Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Babies, Parents and The Press in the latest US immigration scandal

Yet another “scandal” hit the headlines this week, one which provides yet another classic example of what the White House, often rightly, calls “fake news.”

US attorney general Jeff Sessions justified a change in policy which separates children from their parents who had entered the United States illegally by noting that such entry was, well, illegal.

That was in April this year. Under this new “zero tolerance” policy, those parents will be detained and liable to criminal prosecution if they have broken the law, but US protocol prevents the detention of children since they are not charged with any crime.

The policy is aimed at deterring parents from attempting illegal entry, but earlier today, Sessions also referenced the Bible to shore up justification for the policy, a move which quickly brought criticism from religious figures and groups.

Then, at a press briefing, Brian Karem, a White House correspondent and CNN political analyst, put a question to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Sessions’ comments, saying

Come on, Sarah, you’re a parent! Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?… They have less than you do. Sarah, come on, seriously.

The centre-left British newspaper The Guardian claimed that Sanders refused to answer Karem’s question and as “proof” provided this link of the exchange on CNN’s website.

What the link did not show was the full context.

As anyone who has ever attended a press conference or briefing knows perfectly well, it is par for the course that in their search for information – or headlines – journalists often rephrase the same question several times.

It is therefore no wonder that politicians and officials brush off subsequent repeats of the same question and often get annoyed.

This YouTube upload of the whole press briefing, on the other hand, shows that the immigration issue  was first broached at 5:05 minutes into the clip and continues until about 8:20 – only then does Karem start putting his questions to Sanders, immediately trying to personalise the issue.

One can agree or disagree with the policy of separating children from their parents, and Trump’s opponents can be sure to exploit the issue.

But Sanders had indeed already answered the previous questions in some detail.

The CNN clip takes the exchange between Kamer and Sanders totally out of context by omitting the previous 3 minutes and 15 seconds to give a completely false picture of what really happened.

As noted, this kind of approach is endemic in journalism.

Social media have destroyed people’s sense of time and place and had many other negative side effects. But they have also enabled “the people” to hold politicians, business and media to account far more than ever before.

Many in journalism have yet to learn that lesson and it is no wonder that media credibility has crashed.


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