Accuracy in Media

Mainstream media coverage of Trump administration efforts to secure the southern border, despite violent attacks by would-be immigrants, neglected to mention that tear gas is a standard operating procedure that has been used since Jimmy Carter was president.

Some coverage also was critical of the gas affecting children, without mentioning that male undocumented immigrants have used women and children as human shields to attempt to cross the border.

USA Today reporter Jorge Ortiz’s article “Tear gas: ‘Harsh, terrifying’ and legal to use on civilians (and migrants)” starts like this: “The images of migrant mothers and their young children choking on tear gas at the U.S.-Mexico border become even more jarring with this realization: The use of this chemical weapon is not allowed in warfare. Even more striking: The tactic is perfectly legal when employed on civilians …. Those are especially noxious for children. Sven Jordt, an expert on chemical weapons at Duke University, said how somebody reacts to tear gas depends on its distance, concentration and the person’s health status. The impact could last as little as 10-20 minutes. However, children are more vulnerable because of their size and the likelihood they don’t know to cover their mouths and close their eyes to minimize the harm.”

Ortiz’s article failed to mention that in addition to tear gas (2-chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile), Customs and Border Patrol regularly uses Pava Capsaicin, commonly known as pepper spray, for performing area saturation associated with law enforcement operations, including under the Obama administration:

Fiscal Year 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 TOTAL
Pava Capsaicin Incidents 95 151 109 30 49 56 43 540

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial board ran a piece saying “Tear-gassing kids is a new low on the border.”

“While not lethal, tear gas is a harmful substance that can cause severe eye pain, chemical skin burns, respiratory distress and pulmonary damage. Those effects are magnified in children, who also can suffer trauma from being gassed. Though used in this and other countries for riot control, the use of tear gas in war is prohibited by international treaties.”

Axios wrote, “Images of migrant families choking on and fleeing tear gas launched by U.S. border officials at the southern border garnered outrage from some top officials  and pundits and defense from others.”

Neither of those outlets mentions that National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd stated that illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border “use women and children regularly” as human shields.




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