If the establishment media’s coverage in the home stretch of the 2018 midterm elections is any kind of prologue to 2020, be prepared for an avalanche of right-wing xenophobic propaganda during our next presidential election. That’s because, once again, the political press dutifully chased Trump’s rhetorical tail as Election Day neared, and repeatedly ceded its editorial judgment and news hole to the nativist fear-mongering he used to stoke the Republican Party’s base. And nowhere was this fecklessness more apparent than media’s breathless “migrant caravan” coverage.
Left-wing media critics documented these failures almost in real time. Joshua Holland at The Nation noted in late October how Trump was all but acting as the de facto segment producer for all those ubiquitous cable news panel shows that were spending all their time discussing a few thousand asylum seekers that were more than a thousand miles from the US southern border.
Likewise, a study by the liberal media research site Media Matters found that Trump might as well have been the front-page assignment editor for elite newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times, which simply couldn’t resist the siren song of his manufactured crisis. In all, those two papers published nearly 30 different stories about the migrant caravan on their respective A1 pages in the two weeks before Election Day. And on three different days, the Times devoted two front-page stories to what Trump had not-so-subtly began calling an “invasion.”
What is most striking, however, is the Post and Times’ unmistakable cognitive dissonance and institutional blindspot about this coverage. Throughout the weeks leading up to Election Day, these two news organizations dedicated analysis, blogs and opinion pieces — mostly online — to detailing the naked gamesmanship and misinformation behind Trump using the migrant caravan as a campaign bogeyman. But then the papers’ front pages and their “straight” political…