The Media Today

Trump’s immigration policy takes center stage

June 18, 2018

Over Father’s Day weekend, stories of children being separated from their parents dominated national news coverage. The Trump administration’s immigration policy, which resulted in 1,995 children being removed from their parents over a six-week period that ended last month, has drawn reporters to the border and placed official explanations in the spotlight.

Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets,” writes the AP’s Nomaan Merchant. “Sitting on government-issued green mattresses and huddled under Mylar sheets, more than 1,100 migrants awaited an uncertain future at a US Border Patrol facility [in Texas], where resources are strained by the Trump administration’s new ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward people entering the US illegally,” led Politico’s Elana Schor.

The focus on the border comes after the administration shifted its immigration policy, opting to refer parents crossing the border illegally for criminal prosecution. Until April, such cases were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, a policy that did not require separation. President Trump and his administration’s mouthpieces have adopted the bizarre tactic of placing the blame for the situation on Democrats, with Trump falsely tweeting, “The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.”

This morning, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have front-page stories on the growing political pressure the administration faces over its border policy. As Trump has continued to shirk responsibility for his own programs, news outlets have been blunt in their descriptions of his mendacity. “Trump Again Falsely Blames Democrats for His Child-Separation Policy” read the print headline above Julie Hirschfeld Davis’s report in Sunday’s Times.

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Immigration policy was a main focus of Sunday shows, and networks have reporters on the ground in Texas. NBC’s Jacob Soboroff was live in McAllen, Texas, for Nightly News, and Gayle King is anchoring CBS This Morning from the border city today.

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Immigration policy is a notoriously difficult issue to cover, but reports of children separated from their parents has simplified and focused the narrative. CNN’s Brian Stelter made the observation that the current response—from journalists, politicians, and advocacy groups—is reminiscent of the outrage that followed Trump’s “shithole countries” comment earlier this year. The clear moral repugnance of removing children from their parents has driven attention to the issue, and Trump’s unwillingness to take ownership of the policy has led even those outlets normally cautious about labeling his statements to forcefully identify his claims as false.

Below, more on coverage of the border.

  • A “more moral answer”?: Former First Lady Laura Bush, who rarely speaks out on political issues, penned a Washington Post opinion piece criticizing the administration’s policy. “I live in a border state,” Bush wrote. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
  • Local coverage: The Texas Tribune’s Julián Aguilar reports on a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors made up of temporary buildings that has been erected just outside of El Paso.
  • Inside a facility: NBC News’s Soboroff was one of the first reporters to tour a facility for detained children. He reported from Brownsville, Texas, where the kids “get only two hours a day to be outside in fresh air. One hour of structured time. One hour of free time. The rest of the day is spent inside a former Walmart.
  • Huh?: Contradicting clear reporting on the ground, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” The clearly false statement drew plenty of pushback.


Other notable stories

  • As of today, the Los Angeles Times has a new owner. The paper’s Sunday front page had Meg James on biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong’s taking control of the Times and Joe Mozingo on its history of local ownership before Tribune Co. (later renamed Tronc) purchased the paper in 2000. Soon-Shiong wrote a note to readers, promising to revitalize the Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, which he is also acquiring in the deal.
  • The New York Times’s Jaclyn Peiser reports on an effort by former Denver Post staffers to build a new digital outlet in the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado Sun, in partnership with the Civil Media Company, is made up of eight ex-Post reporters and editors, and will focus on explanatory journalism, feature stories, and investigative articles, according to Peiser.
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram looks at the trend of advocacy organizations performing journalism, and questions whether it’s a good thing. “As the media landscape continues to fragment and many outlets struggle to afford more ambitious reporting projects, non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are increasingly taking on the role of reporter,” Ingram writes. “But even those leading the new NGO-as-muckraker efforts acknowledge that they’re no replacement for traditional news organizations.”
  • The Boston Globe’s Michael Levenson reports that the paper has suspended columnist Kevin Cullen for three months without pay following a review that found he fabricated details about his experience on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Cullen will be demoted to general assignment reporter for two months upon his return.
  • The New York Times’s Ellen Barry reports from Salisbury, England, where doubts have spread about the official story on the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. “As the British authorities went silent on the progress of their investigation, English-language Russian outlets flooded social media with more than a dozen alternative theories,” Barry writes.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.