The Washington Examiner obtained an internal memo written by Politico’s deputy production director Maya Parthasarathy, in which she instructs staff members to stop calling the “present situation” at our southwestern border a crisis. Writers are still allowed to “quote others using that language while providing context.”
Parthasarathy writes: “While the sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors is a problem for border officials, a political challenge for the Biden administration and a dire situation for many migrants who make the journey, it does not fit the dictionary definition of a crisis. If using the word ‘crisis,’ we need to ask of what and to whom.”
Much of the language in the Politico memo is identical to that contained in an Associated Press blog post published in late March by their Vice President for Standards John Daniszewski. He explains: “There could be a humanitarian crisis if the numbers grow so large that officials cannot house the migrants safely or in sanitary conditions. Migrants may face humanitarian crises in their home countries. In theory, there could be a security or a border crisis if officials lose control of the border, allowing people to enter unencumbered in large numbers. But, in general, avoid hyperbole in calling anything a crisis or an emergency.”
“Because migration is such a hot-button issue, we also should try to avoid imagery conjuring war or natural disaster, which could portray migrants as a negative, harmful influence,” he tells readers.
Imagine portraying the invasion of illegals as a negative, harmful influence.
Avoid emotive words like onslaught, tidal wave, flood, inundation, surge, invasion, army, march, sneak and stealth.
Rather, let’s be as neutral as possible while backing up our characterizations with numbers and facts. So, for example, Biden is contending with the largest number of migrant encounters at the border since a four-month streak in 2019. It is the among the largest number of unaccompanied children encountered at the border on record. Overcrowded detention facilities that have sent U.S. authorities scrambling for space and prompted the administration to dispatch FEMA to the border.
We should explore widely all perspectives on this controversial issue. At the same time, we should be mindful of misinformation and think through which quotes we are using to ensure that we are not repeating factual misinformation in quotes and provide fact checking as part of the story.
The Examiner contacted Politico for a comment on this memo. A spokesperson told them, “This wasn’t a company-wide memo — it was an email to relevant employees sharing AP style guidance — the industry standard — which you can find here.”
Actually, Biden himself referred to the crisis as a “crisis” in March. He told reporters, “We’re going to increase the number. The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people. We couldn’t do two things at once, but now, we are going to increase the number.”
I don’t understand it either. But he used the word “crisis” and White House Jen Psaki was ready for reporters who questioned her on it.
“The president does not feel children coming to our border, seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships, and other dire circumstances, is a crisis,” she explained. “He does feel that the crisis in Central America, the direct circumstances that people are fleeing from, that that is a situation we need to spend our time, our effort on, and we need to address it if we are going to prevent more of an influx of migrants from coming in years to come.”
Sorry Politico, but when 171,000 enter the U.S. illegally in one month, and we know that number does not include the estimated tens of thousands whose crossings were undetected by officials, it’s a crisis.
How much longer must we pretend that this parsing of words to describe what is most definitely a crisis is reasonable?