No matter what President Trump tells the nation about immigration in his prime-time public address, it will be up to national journalists to report not merely what he says, but what is true.
This past weekend, Chris Wallace — an anchor, commentator and respected veteran journalist — showed how it’s done.
On his “Fox News Sunday,” Wallace politely but firmly rebutted White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ falsehoods – with facts. She talked about nearly 4,000 people on suspected terrorism lists being stopped by border or customs people, stating “we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is the southern border.”
Wallace was ready.
The overwhelming number of those stops were at airports, he said. Not the border. Most of those stopped were merely from countries that have had terrorists. “And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico,” Wallace said.
More facts on the topic came this afternoon when NBC reported that for the first half of 2018 (the latest information available), a total of six immigrants – count ’em, 6 – were stopped on the U.S.-Mexico border because their names were on the terrorism database. Six. The number arrested on terrorism-related charges: Zero.
The widespread reporting of Sunday’s Wallace-Sanders exchange illustrates how regrettably rare it is for a news person to knock down persistent untruths. It also illustrates the unnerving boldness of the propogandists. Sanders barely skipped a beat, still discounting the truth even when faced with facts.
So what’s to be done? It takes time and effort to gather, analyze and report information. It takes a commitment by news organizations to dig, dig, dig and relentlessly hammer away with facts.
Access helps, too. Wallace had the advantage of a sit-down, face-to-face conversation with Sanders. A reporter can’t retort when they are reduced to shouting questions outside a helicopter, or prevented at press briefings from asking questions, never mind follow-ups. That said, news anchors and hosts, especially on cable, squander opportunities to refute lies and misinformation that are so authoritatively repeated by the president and his spokespeople.
News people should not inject their opinions; doing so is a disservice that hurts the credibility of journalism. But it is a journalist’s duty to distinguish between truth and fiction, and to hold those in power accountable. I find it painful when Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, Rudy Giuliani and their cohorts are allowed to hijack purported interviews by so-called journalists who are unprepared, unable or unwilling to counter their fabrications.
Truth will out (as William Shakespeare liked to write) – only if people (journalists, politicians, various experts, community leaders, pastors, anyone with a conscience) are armed with facts and repeat them at every opportunity to deflate and ultimately defeat the president’s malicious misinformation, fear-mongering and brazen lies.