In December 2018, the US government entered a shutdown which is now the longest-ever. President Donald Trump is refusing to approve a federal budget unless it includes $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall with Mexico, but the Democrat-led House has completely refused. The clash between the two is ongoing, and it shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.How is this government shutdown being covered by our TV media?
The BBC has come under fire for its coverage of Trump in the past, and it once again seemed as though the broadcaster was again using the shutdown to bash the President – even though either side of the dispute could end it, the BBC is directing all of its criticisms towards the President. There is a notable difference in how it is covering this shutdown, in comparison to how it covered the 2013 shutdown under Barack Obama (both leaders attempted to fulfil controversial campaign pledges against the backdrop of an opposing House, but the Obama shutdown was blamed on the Republicans in the House, whereas this current shutdown appears solely to be the fault of Trump).
The Beeb’s headlines at the time were about how Obama was desperately trying to resolve the situation but was hampered by an intransigent House (“Nobody is winning,” he said), but they seem convinced now that only the President can break – the Democrat House has faced no criticism on the BBC that I’ve found, whereas almost every news broadcast on the topic is having a go at Trump.
Something that is incredibly striking is that, despite the situation being brought about by a supposed crisis on the border, no news organisation (save the right-wing US network Fox) has dedicated any time to look into this. CBS commissioned a fact-check into Trump’s claims during an Oval Office address that 1 in 3 women travelling to cross the border had been sexually assaulted – when it turned out that Trump was half-right, and the situation was actually worse than he made out (it’s closer to 70%), the fact-check was scrapped quietly and never mentioned again.
Trump and his demands vs. the Democrats and workers – and it’s very clear what stance the Beeb is taking on this.
What is the Beeb doing, then? It’s closely following the shutdown but, if it’s not actually looking at the context, what’s it doing? Well, it’s focus is on the government employees – now that the shutdown has become the longest ever and employees are missing out on pay, it’s running packages about how they need food banks and are selling things to desperately raise money. Their vox-pops all share the same message – if only Trump would back down, and listen to the Democrat’s pleas to help these workers, they could afford to feed their families and pay their rent. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not feel bad for these workers, but look at the way this vox-pop is edited – Trump and his demands vs. the Democrats and workers – and it’s very clear what stance the Beeb is taking on this.
Now, it’s no secret that CNN in America also doesn’t like Trump, and they’ve been very hostile towards his border wall proposal (even though they claim to be an impartial name in news). In a discussion about the wall on the Chris Cuomo show, CNN commentator Ana Navarro was pitted against Trump supporter Steve Cortes, and I mention this particular broadcast because it really demonstrates something about the differing stances on the border issue. The topic turned to crime rates among immigrants – there is conflicting data about whether (legal and illegal) immigrants commit more per capita crimes than native-born Americans.
Cortes suggested that any crime committed by illegal immigrants was a problem because they shouldn’t be in the country at all. Navarro, in response – and I’m not making this up – started doing her nails and sighing heavily. The discussion turned into a heated row, as both panellists criticised each other’s motives, demonstrating the near-impossibility of the two opposing sides coming to any form of concession on this issue.
No matter what you think of the border wall, it’s fairly clear that Trump’s desires for one and the government shutdown over it are not being fairly covered by the media
Amusingly, however, it was also CNN that provided perhaps the best case for Trump’s border wall. White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who is also no fan of Trump, went down to the McAllen state of Texas – a place where there is already a wall, and where Trump was planning to visit. He interviewed some of the local residents, and looked at the wall himself, reporting that “I don’t see anything resembling a national emergency situation” and that the situation was “pretty tranquil down here” – essentially, Acosta was explaining that the wall along this portion of the border worked, although he was attempting to position it as some kind of anti-wall scoop. Both sides mocked him for his efforts.
No matter what you think of the border wall, it’s fairly clear that Trump’s desires for one and the government shutdown over it are not being fairly covered by the media (a media which, if we’re honest, tends to take a certain line on issues related to immigration). It’s bizarre to watch Democrat politicians being interviewed, stating they’d ‘do anything to resolve the situation and get workers their pay’, and not be pulled up on the obvious solution – it smacks of bias and, in failing to paint a full and nuanced picture of the shutdown dispute (as well as completely ignoring any trouble on the border), the media is doing its viewers a disservice.