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A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Be afraid!

“It’s gonna be an election of the caravan. You know what I’m talking about. You know what I’m talking about,” President Trump said Thursday night. Fox News did not carry his rally live, but Fox viewers definitely would have known what Trump was talking about. Fox and other conservative media outlets have been hyping the latest caravan of migrants that’s making its way from Honduras through Guatemala toward Mexico.

The travelers “say they’re headed for the United States -— fleeing violence and searching for economic opportunity,” CNN.com’s latest story says. They haven’t even tried to enter Mexico yet.

But Trump and the pro-Trump media are deeply invested in this story… And they’re portraying this group as an urgent threat to the United States… Not coincidentally, the midterms are right around the corner…

View a photo gallery on CNN.com here…

How/why this story has been growing

Fox’s pro-Trump talk shows started to talk about this caravan on Sunday morning. Remember, the migrants organize in this way specifically because they want attention — it’s a form of protest — as Vox’s Dara Lind noted here, caravans “have become a way for activist groups to call attention to the plight of migrants and to provide strength in numbers.”

For TV networks and websites, a caravan means compelling pictures and a clearly defined storyline. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end to this human drama. Where are they going? When will they get there? What will happen? I’d argue that this oversimplifies an incredibly complex subject, but hey, I’m not a Fox News producer…

So: On Monday “Fox & Friends First” said the caravan was “exploding,” getting bigger. On Tuesday POTUS weighed in. This gave the story even more life. It was covered throughout the day Wednesday on Fox and practically every hour Thursday. The migrants keep walking and Trump keeps talking about it, so you can predict Fox’s Friday rundowns…

Fox v. MSNBC

I channel-surfed on Thursday night. Fox’s Tucker Carlson led his 8 p.m. hour with an anti-immigration spiel, with banners that read “MASSIVE MIGRANT CARAVAN ON THE WAY,” “MIGRANT CARAVAN KEEPS GROWING,” and “4,000 CENTRAL AMERICANS MARCH TO US BORDER.”

Over on MSNBC, at the exact same time, the banner on Chris Hayes’ show said “REPUBLICANS STOKE FEAR AND RESENTMENT AHEAD OF MIDTERMS.”

News consumers need less of that fear-mongering, and more of this: The NYT’s “Voices From the Caravan” feature is excellent…

Cuomo: These migrants are “desperate,” they’re not the “Walking Dead”

When CNN’s Chris Cuomo covered the caravan story on Thursday, he showed video from Honduras and Guatemala and said, “Please, don’t see these people as Trump does, monsters on the march. See them as they are: Desperate, leaving behind whatever they had, and whomever they knew, all for a better chance at life, a real life. Trump seems to see them instead as the Walking Dead, this walking threat, especially to his posture as Mr. Tough Guy on the border…”

Thursday’s shouting match

Trump is “incensed about the rising levels of migrants,” according to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny. No doubt this has a lot to do with what he’s seeing on TV. They report that Thursday’s “heated argument in the West Wing” between John Kelly and John Bolton was about how to handle the recent surge in border crossings. Staffers tipped off reporters to the screaming match, and it became a top story…

→ Stephen Colbert’s jab on Thursday night: “Fellas, fellas, don’t fight: You’re BOTH terrible.”

This week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast might make you more hopeful

Cable news slugfests and social media screaming matches distort the public’s perceptions of politics and each other, Tim Dixon says. He’s the co-founder of a nonprofit called More in Common and the co-author of a new study called “The Hidden Tribes of America.”

The study intrigues me because it reminds everyone that America is not a 50/50 country, not really, not the way it sometimes seems on TV. America has activists on the left, activists on the right, lots of progressives and conservatives who aren’t nearly as active, and then a lot of people who ignore the tug of war altogether. Or as the study puts it, two thirds of Americans are in the “exhausted majority.” So Dixon and I talked about media business models that worsen polarization, better ways to cover this subject, and much more…Listen to the pod via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or TuneIn, and lemme know what you think of the convo…

FOR THE RECORD

– If you missed Beto O’Rourke’s town hall with Dana Bash on CNN, here’s the live blog full of highlights… Ted Cruz declined invites to appear at a similar televised town hall… (CNN)

– “Lena Dunham’s feminist-leaning site, the Lenny Letter, is shutting down…” (NYPost)

– Jenn Suozzo is the new exec producer of “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” succeeding Sam Singal, who stepped down in July after three years on the job… (TVNewser)

– “Thursday Night Football” just wrapped up, and the Broncos beat the Cardinals 45-10. Frank Pallotta’s latest: “Scoring is up in the NFL, and so are its ratings…” (CNN)

Trump’s next interview?

Up top, I mentioned Trump’s interview with the NYT. It sounds like one of his next stops is One America News, otherwise known as OANN, the small conservative cable channel that’s trying to challenge Fox News. The channel isn’t rated by Nielsen, and it doesn’t have a big following, but it does have some devoted fans. OANN CEO Robert Herring tweeted on Thursday that Trump is going to speak with the channel’s W.H. correspondent Emerald Robinson on Friday. He added: “Thank you @realDonaldTrump! #Trump #OANN”

Trump jokes about congressman assaulting reporter

Daniel Dale, who fact-checks every word Trump says, called Thursday night’s rally in Missoula, Montana, “comprehensively bonkers.” He tweeted that “by far the most significant part was his praise for a congressman’s assault on a journalist.”

Read more of Thursday’s Reliable Sources newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

Yep, that happened. Trump praised Montana’s GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte for body-slamming reporter Ben Jacobs last year. “Any guy who can do a body slam … he’s my guy,” Trump said, and made a gesture mimicking a body slam. Here’s CNN’s full story. As Jake Tapper said afterward, the “timing for that joke is quite peccable…”

Guardian US: “We hope decent people will denounce these comments…”

Via Oliver Darcy: Jacobs had no immediate comment, but his employer, the Guardian US, did. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” editor John Mulholland said… “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them…”