The New York Times ran a story on Monday with the explosive headline, “Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting Protesters to ICE.”
Reporter Matthew Haag’s story began, “A Texas state representative, referring to protesters at the State Capitol on Monday, said he reported ‘several illegal immigrants’ to federal immigration authorities and then threatened to shoot a fellow lawmaker who objected.” A tweet had the same spin.
These are an inaccurate and incomplete reporting of what the lawmakers involved say happened. The story also lacks sufficient context to the point it borders on propaganda.
A reporter sent the article to me with the note, “If you actually click the Facebook post of the Republican lawmaker who supposedly threatened to shoot the Democrat, it was after the Democrat threatened him. But the NYT makes it sound like the Republican was the sole instigator and was randomly threatening to shoot a fellow lawmaker.” Indeed, The New York Times did make it sound like that.
The Republican lawmaker, Matt Rinaldi, had this to say about what transpired:
Without being present at the scene, it’s impossible to know precisely what happened or who said what. However, there is actual video of Democratic lawmaker Poncho Nevárez putting his hands on Rinaldi and seemingly initiating the scuffle.
— Michael Openshaw (@mopenshaw) May 29, 2017
This paragraph from the Times, for example, is Pravda-like in its one-sided description of what happened:
The exchange led to a confrontation among lawmakers, with some pushing and pointing at one another. Some legislators had to be restrained. Mr. Rinaldi got into a face-to-face argument with Representative Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat, and threatened to shoot him.
In general, comments about self-defense are received differently than purely aggressive comments. If someone threatens a person with imminent harm, comments in response are different than if they come out of nowhere and a purely aggressive posture.
Here are a few other things the New York Times report lacked:
- Political Grandstanding: The New York Times used reporting from the Texas Observer, which one person knowledgeable of Texas politics told me is akin to quoting Workers World Daily for a discussion of wage law. The Texas Tribune might have been a better source of information. That publication notes Rinaldi’s seat is “a high 2018 target for Democrats.” There is a reason Democratic lawmakers might be milking this situation for all its worth or attempting to use a compliant media to spin it in a favorable direction. Rinaldi’s seat was barely won in the last election.
- Violent Protest Culture: Just a few years ago, the Texas Senate was shut down by an “unruly mob” who disrupted proceedings at the end of the session. The Texas Department of Public Safety confiscated “one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint” during a rally of national abortion groups inside the statehouse. Protesters chained themselves to the building or otherwise disrupted proceedings. Shutting down a democratically elected legislature is not harmless, as many in the media would observe if it was being done by those whose politics are different from those inside newsrooms. The organizations behind the protests should be covered with more detail.
- It’s not against the law to report violations of immigration law. The large, organized protests were in response to a bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with legal authorities to enforce immigration law. Rinaldi claimed he saw signs announcing some protesters as illegal immigrants. The New York Times did report that Rinaldi said he saw signs saying, “I am illegal and here to stay.” Such signs and T-shirts have been seen at pro-illegal immigration rallies and marches. Reporting violations of immigration law continues to be legal in this country and not something for which physical violence should be threatened or endured.