detention of anyone coming across the U.S.-Mexico border, including those seeking asylum.”

Contrary to AP’s claim, only aliens who cross the border illegally and claim asylum would be subject to “prolonged detention.” AP gets this fact right 18 paragraphs later. Readers who stopped reading before that point will have been misled.

The Associated Press did not respond to a request for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the point of time a previous migrant caravan arrived near the U.S.–Mexico border. That caravan arrived in late April this year. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

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