The Trump administration frequently takes hawkish stances on border security between the U.S. and Mexico and xenophobic reasoning seems to be a likely cause. This is not news by this point. A handful of key political moments, such as the administration’s attempts to remove Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies or Trump’s mischaracterizations of Mexican immigrants, make for compelling evidence.
The act of tracking American journalists as a result of said xenophobia would constitute another matter entirely, though, and would undoubtedly hinder American journalism both directly and indirectly. Intentional or not, this will probably be the consequence of the new databases created by the U.S. government to track pro-immigration activists and journalists.
If you have followed the Trump-era rhetoric about journalists and the news media, this should come as no surprise. After all, the president himself has vilified journalists, and a significant portion of the reporting they produce, at every turn since his 2016 presidential campaign.
The most infamous example occurred in August 2018, when Trump stated that so-called “fake news” was the enemy of the people, which comprised about 80 percent of the total news media industry, he asserted.
News media interaction with the White House has also crumbled in the era of the Trump administration. In 2018, there were fewer White House press briefings held per month than in any other year during any of the previous three administrations.
Such factors have probably been responsible for the souring of public opinion on news media companies. A 2018 Ipsos poll concluded that 23 percent of Americans view the news media as the enemy of the people, and that is far from being a negligible percentage.
Now that a report from NBC 7 San Diego has exposed the Trump administration’s roster of journalists reporting on Central American migrants, it is even clearer that the president intends to cement his anti-press legacy.
According to the NBC report, journalists near the southern border in some cases reported that they “felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials.” Mexican border officials even detained one journalist as she attempted to investigate across the border. She was held for 13 hours before the officials denied her passage and sent her back to the States, and the journalist’s presence on the U.S. government roster seems to have been the cause.
Admittedly, this government roster has not only affected journalists. According to the same NBC report, the list contained “ten journalists . . . a U.S. attorney, and 48 people from the U.S. and other countries, labeled as organizers, instigators or their roles ‘unknown.’”
In the context of Trump’s anti-press position, though, the principal focus on tracking and detaining journalists becomes pretty alarming. Furthermore, the consequences of the government roster reach much farther than the tracking of a handful of individuals.
Much of Trump’s success can be attributed to how frequently major news media outlets have chosen to cover his actions, but these same outlets have been responsible for criticizing Trump. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post usually keep the facts straight when Trump chooses to muddle them, and this oppositional dedication to the truth is reflected by much of the news media industry.
As such, it would seem to be in Trump and his administration’s best interests to discourage journalists from their careers in whatever way possible. What separates this most recent instance of discouragement from the rest is the active interference it has already presented to a core group of journalists.
The interference might be slight, but the implication is major: Our government still sees journalists as threats to the overall federal agenda. By hindering the work of reporters near the border, the Trump administration probably hopes to discourage experienced and fledgling journalists at large from pursuing careers in their field.
It is important in this case to extrapolate towards the future. Simply slowing down a few journalists using the bureaucracy of border control may not seem like a big deal at first and will probably not affect overall border reporting in any immediate sense.
However, there is also very little stopping the Trump administration from expanding this roster to affect many more of those who report on the border. Indeed, additional rosters could be engineered to surveil reporters of a wide variety of topics. The precedent is extremely troubling.