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March 16, 2014 7:34 PM When Good Journalism Leads to Better Policy

By Martin Longman

The May/June 2013 issue of the Washington Monthly featured an article by John Carlos Frey on the frequency with which U.S. Border Patrol agents were using their weapons, including several incidents where they shot into Mexico and killed innocent civilians on the other side of the border. Mr. Frey also wrote articles on this controversy for the Los Angeles Times, El Diario, the Guardian, and Salon. For his efforts, he was just awarded an Izzy Award, which is given annually “to an independent outlet, journalist, or producer for contributions to our culture, politics, or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures.”

We’re proud of Mr. Frey, and pleased to have played a small part in his success, but the real pleasure is to see that the bad publicity that Frey (and others) created has actually led directly to reforms. As the Merced Sun-Star reports:

Crossing into the U.S. illegally is not a capital crime. Yet since 2010, some 20 people have been fatally shot by Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The head of the Border Patrol has taken the correct and necessary step of making clear to his agents that using deadly force should be a last resort. On Friday, Chief Michael Fisher ordered agents not to step in front of moving vehicles in order to open fire, and not to shoot at fleeing vehicles. He also directed agents to seek cover or move away from rock throwers, and not to shoot unless in imminent danger.

Recent reports by Tim Johnson of McClatchy and Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times may have finally brought things to a head, but Mr. Frey earned the recognition he has received for his dogged coverage of the “increasingly militarized US-Mexico border and rise in fatal shootings by US Border Patrol agents.”

Also deserving of praise is Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, for “pushing the Border Patrol to issue the new use-of-force guidelines and to make them public.”

It is encouraging to see evidence that good journalism can lead to better policy.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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