April Ryan, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for The Brio, has long been known for raw political statements in press conferences. She is an example of the “advocacy journalism” movement that is sweeping the industry with the rejection of “objectivity” as a core value. Nevertheless, she has been repeatedly honored by the media, including her selection as “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists. That brand of journalism was on display yesterday when Ryan shocked many by repeating the disproven allegation against border agents accused of whipping migrants.
Ryan was repeating a false story from 2021 that has been debunked over and over again. The media went into a frenzy over a false story accusing mounted officers of whipping undocumented migrants near Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 19, 2021.
A photographer captured the scene, which showed agents using bridle reins to guide their skittish horses. The entire videotape clearly shows the agents using the reins on their mounts, not on the migrants. Not only did the photographer quickly deny seeing any officers whip migrants, the videotape clearly refuted that allegation. However, for many in politics and the media it did not matter because it played into a racial-justice claim of the “whipping (of) Haitian asylum seekers.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) condemned “the inappropriate use of what appear to be whips by Border Patrol officers on horseback to intimidate migrants.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) decried “images of inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants by Border Patrol — including the use of whips.” Vice President Kamala Harris emoted on “The View” about how the brutality “invoked images of some of the worst moments of our history, where that kind of behavior has been used against the Indigenous people of our country, it has been used against African Americans during times of slavery.” Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) described the incident as “worse than what we witnessed in slavery” and “white supremacist behavior.”
President Biden rushed to express his own revulsion and rage, too: “It was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you, those people will pay.”
At the time, some of us objected that the president had, once again, declared the guilt of accused persons without evidence or investigation. The possible innocence of these officers simply did not matter to the president or to many in the press.
Despite being tasked with an investigation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined the condemnations of the agents, saying that their conduct “defies all of the values that we seek to instill in our people.” He then promised swift justice with an investigation that would take “days, not weeks” — yet the investigation dragged on for months.
The Administration delayed the results of the findings but eventually admitted that there was no such whipping. It still said it would punish the agents for other violations in what some of us viewed as a face-saving measure for President Biden.
The media quickly gave grudging acknowledgment that it had pushed another false story and moved on. But not Ryan. After all, why should media and government investigations block a false story when it advances a useful narrative?
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was discussing the surge of migrants at the border when Ryan offered a signature moment in asserting that agents were found to be “whipping” Haitian migrants crossing the U.S. southern border in 2021.
Even Mayorkas, who joined the mob in presuming the guilt of the agents, balked at the fact that Ryan was repeating an allegation that colleagues now admitted was absolutely false.
Ryan stated “the southern border is not just Mexicans. It is Haitians, it’s Africans, as we have seen, particularly with that issue with the Haitians being whipped with the reins on the horses.”
Mayorkas gently noted that Ryan was repeating a known false story: “Well, let me just correct you right there because actually the investigation concluded that the whipping did not occur.”
Ryan appears incensed and stated “I’m sorry, I saw it differently. They were whipped with something from the horse – reins from the horse. Maybe either the video or picture was fixed, but what I saw was totally different. I’m sorry.”
Mayorkas again noted “Yeah, I’m gonna leave you as corrected.”
Ryan did not back down. It appears that facts have become entirely immaterial to media coverage.
After going back and researching, Ryan again told her readers that the whipping occurred, posting a photo from the 2021 encounter, saying, “Maybe its [sic] just me but!”
She followed with two other tweets, one posting another photo, with her own caption, “And one more the reign is how close or on the person?” She subsequently retweeted herself to cast aspersions on the federal investigation and claim, “Oh let me post this again especially after a White House official just told me they question the report too.”
However, Ryan can be assured after her latest tweet, It is not “just her.”
NB: For full disclosure, Ryan teaches at George Washington University, where I also teach.