How Breitbart and Drudge stoked anti-refugee worries

Over the course of the last few weeks interest in the Syrian refugee crisis moved from the edge of the radar screen to dead center. The periodic “blip” growing to a firehouse alarm.

Most Americans seemed oblivious to the years long crisis until a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish shoreline in October. American focus was then Europe until President Obama announced the United States would take as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, and perhaps more later. Suddenly, folks who hadn’t typed the word “refugee” in their lifetimes were experts on why bringing war-torn Syrians to America was a very bad, horrible, terrible idea.

Enter Breitbart and Drudge Report.

In the course of hours these major media outlets produced and promoted a story so slanted readers were led unflaggingly to the wrong conclusion: eight Syrians were caught and detained trying to enter the country illegally from Mexico.

Breitbart stated:

Two federal agents operating under the umbrella of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are claiming that eight Syrian illegal aliens attempted to enter Texas from Mexico in the Laredo Sector. The federal agents spoke with Breitbart Texas on the condition of anonymity, however, a local president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) confirmed that Laredo Border Patrol agents have been officially contacting the organization with concerns over reports from other federal agents about Syrians illegally entering the country in the Laredo Sector.

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The writers did allow the eight people were comprised of two Syrian “family units,” but neglected to define the composition:

According to the sources, the Syrians were in two separate “family units” and were apprehended at the Juarez Lincoln Bridge in Laredo, Texas, also known officially as Port of Entry 1.

Illegal aliens. Caught. Attempted to enter Texas. Apprehended. Concerns. Syrians illegally entering the country.

Governor Greg Abbott, whose paranoia is as wide as the Texas flatlands, shared the biased story. One presidential candidate speculated it could be ISIS.

Drudge headline

As it turns out none of it, outside the existence of the eight Syrians, was precisely true, and was biased in the extreme.

Channel 5, the Local Dallas NBC affiliate, presented what surely, in the firestorm of commentary around the refugee crisis, are a few salient facts.

Eight Syrian refugees turned themselves in to immigration authorities along the Texas-Mexico border this week, officials said Thursday. Their arrival and uncertainty about their future in the United States comes at a time of political upheaval over Syrian refugees following the deadly Paris attacks.

Two families — two men, two women and four children — presented themselves Tuesday at the port of entry of the South Texas city of Laredo, the Department of Homeland Security said in a release. The men were taken to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pearsall, and the women and children to one in Dilley.

Syrian refugees. Turned themselves in to immigration authorities. Two men, two women, four children. Presented themselves at a port of entry. Taken to a detention center.

Words color perception.

These were not people swimming the Rio Grande under the cover of night, or trying to drift along with the tumbling tumbleweeds into some rambling cow town hoping no one would take notice. Two families, husbands, wives, children, surrendered themselves as refugees at an official place of entry to the United States. Big differences. Important differences.

And what of the ISIS possibility? “Maybe ISIS?” Maybe not. Rumor, myth, and lies.

As it turns out, both families are Christian.

The group of Syrians whose detention at the Texas-Mexico border last month raised fears of a Muslim terrorist invasion were neither Muslims nor terrorists, their lawyer said Monday.

The eight people who turned themselves in at the border — two men, their wives and their four kids — were all Christians fleeing persecution in the war-torn country, said Jonathan Ryan of the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

Unless things have changed in the last few days, the families remain divided with the men in one detention center, the women and children in another. They hope to be reunited before Christmas.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.