The Media Today

Trump caves to sustained border coverage

June 21, 2018

It began last week with reports of children ripped from their parents and a tense showdown in the White House Briefing Room. Then, reporters and anchors flocked to the border, blanketing the airwaves with coverage of the administration’s family-separation policy. Finally, on Wednesday, President Trump responded to public and political pressure, signing an executive order attempting to end the crisis that he created.

“Make no mistake: this is a result of the public outrage. And that wouldn’t have been possible without the underpaid journalists busting their ass to quickly and accurately report this story,” wrote Ilya Lozovsky, managing editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “Please support good journalism. It’s a public good.”

ICYMI: New York Times under fire for interview

Days after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen falsely claimed that the administration didn’t have a policy of separating families at the border, and following repeated administration efforts to blame Democratic lawmakers for the crisis, Trump’s executive order ends the separation of families at the border by detaining parents and children together for an indefinite period. As BuzzFeed’s Zoe Tillman notes, this is a temporary fix at best, requiring judicial approval of changes to a 1997 settlement agreement that restricts the detention of children beyond a certain period. Absent any changes to that agreement or action by congress, the government would have to separate children from their parents after 20 days. As for the 2,300 children already separated from their parents, the Department of Health and Human Services was unclear how or whether they would be reunited with their families.

As the crisis at the border has unfolded, activists, politicians, and members of the public placed increasing pressure on the administration to change its policy. The role of the media in driving that pressure is hard to overstate. While it’s impossible to draw a direct line between ProPublica’s airing of a recording of sobbing children and Trump’s capitulation, it’s not hard to see the connection. Sustained attention from journalists—across print, digital, and television—drove moral indignation that forced the president’s hand, causing him to take action that he had days earlier said was impossible.

The crisis at the border is by no means settled, and the coming weeks will test whether media organizations have the willingness to continually highlight what will be a drawn-out struggle. But the blanket coverage of a clearly immoral policy is a credit to journalists and editors who chose to dedicate resources to the story. It’s proof that the administration, even when backed by a concerted campaign from its media allies, can be forced to action by outside pressure. As that reality was sinking in yesterday evening, I couldn’t help but consider an uncomfortable question: What if the media had paid similar attention to the devastation in Puerto Rico?

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RELATED: Washington Post apologizes to freelancer after killing story over social media post

Below, more on coverage of the border, and the president’s response.

  • Media coverage matters: The New York Times’s Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, and Maggie Haberman report that Trump was initially resistant to amending his own border policy, but began casting about for a solution after becoming “furious about the pummeling he has taken in the news media in recent days.
  • The race card: The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker connects Trump’s border policy—he warned that immigrants would “pour into and infest our country”—to a broader racist narrative emanating from the Oval Office. “Echoing the words and images of the white nationalist movement to dehumanize immigrants and inflame racial tensions has become a defining feature of Donald Trump’s presidency and of the Republican Party’s brand,” Rucker writes.
  • Not ignored: Some Trump-backers have accused journalists of ignoring problems at the border under previous administrations. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton proves that that is simply not true. As he writes: “Allow me to show you the receipts.
  • The big picture: Trump’s executive order ends the immediate separation of children from their parents, but it is expected to face a legal challenge. It also doesn’t address the more than 2,000 children already separated. Ultimately, The Wall Street Journal reports, Trump’s action “raised a host of questions about whether Congress still needed to legislate, whether a new system for keeping families together would end up amounting to indefinite detention while their cases are adjudicated, and how the government would reunify families already split apart.”


Other notable stories

  • Disney sharply increased its bid for 21st Century Fox, giving the House of Mouse the upper hand in its bidding war with Comcast, reports The New York Times’s Edmund Lee. The battle for 21st Century Fox’s assets has been cast as the first of many in an expected media merger frenzy following the approval of the AT&T-Time Warner deal last week, but Recode’s Peter Kafka questions whether we’ve overestimated the appetite for acquisitions. “So far the only people taking out their checkbooks are the ones who were already taking out their checkbooks,” Kafka writes. “And there is a decent chance that they may be the only ones with a real appetite to buy TV and film companies.”
  • The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer reports that after Splinter News published White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s phone number, Twitter locked the accounts of reporters and others who shared the piece.
  • Univision is offering buyouts to Gizmodo Media Group staffers in an effort to cut its editorial budget by 15 percent, reports Bloomberg’s Gerry Smith. The cutbacks represent the “latest case of a digital-media upstart tightening its belt,” Smith writes, and Univision may resort to layoffs if not enough people choose to take the packages offered.
  • “One day you’re a staff writer at The New Yorker and the next day you’re the CEO of a health-care startup backed by Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and JP Morgan Chase,” writes CJR’s Mathew Ingram of Atul Gawande, whose appointment as head of the new company was announced Wednesday. Gawande is also a surgeon who practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as well as the author of four books about medicine.
  • Abby Seiff was all set to see one of her pieces published in The Washington Post, then she got word that the story was being killed because she had retweeted a mild criticism of the paper. For CJR, Seiff writes about the precarious life of a freelancer, and when it makes sense to push back.
  • For Times Insider, Katie Van Syckle has a profile of Juanita Powell-Brunson, the paper’s deputy director of newsroom operations, calling her “the woman who really runs The New York Times.

ICYMI: Times under fire for agreeing to White House terms on Miller interview

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