Reason Roundup

Media Suddenly Eager to Fact Check Outrageous Human Trafficking Claims Under Trump: Reason Roundup

Plus: the futility of "fetal heartbeat" bills and Under Armour going to outer space.


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"Human traffickers, the victims are women and children," said President Donald Trump as he announced the end of the partial government shutdown. "Women are tied up, they're bound, duct tape put around their faces, around their mouths. In many cases they can't even breathe."

Several people pinged me last Friday when Trump launched into this crude, fabulistic, and fear-mongering tirade about sex trafficking. But it barely seemed noteworthy to me at this point. Not only has Trump made many past references to duct-taped women allegedly being trafficked across the U.S.–Mexico border, but his human trafficking hyperbole is barely distinguishable from the melodramatic "modern slavery" narratives put forth regularly by Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton, and others during their tenure in power. Or the stories stories spun by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during her time as California attorney general. And none of those stories were any less out of touch with reality.

Still, it's nice to see the Trump-era media actually looking critically at ridiculous human-trafficking claims. Yesterday, CNN—which has rarely met a fact-free sex-trafficking melodrama it wouldn't publish uncritically—ran an article titled "Experts: Trump's tape-bound women trafficking claim is misleading."

USA Today included the issue in its fact-check of "five things President Trump said while announcing the shutdown is over." The paper found "some elements of truth to the president's claim"—yes, Central American migrants seeking refuge here often face violence and sexual assault, it points out—but "no evidence exists that duct-tape bound women have been smuggled across the border in vehicles."

At Vox, Dara Lind—who points out that the gagged women thing has become "a staple of…Trump's riffs on the horrors of the US-Mexico border"—reports that a top Border Patrol official emailed agents last week seeking information to back up the president's claims:

The email, shown to Vox by a source within Border Patrol, was sent as a "request for information" by an assistant Border Patrol chief, apparently on behalf of the office of Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan (referred to internally as "C-1"). It asked agents to reply within less than two hours with "any information (in any format)" regarding claims of tape-gagged women—and even linked to the Post article "for further info." Vox's source indicated that they and others in their sector hadn't heard anything that would back up Trump's claims, but wasn't sure if agents in other sectors had provided information. However, no one from the Trump administration has come forward to offer evidence for the claim, either before or after the internal Border Patrol email was sent. (Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.)

Seeking post-hoc justification for wild human trafficking claims is also a bad habit that predates Trump. For many years, numbers spread by Justice Department and administration officials were more or less made up out of thin air, as The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has pointed out. (See also: "The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs.")

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, we're also seeing a revival of myths about sporting events and sex trafficking. Go here to see Maggie McNeill at Reason demolishing this myth.


"Not one state has managed to put a heartbeat bill into lasting practice," writes CNN's Jessica Ravitz, considering the latest abortion-curtailing law deemed unconstitutional in court. These "heartbeat bills" seek to ban abortion starting from the time a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is just a few weeks into pregnancy.

An Iowa judge just struck down such a law on January 22. But they keep coming. "In the past few weeks alone, lawmakers in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Minnesota and Tennessee introduced fetal heartbeat legislation," writes Ravitz.

Steven Aden, chief legal counsel for Americans United for Life, told CNN:

With all the respect I can muster to my many friends in the heartbeat movement, no heartbeat bill anywhere has ever saved a human life because, to my knowledge, they've all been struck down by federal and state judges—and that was predictable, They are unconstitutional under current federal constitutional law. They were designed as a vehicle to challenge Roe in the Supreme Court, but they won't get to the Supreme Court unless you can convince four members of the court that a fifth member would go with them to uphold the heartbeat bill.


Trendy athletic-wear brand preps for space. The fitness apparel company Under Armour is launching a clothing and footwear line made for intergalactic travel. Under Armour will create the line for Virgin Atlantic, reports Fast Company: "Under Armour says it will be creating a new generation of space apparel and footwear, plus an astronaut performance program, for Virgin's commercial space flight program. That includes spacesuits for passengers and pilots, as well as uniforms for Virgin's Spaceport America facility in New Mexico."


• The U.S. is looking at a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit for the second year in a row.

• Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown writes in the San Francisco Chronicle about his relationship with Kamala Harris in the 1990s. The title: "Sure, I dated Kamala Harris. So What?"

• Against smartphone panic.

• The FBI is reportedly considering Mann Act charges against R. Kelly.

• The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up a new gun rights case.

• Banks are eyeing Warren's likely presidential candidacy with dread, reports The Wall Street Journal.