National Geographic’s War on the Border

Are we at war with Mexico? National Geographic seems to think so. The “Nat Geo” cable channel has a new series out called the “Border Wars,” which started January 12.

Dehumanizing immigrants and touting a war on the U.S.-Mexico border always gets TV producers’ pulses racing. Nothing like hunting down some impoverished brown people, wearing bulletproof vests and showing off those new Homeland Security helicopters to raise sagging TV ratings.

Media conglomerates can’t resist the temptation to hype the border as a war zone in their desperate efforts to appeal to an increasingly fragmented viewing audience. For producers it’s Afghanistan on the cheap. You can be a foreign correspondent on $50 bucks a day. You can wear a khaki ensemble and a flak jacket, grit your teeth for the camera as you contemplate your own mortality in the desert, without ever leaving the United States. And hey you can go back to the Holiday Inn afterwards and have a nice fajita plate when you’re done shooting for the day.

Scott Nicol from the group No Border Wall first made me aware of National Geographic’s new series when I was down in Brownsville a couple of weeks ago reporting for this week’s story “All Walled Up” about the Border Wall travesty in Brownsville. I was disappointed that National Geographic would go down that clichéd “Border War” road to try and lure more viewers to its cable channel. This is the kind of junk that scares the sansabelt slacks off Middle America and leads to wrongheaded justifications for border walls and armed troops along the border.

I wasn’t the only one disappointed. John Carlos Frey a filmmaker who grew up on the border had this to say about the series in the Huffington Post:

“Billions of dollars, tens of thousands of border guards and horribly, thousands of dead migrants later, the National Geographic Channel’s ratings darling, Border Wars, forgets to mention the border policy they are glorifying in their program is deliberately forcing people to cross deadly terrain and may not be “halting illegal immigration.”

Remember when National Geographic used to be a fact-filled and informative magazine that gave you a deeper understanding of other cultures? As a kid living in a dull, monotonous suburb in Oregon I couldn’t wait to delve into the pages of National Geographic each month and imagine myself somewhere else.

Okay, that was like 25 years ago, I admit. Times have changed in the world of media, as we all know.

I happen to believe in a few years media will be in a much better place. But in the meantime, why do the National Geographic and other media conglomerates have to paint the border region as Mogadishu?

I checked out some of the episodes. They’ve got sensationalistic headlines like “City Under Siege” and “No End in Sight.” In the behind-the-scenes video the producer is wearing the obligatory khaki ensemble and a bulletproof vest as he breathlessly races through the desert following Border Patrol as they track down some human beings in the desert. In a brief 30-second video the producer tells us that the socio-economic reasons for immigration at the border are “complex.” Apparently, too complex for his film crew to ever delve into in the several weeks they spent at the border filming Homeland Security’s propaganda film. In fact, they proudly admit the series is propaganda. U.S. Customs and Border Protection co-produced this plastic gem.

Too bad National Geographic didn’t spend more than 30 seconds delving into the complexity and humanity of the issues. Instead we hear about the “terrorists” and the “war” on our border as they show us images of scared immigrants with Border Patrol flashlights shining in their eyes. They don’t explain these “terrorists” were on their way to scrub toilet bowls in a rich suburb in California or flip burgers at a McDonald’s in Arizona. They don’t show us the poverty they came from. In fact we never hear from them at all.

It wasn’t long ago when National Geographic was all about erasing borders. Now it’s creating “Border Wars.”

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 12:00 am CST
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