News outlets slammed for video humanizing MS-13 members, downplaying threat

Vox and ProPublica are taking heat for producing a video downplaying the threat posed by MS-13 and describing the gang as a strictly “American problem.”

The ruthless gang has been in the headlines for years, but has become somewhat of a political football as President Trump makes them the face of the illegal immigration problem. 

The video by Vox and ProPublica openly challenges Trump for using the gang as justification for tougher border policies. But conservative critics are accusing the reporters of going over the line, and acting as apologists for MS-13. 

“The left is so committed to being anti-Trump that they are willing to play the role of Baghdad Bob for one of the most vicious gangs in America. If you find yourself doing pro-bono PR work for rapists and murderers you might want to rethink your entire life,” conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News. 

The video, “Why the street gang MS-13 is an American problem,” acknowledges the gang has committed terrible crimes but goes on to downplay the threat.

It portrays MS-13 members as otherwise regular teens who take selfies and stresses that the gang was formed by immigrants from El Salvador in Los Angeles, claiming this renders it an American issue. 

The video features ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier saying that the MS-13 she sees on the ground has “almost nothing in common with the MS-13 as portrayed by the government,” before airing footage of Trump attacking the gang at a rally.  

Dreier then says the MS-13 members she has come across are “working after-school jobs, living with their parents” and get around Long Island on bicycles “because they can’t afford cars.”  

Vox senior reporter Dara Lind says in the video it is “100 percent an American-born gang.” Lind describes its early members in Los Angeles as “a group of teenagers hanging out, smoking pot, listening to rock music.” 

The video stresses that MS-13 is not a drug cartel, has fewer members than other gangs like The Crips and is not "highly organized." The video concludes by stating that “MS-13 is not invading” the United States.

The gang indeed was formed in Los Angeles, and its U.S. membership is lower than that of some other gangs. The video, however, glosses over the gang's strong presence in Central America, which grew after deportations from the U.S. in the 1990s, as detailed by The Council on Foreign Relations

Former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan blasted the video during an interview Friday on "Fox & Friends." 

“I’ve been investigating illegal alien crime for 34 years. I’ve flown to New York twice with the president, to Long Island where he met with the families of children [killed by MS-13],” Homan said. “The president is 100 percent accurate. MS-13 is a border issue.”

Homan said the video is “dead wrong” and he was never contacted for it. 

“They don’t want to reach out to me … the left side media, they don’t want to hear it from us. They don’t want the truth,” he said. “This is an inaccurate story.”

The Federalists’ Jacob Perry wrote that the video serves as a “public relations firm for the violent gang,” while downplaying the brutal gang “in order to attack President Trump.”

Trump has often pointed to MS-13 crimes to underscore the reason for some of his controversial immigration policies. He kicked off the immigration portion of his January State of the Union address by detailing the horror of two teenage girls who were killed by MS-13.

Immediately afterward, MSNBC's Joy Reid and Chris Matthews downplayed the gang and accused the president of mentioning the murders to get applause.

A study by the conservative-leaning Center for Immigration Studies released shortly after Trump’s speech found that MS-13 “represents a very serious threat to public safety” and the gang’s resurgence is “directly connected to the illegal arrival and resettlement of more than 300,000 Central American youths and families.”

The CIS report notes that all criminal gangs are threats "but MS-13 is a unique problem because of the unusually brutal crimes its members have committed,” including 207 murders since 2012. Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini recently appeared on Fox News' “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and described a quadruple homicide in which MS-13 members chopped four boys into “little pieces.”

ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg provided Fox News with the following comment: “Our video clearly notes that the people pictured in its opening segment have been charged with horrific crimes. The point of our reporting on MS-13 is to bring facts to the conversation. We are explaining the actual size of the gang, the actual scope of their criminal activities, and the actual extent to which they pose a threat to the immigrant communities in which they live — so that law enforcement can take appropriate actions that make these communities safer.”

Vox did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.