Maria Gomez Hernandez and her children, Francisco Ivan Jimenez Gomez and Dianna Jimenez pose for a portrait at a migrant camp on Tuesday January 23, 2024, in Matamoros, Mexico. (Sergio Flores for The Free Press)

The Migrants Hoping for a Biden Victory. Plus. . .

Why gambling is ruining sports. Is Havana Syndrome a hoax? Ten stories. And more.

Good morning to all 625,000 of you.

Today from The Free Press: Why the prudes were right about sports betting. 60 Minutes commits “journalistic malpractice.” And more. But first. . .  

An estimated 7.3 million illegal immigrants have crossed into the U.S. since the start of Joe Biden’s presidency. When polled, voters say it’s the issue they’re most worried about. And it could cost Biden the election come November. 

That’s why we’ve made immigration the first subject of our new live series, The America Debates. Join us next Thursday, April 11, in Dallas, to debate the question: Should the United States shut its borders?

Best-selling author Ann Coulter and Sohrab Ahmari, founder and editor of Compact, will face off against Nick Gillespie, editor-at-large for Reason magazine, and Cenk Uygur, founder of The Young Turks. Bari’s moderating. 

Tickets are selling fast but there are still some up for grabs. Get them while you can! 

Meanwhile, my colleague Peter Savodnik went to the border to meet the people at the center of this story: the migrants themselves. And they all agreed on one thing: “we want Biden to win.”

Here’s Peter on the crisis nobody wants to solve. 

MATAMOROS, MEXICO — On a recent Wednesday, Daniel Cortez, a 45-year-old mechanic from Honduras, and Richard Betancourt, a 46-year-old pipe fitter from Venezuela, were holding court at the migrants camp here on the northernmost edge of Mexico.

They sat in bridge chairs under a tarp and a drizzly, gray-white sky. Beyond the tents, past the field strewn with fast-food containers and old sneakers and discarded Barbies, there was a slope leading down to the Rio Grande, and on the other side of the river, Brownsville, Texas: razor wire, Humvees, Americans in camouflage.

Cortez told me he has been waiting three and a half months to cross the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had yet to schedule his interview. There was a long line of migrants ahead of him, and, at this point, he was just hoping to get into the U.S. before November 2024. 

When I pointed toward America and asked who they wanted to be president, Cortez answered quickly. “I want Biden to win,” he said. 

Betancourt agreed. “If it’s Trump, it doesn’t matter how much I work or want to work,” he said. “They won’t let me in.”


Ten Stories We’re Reading 

  1. The strongest earthquake in Taiwan in 25 years has killed at least nine people. Production in the island’s all-important semiconductor industry was halted only briefly. (NBC)

  2. A WSJ poll puts Trump ahead of Biden in six out of seven swing states. Over at The Atlantic, David Frum is undeterred, and predicts a Biden blowout. We admire your confidence, David. (WSJ)

  3. House Speaker Mike Johnson sees a path to funding Ukraine. Can he deliver? (Punchbowl)

  4. Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz—Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival—has called for elections to be held in September. Netanyahu dismissed the move as “petty politics.” (The Times of Israel)

  5. To rebuild the Key Bridge as quickly as possible, Baltimore needs to take lessons from the I-95 overpass in Philadelphia that collapsed last year and was repaired in just 12 days. (City Journal

  6. The share of Americans who say Jews face a lot of discrimination has doubled in recent years, from 20 percent in 2021 to 40 percent in 2024. (Pew)

  7. The French are drinking a lot less wine. “In 2022 roughly 10 percent of French people drank wine every day, down from half in 1980.” (The Economist

  8. Why are there so many twins in the NBA? (The Ringer)

  9. Tiger Woods is so serious about his Masters preparation this year that he has even taken a vow of celibacy, according to a friend of the golfer. Given the infidelities he committed in his heyday, is that really a winning strategy? (NY Post

  10. The unstoppable rise of Bluey. The hit Australian kids’ show is worth $2 billion. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

60 Minutes on Havana Syndrome: A Blockbuster Report or “Journalistic Malpractice”? 

On Sunday evening, 60 Minutes aired a segment on Havana Syndrome that felt like a spy thriller. There were disguises, high-speed chases, redacted documents, and talk of sonic weapons. The story presented new evidence suggesting Russia is behind the mysterious wave of dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms reported by U.S. diplomatic and intelligence officials in recent years. Retired Army lieutenant colonel Greg Edgreen told 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley he is “confident” Russia was to blame, supporting the theory that Putin’s goons targeted embassy employees with microwave beams.

One year ago, a government report concluded it was “very unlikely” a foreign adversary was behind the attacks, adding that Havana Syndrome most likely stemmed from “preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors.” It also cited “social factors,” i.e., psychosomatic contagion. 

But Scott Pelley’s report for 60 Minutes has given fresh life to the conspiracy theories. Now, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal are calling for a new probe from the government, and former White House national security adviser John Bolton has popped up on CNN, saying Russia is “very likely” to blame. On Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said the Biden administration was taking the matter “very seriously.”

But does 60 Minutes really have the goods? Robert Bartholemew, a sociologist and expert on social contagion who co-authored a book on Havana Syndrome, told me it’s all “a moral panic based on fear of the Russians.” 

In fact, he says the report is “journalistic malpractice.” 

Here’s why: 

First, a pair of studies conducted at the National Institutes for Health, which were published last month, found no unusual pattern of injury among the embassy’s employees. They are the most rigorous look at the phenomenon to date, but the show mentioned them only briefly, calling them “vigorously debated” before returning to its cloak-and-dagger tale. 

As well as interviewing what Bartholomew calls “rogue scientists,” Pelley made no effort to provide the skeptic’s version of events.

“You can go out and find a scientist who believes in Bigfoot,” he said. “You can find a scientist who believes people are being abducted by aliens. And you can do a story on that. And you can just lead people to one side of the story. True journalism gives both sides of the story.”

For more on this subject, read Peter Savodnik’s 2021 piece on Havana Syndrome: “The Attacks.” 

The Sports-Betting Prudes Were Right

The start of baseball season has been overshadowed by a massive betting scandal involving the MLB’s biggest star, Shohei Ohtani, whose translator allegedly stole $4.5 million of his money to settle gambling debts. It’s the latest sign that gambling is ruining sports, argues Joe Nocera.

For decades, Las Vegas was the only place in the country where sports betting was legal. And once upon a time, the men who ran the major sports leagues were terrified of betting. The great fear was that it would corrupt the players, who would be tempted to fix games.

Turns out, those fears were valid. In the last year, there’s been a spate of gambling-related controversies. The NBA is investigating Toronto’s Jontay Porter for taking himself out of two games to boost gamblers betting against his performance. Major League Baseball’s best player, Shohei Ohtani, is under a cloud after his Japanese translator used $4.5 million of Ohtani’s money to pay off gambling debts. (For the moment, at least, the translator is believed to have stolen the money from Ohtani, and he says he never bet on baseball.) And in 2023, the NFL suspended five players for betting on games in their own league.

Perhaps these controversies were inevitable. Because these days, professional sports have a lot to do with Vegas.

The dam broke in 2017, when the National Hockey League put a franchise in Las Vegas, and when the Oakland Raiders relocated to the city—where they play in a stadium where gambling takes place. The following year, a Supreme Court decision opened the doors to sports betting across the country; 38 states have since legalized it. Since then, online sports betting behemoths FanDuel and DraftKing have plastered their logos on the floors of basketball arenas and become major advertisers for televised pro sports events. And this year’s Super Bowl actually took place in the Raiders stadium—yes, the one where gambling takes place.

Sports betting has always been with us, and there’s a school of thought that says it’s better to do it out in the open than to place bets with guys who will break your kneecaps if you can’t pay up.

But I don’t agree. I’m sorry to sound like a prude, but gambling is a vice that can ruin one’s life, and back when sports betting was illegal, there was less of it, which was a good thing.

This is especially true in the era of prop bets, which allow gamblers to bet on individual players—from how many three-pointers a center forward will score to whether a kicker will make the next field goal. “To half the world, I’m just helping them make money on DraftKings or whatever,” said Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton recently. “I’m a prop.” 

Sadly, legal sports betting isn’t going away. All these bets help keep twitchy viewers watching in a culture that no longer has an attention span longer than five minutes. Those eyeballs make money for leagues and advertisers. And if they cost the suckers money, well, too bad.

And finally, two notes about the youth. 

First, Tyler Cowen announced the latest round of grants for the Emergent Ventures program at the Mercatus Center yesterday. The scheme gives grants to “entrepreneurs and brilliant minds with highly scalable, ‘zero to one’ ” ideas for meaningfully improving society, and every round of grants is an awe-inspiring, stereotype-defying list of young people doing awesome stuff. One grantee jumps out to us this time around: “Candela Francisco, 17, Buenos Aires, to become the world’s greatest woman chess player.” 

Go Candela! 

Second, I don’t know what grants are available for straight-talking twelve-year-olds from Idaho, but can someone give this guy a radio show?

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.

And become a Free Press subscriber today: 

Subscribe now

The Free Press earns a commission from any purchases made through links in this article.