Editorial: We must do better

A call to the news, the government, and each other - give Americans a reason to believe again


Isabella Mahal

This young boy wore a message to America on his back at the Women's March on Denver in January of 2018. It rings true today.

I am not enraged. Instead, I am muted. I am capable only of watching, stunned, as the headlines appear on my phone over and over again.

This is what we know.

Over the course of the last week, over five thousand Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, a border town. They represent part of a group of migrants who have traveled more than three thousand miles. Many are from Honduras, fleeing gang violence and a political crisis that began with a coup in 2009. There were already migrants waiting in the town, and with the new arrivals, over seven thousand displaced people remain in the city.

Many of the migrants are seeking asylum, which is essentially asking permission for the U.S. to legally accept them because of persecution in their home country. As Camila Domonoske, National Public Radio journalist, explained, “Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor; for a person who has already been deported once, it’s a felony. Seeking asylum at a port of entry [such as San Ysidro, in Tijuana], however, is not a crime at all.” According to Domonoske, the United States has a legal responsibility to hear asylum claims, though this can be delayed if a port of entry is shut down. Technically, shutting one down can be done, but it takes significant precedent to do so.

On November 25, migrants began protesting the massive delays in asylum request processing times. Because only forty to one hundred people can file a request each day, and those requests can take months or years to be processed, migrants waiting in Tijuana are facing indeterminate amounts of time until they can know what their future will hold. That Sunday morning’s protest began peacefully, but as Mexican federal police tried to contain the crowd, some migrants were able to slip past. They pushed to a section of the border that was essentially only “chain link and barbed wire [and] a group of them started pushing up against that fence,” as chief patrol agent for San Diego, Rodney Scott, explained in an interview with NPR.

U.S. Border Patrol agents began firing tear gas into the crowd. Due to the wind that day, it drifted at least half a mile, reaching people — including families with children — who were far from the fence itself. Ninety-eight migrants were arrested on the Mexican side of the border; about 42 were arrested on the U.S. side. Scott reasoned, again in an interview with Domonoske, that the Border Patrol agents, “deployed tear gas to protect themselves [from rocks that were being thrown] and the border.”

I am not angry. I am only searching for facts.”

I am not angry. I am only searching for facts, combing the New York Times and then the National Review, trying FOX then CNN. A four-year Journalism student, I know it is only fair to compare coverage if the articles are meant to serve the same purpose. The news standard in modern American is fifteen minutes – when one newspaper reports something, all other large publications will have an equivalent story up within fifteen minutes, as explained by Timothy Crouse in “The Boys on the Bus.” From the instant I read CNN and then FOX’s breaking headlines, I am already lost.

CNN’s headline reads, “US authorities fire tear gas to disperse migrants at the border.” The immediate connotation is negative; the blame is squarely placed with the United States. I am as busy as the next teenager, and half the time, all I read of news stories are the headlines. This one provides me with an immediate bias, because I know nothing about the other side’s role in the conflict.

The story continues. One of the first concepts any journalism student learns is called a “lede.” This first paragraph of any news article is meant to contain answers to the questions, “who, what, when, where, why, and how?” CNN writers Emanuella Grinberg and Mariano Castillo’s lede for the story tells me, first, that “a major US-Mexico border crossing in San Diego was closed for hours on Sunday.” Again, the blame for a border crossing closure is implied to lie with the U.S. government, and the immediate secondary thought is that a border closure is the government keeping out those they do not like for as long as they possibly can. It is not until the fourth paragraph that CNN mentions claims that the migrants threw projectiles at border agents.

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Frustrated, I turn to the other side of the ideological spectrum for information. On FOX, the story reads, “Hundreds of migrants try rushing toward California port of entry, as Trump threatens to close entire border.” There is no mention of tear gas. Donald Trump is painted as logical, threatening to close the border only as a result of aggravated actions by migrants at a decidedly-U.S. location. And those migrants “tried,” and presumably failed, due to the perceived heroic actions of Border Patrol.

The lede of the FOX story is worlds away from the CNN one. It begins with, “[Images and videos] showed hundreds of migrants from the leading Central American caravan pushing past Mexican riot police and rushing the border at the port of entry in San Ysidro, Calif….” Here, Gregg Re’s article immediately jumps to naming what the migrants did and where they were from. Where the CNN article did not once mention the term “caravan,” popularized to describe groups of migrants by Trump himself, the FOX article borrowed it in their very first sentence. This is significant, primarily, because it implies that FOX News themselves agrees with the stereotypes propounded by Trump.

I am still not angry. I am merely disappointed – disappointed with the media, who I have defended for the last two years even as it has faced repeated cries of “fake news!” After devoting hundreds of hours to this publication over time, I had come to realize what it really takes to pull off telling the truth for everyone to see. Now, I am shaken, not knowing where to turn for anything that even remotely resembles it.

Disappointed with the system – one that is so backlogged that migrants who have traveled thousands of miles, many with children in tow, will have to wait months to even file requests for asylum. Disappointed, simultaneously, that Border Patrol agents have to watch half the country circulate images of tear gas being sprayed and that those very same half know few of the facts of why the gas was used. I am disappointed because no one has the facts, or seems capable of presenting them without bias, so I do not even know what to feel anymore. It is terrifying enough to not have any control over what is going on in the world. Now, I do not even feel like I have control over my own opinions.

I am disappointed with a border altercation that stands as the perfect metaphor for the political climate of the U.S. right now. Everyone continues to scream their opinions at one another and isn’t even coming from the same baseline. Whether we’re believing different facts because our favorite news sources present their own opinions as such, or we’re coming from different places because we all have different backgrounds, every person I meet seems incapable of civility, or at the most basic level, respect.

Mending the place in our hearts where patriotism is meant to lie will take work from both sides.”

I call, then, to a country I have called my own for seventeen years. I have sung the national anthem on the ice at an Eagles game at age ten, gone to campaign rallies at twelve. I have walked with my mother on Veterans Day, laying flowers on unmarked graves at fourteen. I have walked, run, marched the streets of Denver during three individual protests at sixteen. I have, for seventeen years, believed that America would do the right thing.

It is taking everything I have to hold onto that belief. Teenagers are idealistic – it is our hallmark quality. And yet, the statistics show that we are disenchanted: with biased media, with politicians whose names seem always to be paired with bad news, with government on the whole. Mending the place in our hearts where patriotism is meant to lie will take work from both sides. Just as those several hundred migrants should not have rushed the border, the walls they faced in finding a place to call their own should not have been so high. Just as those Border Patrol agents should not have fired that tear gas, they should not have felt so endangered by a group with high-running tensions and very little left to lose.

Just as people should restore faith in their news, their government, and one another, those entities must give us a reason to believe again.

I call on my country, known famously as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

We must do better.