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How Cable News Handled Biden and Trump at the Southern Border

Election Day is eight months away. But television viewers on Thursday afternoon were treated to their first glimpse of a political split screen that is likely to dominate cable news coverage for the rest of the campaign.

The occasion was dueling visits by President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump to the U.S.-Mexican border. Although the men were several hundred miles apart, on TV their back-to-back speeches left the impression of a head-to-head matchup.

The major cable news channels — CNN, MSNBC and Fox News — played up the prizefight angle, with CNN deeming the occasion the “Border Battle Up Close.” But each network’s programming choices spoke to the different lenses through which voters may experience news coverage of the campaign.

Here is how it played out on Thursday:

Former President Donald J. Trump with Gov. Greg Abbott, to his left, on Thursday in Eagle Pass, Texas.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Fox News

Hosts on Fox News have been warning viewers about the dangers of a porous southern border for years. On Thursday, the network dedicated almost the entirety of its afternoon to the topic. Martha MacCallum, the 3 p.m. host, welcomed several guests who dismissed Mr. Biden’s visit as a cynical photo op. Fox News aired several minutes of blurry footage of Mr. Trump meeting with a Border Patrol agent in Eagle Pass, Texas, though the audio was often indecipherable.

Ms. McCallum offered her own take to viewers about undocumented migrants: “If they break one law, they should be deported from the country, at the bare minimum. I think that’s just a basic common sense that I think most Americans would agree with.”

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