This week, Fox News tweeted a video with the caption, “Steve Ronnebeck, father of murder victim: ‘63,000 Americans since 9/11 have been killed by illegal aliens.’”
Snopes has definitively debunked the 63,000 statistic, a number which would have meant that more than a quarter of all homicides in the U.S. have been committed by undocumented immigrants, who make up a mere three percent of the population – nearly an impossible figure.
Although Fox News did pose the statistic as part of a quote from Ronnebeck, who spoke alongside Donald Trump at a Secure Our Borders event, their framing of a fictional statistic as a fact is grossly misleading.
But Fox News is not alone in the negligent dissemination of partial or incorrect information. Fake news – and I hate the term as much as anyone – has become a very serious problem that plagues both sides of the aisle.
Social media is rampant with memes of isolated photos and videos of what appear to be tragic scenes from the border, but they are often separated from context, leaving viewers to develop their own narratives.
The sobbing child on the cover of TIME Magazine was not in fact separated from her mother at the arrest point. John Moore, the Getty photographer who took the original photo implied no such thing in the photo’s caption, “A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.” Moore was trying to capture a moment that would inspire empathy for families at the border, he said later in an interview, but he did his due diligence in giving the facts surrounding the situation.
Additional media and social media outlets, however, failed to uphold that same standard of integrity in reporting by excluding the caption information when sharing the photo, and in some cases, applying incorrect or assumed details.
The whirlwind between both the Right and Left in American politics surrounding the border in the last two weeks has been vitriolic and uninformed.
The root of the problem lies in two issues.
Firstly, Americans have stopped fact-checking.
Oh, certainly, it is the primary responsibility of journalists to provide all the facts and only the facts when reporting news. But to assume that the American people do not also have a responsibility to think for themselves and to be vigilant in seeking out the truth is to set far too low a bar for a free society to function.
Shame on us for being fooled so often by drive-by reporting and inflammatory journalism. Shame on us for participating in the spread of misinformation through unchecked Facebook memes and Twitter stories, and the tattle of half-cocked political gossip.
Shame on us for failing to search out the full truth.
If we agree with everything we are reading, if we do not feel challenged to think or more thoughtfully consider our perception of events, we are not reading enough.
But that is what our country does – we stay in our partisan bubbles, safe in the choir loft to be preached a message we want to hear.
And that leads us to the second problem: we are being told a crippling narrative.
In his first inaugural address, one of my least favorite presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, gave the American people what I believe is the most powerful piece of wisdom ever to come from the oval office: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
And why is fear such an enemy? Because it strips us of our courage and our compassion. It robs our minds of clarity and converts our thinking towards self.
Fear is no friend of a democracy, nor of any principled society.
The biggest problem with Fox News reporting the 63,000 homicide figure – aside from it being inaccurate – is the message that “fact” was meant to carry. It was meant to incite one people group against another through fear.
It is the same tactic the political Left uses to push their own political agendas: alleging that the world’s problems stem from the evil white man and his power.
Please forgive that flare of the dramatic – those words were not mine.
A woman at Saturday’s San Diego’s march against the separation of families at the border used those terms to rally the crowd.
“What we are experiencing is an attack after attack on our communities, our faith and on who we are as human beings. Every time when we think we are making progress, these white supremacists find new ways to reinvent oppression. I remember as a refugee what it felt like not hearing from my family,” said Ramla Sahid, Executive Director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA). “Separating families is a shame and, god d—, I am scared. What could possibly be next?”
Although her initial message is a valid opinion, and her testimony as a refugee is valuable, it is what she says afterward that I consider dangerous.
She says she is scared, and she invites the crowd to be scared with her.
“What could possibly be next?”
Fear is a horrible motivator and the American people should take no part in it. We should not allow it from our news outlets, we should not share it on our social media platforms, we should not preach it at our rallies.
Should we be discerning? Should we take action when we see injustice? Should the violation of rights stir our very marrow? Yes, yes and yes.
But reason and empathy must work hand-in-hand and they both must be informed.
Reason without empathy is tyranny. Empathy without reason is chaos. But reason and empathy without truth is a misguided ship, doomed from the moment it leaves port.
America must right this ship before she is lost at sea by her own foul winds.
Righting this wrong is the responsibility of society at large, but it must be affected by every individual. Each of us has a hand on the helm. So let us chart our course with verity, blown forward on winds of courage, leaving fear and falsities behind us.