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Perpetuating Misinformation: MLive article is nothing more than a version of a US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release

August 20, 2019

It is not a new thing for news agencies to act as stenographers for systems of power. However, with the consolidation of news agencies under greater corporate control, journalism increasingly becomes a mouthpiece of state or private power.

A recent example of how journalism fulfills this the function as stenographer and thus fails the public to provide an independent or critical perspective on the issue of immigration.

Below there are two versions of what happened when US Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested 10 undocumented immigrants in the town of Munising in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The version on the left, is a Media Release from US Customs and Border Patrol dated August 15. On the right, we have what MLive printed on August 15, later updated on August 16. 

The similarities are striking. It is as if MLive just re-worded the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, without doing any actual journalism.

This practice of acting as a stenographer is dangerous on two levels. First, it normalizes the idea that whatever information the government provides is unquestioning. It is extremely dangerous if we are not encouraged to question official positions, whether those positions are from private or state sources.

The second reason why it is dangerous for MLive to act as a stenographer for the US Customs and Border Patrol is that it promotes misinformation. Since MLive simply ran a re-worded version of the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, they are perpetuating inaccurate information when they focus on the one person arrested who had previous drug charges. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the US do not have a criminal conviction.

However, the damage was already done, since the US Customs and Border agent is quoted as saying:

“Today the men and woman of the United States Border Patrol made Munising safer by removing a convicted illegal alien drug dealer and nine others from the streets.”

This statement by the US Customs and Border Patrol agent is misinformation. We don’t really know what the narcotics charges were for the one man named in the story and more importantly, the other 9 people were not charged or convicted of anything other than being in the US without “proper” documentation. Being in the US without documentation is not a criminal offense, it is a civil infraction. The matter is compounded when the US Customs and Border Patrol agent says that the arrests made Munising safer. The US Customs and Border Patrol agent provides no evidence as to how these arrests would make Munising safer. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants in the US are not engaged in criminal activity, even though the MLive article, which relies on the US Customs and Border Patrol Media Release, would have readers believe just the opposite.

It is no surprise then that this kind of journalism not only misinforms the public, it affirms the anti-immigrant sentiment that permeates so much of the political climate.

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