Morning News Brief
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A group of Central American migrants, whose journey triggered attacks on Twitter by President Trump, is under review now by the Mexican government.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah, the president has been warning for days about the so-called caravan heading toward the United States and the border with Mexico. And he seems to referring - to be referring to this group of about a thousand Central American migrants who have been traveling through Mexico, many fleeing extreme violence in their home countries in Central America. Mexico announced last night that they are planning to review the status of these migrants.
INSKEEP: What does that mean? Well, NPR's Carrie Kahn is here to help talk us through this.
Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So review what and how does that work? What is Mexico doing to this caravan?
KAHN: Well, it appears that the president's tweet has put this not only in his crosshairs but also in the spotlight of Mexican authorities. As you said, they put out a release late last night. This was from the Foreign and Interior ministers, and they said they plan to review the immigration status of the migrants, the majority of whom are now stopped in the southern state of Oaxaca. Anyone that's found not to be authorized to be legally in the country or have a legitimate claim, they say, to be in the country will be returned home. And they said that 400 of them have already been deported, and that was unclear when or how that happened. But the press release was clear to point out that it's not up to Mexico to decide where the - whether these people go to the U.S. or not. They're free to make their own decision. And officials wanted to make it very clear that under no circumstances does Mexico promote irregular migration, as they call it, in any way.
INSKEEP: Well, let's figure out what is normal here because as you've pointed out to us in an earlier report, this is not the only group of migrants that's ever taken this route. We're talking here about people from Central America, right? And they head north to Mexico, and first, they cross the Mexican border. Does Mexico try to stop them?
KAHN: Well, yeah, they do. Of course, there are border controls there. It's - it is not very well-guarded, especially - it has been notorious. The border between Mexico and Guatemala is very easy to cross, especially through the river. But there are deportations. There are detentions and stuff in Mexico, yes. And then in recent years - just in the first two months of this year, 15,000 Central Americans have been deported from Mexico.
INSKEEP: OK, so they do stop some people, but some people, including the members of this caravan, get through. And once they're in Mexico, how does Mexico tend to treat people who are on the roads or riding on the tops of trains or whatever they're doing, heading toward the United States?
KAHN: Well, it depends what aspect of that you're talking about. Officially, Mexicans have been asking for more refugee status and asylum in Mexico and have been granted it in recent years, especially since that big - if you remember back in 2014 when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors were coming to the U.S., fleeing gangs and high rates of violence in Central America, Mexico was highly criticized for a crackdown on them. But human rights advocates say many with legitimate claims were being deported, so Mexican did - Mexico did take steps to improve their screening process. And last year, more than 10,000 obtained refugee asylum protection in Mexico.
INSKEEP: They received refugee asylum because they're coming from violence-torn countries. That's the bottom line here.
KAHN: Yes. Exactly.
INSKEEP: OK. All right, Carrie, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
KAHN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn with the latest that we know about Mexico's plans to review a caravan of migrants that's been heading north.
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INSKEEP: OK, today at the White House, President Trump meets the leaders of three nations - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
MARTIN: And something all three of these places have in common - they have expressed worry over Russian military aggression. They were some of the first to call attention to Russian efforts to meddle in Western democracies and elections, including the U.S. 2016 election, which is obviously a touchy subject for President Trump.
INSKEEP: Let's discuss this with NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. She's also host of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: It's good to talk with you again. So I'm remembering when I was a kid and the Soviet Union was still around, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were controlled by the Soviet Union. It was a point of great concern to the United States. Is President Trump particularly concerned about them now with Russia right next door?
KEITH: Right next door. Well, this meeting is meant to send a signal, certainly, to Russia and the rest of the world that the United States stands with these Baltic states. Last summer, Vice President Mike Pence was in Estonia, and delivered a very strong speech about Russian aggression and saying that under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempts to use force, threat, intimidation or malign influence in the Baltic states or against any of our treaty allies, referring to NATO. So that's the sort of strong language that has come from this administration. It will be very interesting to see exactly what President Trump says today.
INSKEEP: Well, yeah, you say the strong language from the vice president, from the administration - isn't the language by the president himself about Russia quite different, usually?
KEITH: It has been quite different. He has said that the relationship is very bad right now. But he tends to sort of soft-pedal a little bit and not use the strongest language possible.
INSKEEP: And make it clear that he wants to be friends with Russia and friends with Vladimir Putin.
KEITH: Exactly. And in a call to congratulate Putin on his election win, though many people believe that win is pretty dubious, President Trump floated the idea - or it's not clear who floated it, but they discussed a possible meeting, even possibly at the White House, which was in the news again yesterday as Russia said that it was in the works. And the White House did confirm that it is in the works, though there is nothing specific, and they said that they have nothing more to add to that.
INSKEEP: Little bit more work to do to be in the works.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about part of the process here. Tamara, these three Baltic leaders come to the White House, then they step out before you guys, the press corps. And President Trump will be there. I guess it's possible you'll have a chance to throw him a question or two. What's on reporters' minds?
KEITH: Well - and they've described this as a press conference, so chances are, we might actually get some questions. And there are a lot of them because the president hasn't taken many questions in a formal setting recently, not since he fired VA Secretary Shulkin, not since the cloud of controversy has really come up around EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and not since Stormy Daniels' interview with "60 Minutes."
MARTIN: But it is going to be interesting to see what kind of language the president uses today. The Baltic countries are going to be looking for strong words suggesting that he's going to take a harder line on Russia because that is their central fear, and it's the central tenet of NATO, which is holding back Russian aggression. It has been for generations.
INSKEEP: Should be interesting. Tamara Keith, NPR's White House correspondent, thanks very much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: All right, Sinclair Broadcast Group finds itself accused of distributing political propaganda this week.
MARTIN: Yeah. They own more local TV stations than any other company in the country. And recently, Sinclair ordered their local news anchors to narrate these commentaries that accused others in the press of publishing fake stories without checking facts.
INSKEEP: David Folkenflik reports on media for NPR News, has covered Sinclair for years. He's on the line from New York.
Hey there, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, guys.
INSKEEP: Can I just ask what's so bad about this commentary, which says that it's really bad for news organizations to report incorrect stories?
FOLKENFLIK: There's nothing bad in that, per se, and I think it's a point of pride to Sinclair to say, look, we're fact-based; we want to get the story without fear or favor, effectively. But they also want to do essentially what feels like negative campaigning. They talk about claims of bias in the media, how fake stories not only get circulated on social media but by some of the media. They talk about personal agendas from journalism. And it all echoes language from President Trump, just as we were just talking about in a different circumstance. You know, there's a new study out just this week from Emory University - a couple scholars who suggest that the local news has gotten more national and more conservative, and attributes that largely to the growth of Sinclair itself in recent years - to their increasing a hold on the number of stations they have and the number of markets they have across the country.
INSKEEP: So you have all these anchors. They read, word-for-word, essentially the same message. And it's not criticizing any specific story or any specific mistake by any specific news organization. It's just generically saying, don't trust the media. That's what's distinctive here, I guess.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, there's no reporting behind it. This was seen as a corporate message of journalistic responsibility. At the tail end, they said, if you take issue with our coverage, you know, click a button and tell us why. But it really seemed as though they were building themselves up by tearing stuff down at other places. You know, it's a page out of the Fox News songbook.
INSKEEP: So if Sinclair is distributing this message that is seen as favorable to President Trump, does Sinclair as a company want anything from President Trump's administration?
FOLKENFLIK: Oh, funny you should ask. And Trump, of course, yesterday tweeted very much in support of Sinclair as controversy built throughout the day. But what they want is something very tangible. You know, they've gotten good access at the White House. They've gotten sort of warm feelings. Their chief political analyst is a former Trump advisor named Boris Epshteyn, who's shown no ability to analyze separate from the White House line. But what they really want is something from anti-trust lawyers down in Washington.
The FCC chairman handpicked by Trump and elevated, Ajit Pai, essentially swept away a raft of rules to make sure that it would be a lot easier for Sinclair to continue to grow. It already owns or controls more than 190 stations. It's now in the process of trying to acquire more than 30 more from Tribune Media. The FCC's chairman is now actually under investigation by the agency's own inspector general for his actions in relations with Sinclair in that move. They very much want this approval, even at a time at which President Trump has been against greater media consolidation, with Time Warner, CNN's parent, being proposed to be acquired by AT&T and questions they've raised about Comcast, which is the parent company of NBC.
INSKEEP: OK, so we should just note, Sinclair has been conservative. It's not automatic that that's why they're sending a pro-Trump message now, but they want things from the government at the same time. David, thanks very much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik, our media correspondent.
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