Posted on May 28, 2021

How the AP Slanted Border Coverage to Hide the Crisis

Joseph Simonson, Washington Free Beacon, May 18, 2021

Typically, news organizations rush to cover crises, real or perceived. The Associated Press has taken a different tack, using its influential style guide to play down the human drama unfolding at the southern border.

While internal Customs and Border Protection documents repeatedly refer to an immigration “surge” at the border, according to records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, the AP recommends journalists no longer use such descriptions to avoid offense and maintain supposed “neutrality.” {snip}

The move by AP, a response to left-wing activists who demanded gentler language from reporters when covering immigration, fundamentally changed how newsrooms across the country covered the Biden administration’s response to a historical influx of migrants in the president’s first 100 days in office. A range of outlets, from local newspapers to national publications like the Washington Post, look to the AP for language guidance.

The AP pressed news outlets in March to “avoid imagery conjuring war or natural disaster, which could portray migrants as a negative, harmful influence. Avoid emotive words like onslaught, tidal wave, flood, inundation, surge, invasion, army, march, sneak, and stealth.” {snip}

The use of the word “surge” in immigration-related stories was commonplace across a multitude of publications, including the AP itself, in the early days of the border crisis but drew criticism from activists as the Biden administration sought to dispel the idea that it is grappling with a full-blown crisis. America’s largest wire service—and the standard-bearer for journalistic style through the AP Stylebook—bowed to the pressure campaign.

A March 25 Washington Post op-ed by the editorial director of the pro-immigration site Futuro Media revealed that AP changed its directive at the demands of activists. Julio Varela said in his column he complained to the AP about the use of words like “surge” in its immigration coverage, suggesting news outlets use “entering,” “crossing the border,” and “increase” instead.

The AP told Varela his complaint came at the perfect time: Editors there were already “discussing word choices internally” and just assembled a memo addressing concerns by Latino activists. Varela, pleased with the news, called on the rest of the media to follow suit lest they be accused of using a “dehumanizing term.”


Shortly thereafter, left-wing members of Congress such as New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.) told supporters that using the word “surge” is a “white supremacist idea.”