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Tim Steller's opinion: National news media easy to dupe with border-danger stories
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Tim Steller's opinion: National news media easy to dupe with border-danger stories

The national news media tends to love a border-danger story.

It gives reporters the chance to act like war correspondents without even leaving the country.

But their expectation of danger makes them vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and other interests who find that creating a sense of threat benefits them.

Marianna Wright suspects a whole lot of people have been hoodwinked in the last few weeks by misleading reports coming out of the Rio Grande Valley near where she works. She's director of the National Butterfly Center, which is on the river west of McAllen, Texas, and she boats on the river several times a week.

Wright also has been in an ongoing conflict with the U.S. Border Patrol and is suing them over their clearing of center property for border-wall construction and their alleged harassment of center employees and visitors.

Mexican authorities have reported detecting nearly 31,500 migrants in 2021, a figure like the one recorded in 2019, when a spike in crossings prompted President Donald Trump's pressure to stem the flow of migrants. Small groups of migrants can be seen walking along the roads of southeastern Mexico as they seek to reach the northern border with the United States.

Friday's display by visiting GOP senators disgusted her. They toured the Rio Grande near her center on a Texas Highway Patrol boat filled with heavily armed troopers, giving the impression they are in dangerous territory. 

Wright said on Twitter: "This is at Anzalduas County PARK. A PUBLIC PARK, across the river from multiple MX parks, the Reynosa zoo, and the launch site for the MX 'Pachamama' 2-story pontoon party boat. The capt is the DJ and they have a bartender upstairs at the dance floor. Real dangerous area... NOT!"

More sinister, she suspects, was the video that came out of the nearby river valley the second week of March. She and others have questioned the authenticity of the scene

CNN national correspondent Ed Lavandera and right-wing blogger Jaeson Jones of the website Tripwires and Triggers both published video of a similar scene showing a large group of migrants being crossed by boat. The video set off lots of alarm bells for Wright and others, who think it was a set-up.

Among other details she cited as inauthentic: 

• The migrants are lined up in broad daylight on the riverbank, not out of view just beyond the embankment.

• The smuggler is dressed differently from the migrants, meaning he could not blend in and would be vulnerable to prosecution for trafficking if arrested.

• Many of the migrants are wearing life jackets and face masks.

• There is a jovial conversation and coordination between the smuggler and the English speakers who are taking video on the U.S. side as the boat approaches. 

"We're going to go back to the station," a man behind the camera tells the smuggler in Spanish. 

"Alright we're going to get the rest," the smuggler responds as he pushes off the U.S. shore to return to Mexico. 

I asked Victor Manjarrez, a retired Border Patrol sector chief who is from Tucson, to look at the video and tell me what he thought. 

"It was suspicious," he said. "There's no fear. Honestly, it looked like they'd spoken with each other. I don't think there was a whole lot of anything real in that thing." 

Wright blames the National Border Patrol Council, the agents' union based in Tucson, for much of the misleading information coming out of the valley. She notes that the man who set up the CNN visit worked with a union representative to arrange the visit.

Rep. Henry Cuellar also acknowledged that his office received the video from Border Patrol agents. 

The union also arranged the visit by Sen. Ted Cruz and other GOP senators to the river at midnight. Conveniently, people on the Mexican side of the river yelled at them — and Cruz identified them as "cartel members" without providing evidence. 

Wright attributes the propaganda effort to the financial interests of the agency, the union members and others with an interest in border militarization and detention.  

To contact opinion columnist Tim Steller: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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