The American Prospect scrutinized a report that aired March 12 on “Outfront with Erin Burnett,” in which CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera witnessed the dramatic crossing from a motorboat near Hidalgo, Texas.
“The Rio Grande Valley has been ground zero for the latest surge in migration and here you see the operation unfolding right in front of us,” Lavandera told viewers. “After the first raft crosses, the magnitude of this moment reveals itself. Dozens of migrants emerge and walk down to the river’s edge. You can see that this is a serious operation.”
As the Prospect pointed out, the smuggler guiding the boat of migrants across the river in the CNN report “wears fatigues and a black ski mask.”
“Smugglers typically attempt to blend in with the migrants, to avoid more severe punishment should they be caught,” The American Prospect writing fellow Marcia Brown observed. “Smugglers also don’t normally provide face masks and life vests, nor ferry six boatloads of people across in broad daylight. Migrants also don’t typically line up single file along the shore to cross.”
Former Border Control agent Jenn Budd told the publication that seeing the smuggler’s face mask told her that he “knew he would be filmed and he didn’t want to be set up.”
The article also cited Marianna Treviño Wright, the executive director of the National Butterfly Center and a vocal migrant advocate, who alleged that her organization makes trips down the river “at least four times a week” and “never sees any kind of trafficking operation like this.”
“We [alerted] our contact @CNN that this was a set up on Thursday, March 11, BEFORE they aired the piece. They chose sensationalism over truth and integrity,” the center alleged on Monday while sharing The American Prospect’s report on Twitter.
Wright confirmed a March 18 report by The Guardian that the area of the river where CNN’s reporting took place “can only be accessed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
“They either duped Ed Lavandera into doing this or he’s so desperate for ratings he went along with it,” Wright told The American Prospect.
Brown then highlighted a video that surfaced online before CNN’s report aired showed a similar scene, pointing out: “The boat in this video and the boat in the CNN footage have the same markings, and the same ski-masked, fatigues-wearing man who appears to be steering the boat.”
In a piece published on Medium, Budd noted an exchange heard in the video between two men speaking English. One of the men asks: “Do you ever hook those guys up?” with the other responding: “Yeah, they’re … grade A …”
“As a former agent, what I hear is these men possibly talking about paying this smuggler off to gather a bunch of unsuspecting migrants and have them cross in a particular place in order to get this shot,” Budd wrote. “Whether or not CNN knew this was a set up or not, I cannot say. I can say that the slips in that area to put boats into the river are all controlled by CBP and Border Patrol. It is my understanding that this area is also full of sensors, cameras, sirens and Border Patrol many boats. This is not surprising as it is only a mile from the port of entry and Border Patrol is most heavily deployed around the ports. I can also say that I do not believe this could have been done without Border Patrol approval.”
CNN did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment, but a spokesperson denied Budd’s claim last week that the network shared a “fake” report.
“CNN did not participate in any type of coordinated effort to shoot a staged scene of migrants crossing the river nor have we found any credible evidence that suggests our team was unknowingly part of a set-up by Border Patrol or anyone else,” CNN’s head of strategic communications Matt Dornic tweeted on March 18.
Dornic also insisted that the videos that were shared were “not from the same day.”
Fox News has also reached out to Budd and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for comment.