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CBP Official Refuses To Give Journalist His Passport Until He 'Admits' He Writes 'Propaganda'

CBP Official Refuses To Give Journalist His Passport Until He 'Admits' He Writes 'Propaganda'

Free Speech

from the more-hell-for-the-dystopian-hellscape dept

The situation at our borders is getting worse for some American citizens. I mean, all American citizens are likely dealing with more questions, more screening, and more general hassle now that the President has declared immigrants and asylum seekers to be a "national emergency."

The Presidential narrative that people at border crossings are inherently dangerous has undoubtedly had an effect on the mindset of border agency personnel. But there's an added wrinkle, thanks to President Trump's rhetoric portraying journalists as liars and -- in multiple instances -- "enemies of the people." This, too, is having an effect on border personnel attitudes.

Defense One News Editor Ben Watson ran into this when he was returning from an assignment in Denmark:

CBP officer, holding Watson’s passport: “What do you do?”

Watson: “Journalism.”

CBP officer: “So you write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No. I am in journalism. Covering national security. And homeland security. And with many of the same skills I used in the U.S. Army as a public affairs officer. Some would argue that’s propaganda.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson waited five seconds. Then: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer, a fourth time: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson, again: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer: “Here you go.”

This isn't the sort of thing all journalists see when returning from a foreign country, but it's been seen by enough journalists that it can't be ignored as an anomaly. The Defense One article lists a handful of other instances where journalists have been accosted and harangued by customs agents. In these cases, journalists were accused of "spreading lies" and creating "fake news."

Of course, these interactions aren't documented by customs agents, but at least one incident resulted in an apology from CBP officials, so they're not fabrications or misunderstandings either. The more Trump repeats his attacks on journalists, the more commonplace these occurrences will be. Fortunately, there have only been a few reported incidents, which indicates customs officers are being more professional than the president when dealing with journalists. Then again, the DHS, ICE, and CBP have actually placed journalists under surveillance and subjected a great many of them to enhanced screenings and lengthy detentions.

There will always be those who will argue this isn't the result of anything Trump has said, but is just the work of a few rogue agents. They're right on the second part. Any agent who feels the need to attack journalists by accusing them of lying or spreading fake news has gone rogue. That's not part of the job. Personal biases need to be set aside and there will always be a certain percentage of the workforce that just cannot seem to do that. If it seems more prevalent in government agencies -- especially those whose employees wield a great deal of power -- it's because those are newsworthy incidents. An asshole at work is just an asshole. Someone being an asshole while deciding whether or not to let a US citizen back into the country is way more problematic.

But these incidents cannot be separated from Trump's words and deeds. He has repeatedly claimed "fake news" journalists are an "enemy of the people," and that's being expressed by agencies that have been given the full backing of the administration. While previous presidential administrations have always had complaints about journalists, they were generally the kind of complaints most politicians have in the face of negative press. President Trump's "enemy of the people" declarations are unprecedented. Government employees who back Trump are apparently taking him at his word.

This is making matters worse in areas of the country where our supposedly guaranteed rights and protections are almost nonexistent. And, since Trump hasn't shown any signs of lowering the heat under his anti-press rhetoric, things will continue to get worse.

Filed Under: ben watson, border crossing, cbp, dhs, free speech, journalism, papers pleaseCompanies: defense one

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