Category Archives: Analysis

The Myth of the Latino Vote and What Newsrooms Must Learn From 2020

A Mexican American woman in El Paso, Texas, with a pin for President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign. (Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

In 2016, when it became clear that Donald Trump would become president, media outlets across the U.S. were blindsided by the results. They pledged to do better representing the larger communities that make up America. That included conservatives, those in rural areas (a complex group on its own) and, yes, Latinos.

Four years later, though Trump did not win reelection, former Vice President Joe Biden’s narrower margin of victory in spite of polls predicting a landslide have media outlets asking similar questions all over again. The increased percentage of Latino voters for Trump in particular caught many off guard. How could pollsters get it wrong again? And is the media, and a lack of diversity in newsrooms, part of the problem?

Last time around, a national publication made a show of announcing it was expanding its coverage teams and hiring people that brought those unique perspectives. I applied for a spot to cover immigration even though I knew that coming from a smaller newspaper, it would be a long shot. Still, if it was serious about diversifying the newsroom, I thought, I had a chance.

I’m a first-generation immigrant, born in Ciudad Juárez and raised across the border in El Paso, in a middle-class family. While my dad had been an engineer in Mexico, he became a life insurance salesman when we emigrated, then a truck driver, something he is still doing in his mid-60s. There’s no 401(k) for him, there’s no deep savings account or a fully paid mortgage.

When I applied for the position, I had been an immigration reporter for about a decade; I had experience writing about immigrants and refugees from a dozen countries. Spoiler alert, I didn’t get the job, neither did another person of color.

It didn’t have to be me, by any means, but we’ve made so little progress in diversifying our newsrooms. Newsrooms are a window into America. Journalists have the great power — and responsibility — to choose whose voices we represent and how. We are part, or should be, of the communities we cover.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

Veteran, War Hero, Defendant, Troll

Brian Kolfage at a 2014 Veterans Day parade in New York City. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

War hero. Veterans advocate. Family man.

It was an image years in the making. Brian Kolfage had lost three limbs in an Iraq bomb blast in 2004, making him the most badly wounded airman to survive the war. He had become a motivational speaker, was the subject of sympathetic news profiles and was even a guest at former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2012.

More recently, 38-year-old Kolfage had positioned himself as a border security visionary after raising $25 million to construct privately funded fences in an effort to help President Donald Trump keep undocumented immigrants from crossing the southern border.

On social media and in the lucrative industry of online news sites dedicated to far-right politics, there’s a very different Kolfage, though. One who, over the last decade, has sharpened a strategy of retribution and retaliation against his online critics, asking his legion of followers to “expose” perceived enemies and “make (them) famous,” according to numerous interviews, hundreds of screenshots of since-deleted social media posts and court records from two defamation lawsuits to which he was a party.

Kolfage’s actions online have spawned an informal support group of individuals who have felt his wrath, including fellow veterans and progressives, as well as some of Kolfage’s former conservative allies. His social media activity has forced him to formally apologize to a perceived online critic as part of a court settlement and prompted a judge to issue a warning following his recent indictment on fraud charges.

Facebook has barred Kolfage from its platform for his online behavior, which includes creating multiple fake accounts and linking to “ad farms,” a company spokeswoman said, adding that his actions violated “our rules against spam and inauthentic behavior.”

Neither Kolfage nor his attorney responded to requests for comment. He’s previously said his social media approach is in response to negative comments that others publish about him, such as allegations of fraud.

Kolfage, along with three others, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, are charged with defrauding thousands of donors to Kolfage’s nonprofit, We Build the Wall. Prosecutors allege the men deceived donors by using Kolfage’s public persona and his pledge not to take a dime in salary. Instead, Kolfage pocketed more than $350,000, according to the indictment. The men have pleaded not guilty.

So far, the nonprofit has helped build two private wall projects, including one in the Rio Grande Valley that a ProPublica/Texas Tribune investigation found could topple into the river if not properly fixed and maintained.

Kolfage has unleashed his growing army of followers on critics and opponents of those projects, including local elected and wildlife refuge officials and a priest. Death threats followed.

The National Butterfly Center, next door to the border fence built in the Rio Grande Valley, “openly supports illegal immigration and sex trafficking of women and children,” Kolfage tweeted last year. Facebook and Twitter messages calling staffers “pigs,” “pathetic filth” and “traitors” poured in. “You will be made to pay,” one Facebook follower declared in a message.

To those who know him, Kolfage’s online attacks reflect a pattern.

Continue reading at ProPublica.

How the border ‘wall’ became a potent political symbol

New rolls of concertina wire were recently attached to the border wall in Nogales, Ariz. Nearly 700 miles of wall have been built so far. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Call it a fence or a wall, physical barriers have been at the center of border security debate and a potent political symbol for decades. But they have never been part of the country’s political consciousness as they are today, experts say.

“It’s always been an important element of the campaign of people who believe in stricter immigration,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a director of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Migration Policy Institute. “But Trump made it a national campaign and built a presidential campaign around it. He made it the incredibly effective symbol that it has become.”

The border wall issue was at the core of the government’s longest shutdown and could derail negotiations as Democrats and Republican President Trump try to reach an agreement ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline to avoid a repeat of last month’s partial closure.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said Tuesday during his State of the Union address. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”