NYT Report on Family Separation Policy

Research/Study Research/Study

New reporting reveals Trump administration officials intentionally separated migrant families. Broadcast and cable news largely ignored it.

MSNBC was the only English-language network to devote substantial attention to the report

  • On October 6, The New York Times published a damning report detailing how Trump administration officials intentionally separated migrant children from their parents, despite public denials. The story has hardly been mentioned on English-language broadcast and cable news since — with only MSNBC and CNN covering it — and Vice President Mike Pence was not asked about the administration’s cover-up at last night’s debate.

    Nearly 3,000 children were separated from their families after the Trump administration formally implemented its draconian “zero tolerance” policy in 2018. The tactic sparked global condemnation, and Trump administration officials like former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions later claimed that the administration had never intentionally sought to separate families. The New York Times piece — based on a forthcoming report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz — reveals that those claims were lies.

    In particular, the reporting sheds light on how Sessions and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played a central role in separating families as part of an effort to deter migrants from crossing the southern border. Medical experts warned at the time that such separations could have devastating psychological impact, and some doctors later concluded that the practice constituted torture.

    Since the initial reporting, from the morning of October 6 through the morning of October 8, all English-language cable and broadcast news networks aside from CNN and MSNBC have completely ignored the New York Times report. Fox News, ABC News, NBC News, and CBS had zero reporting on the story, while CNN devoted just 9 minutes to coverage. MSNBC pulled ahead of the pack with the majority of coverage, at 33 minutes, with segments broadcast on both morning and evening shows.

  • Family separation coverage chart 2
  • Additionally, neither President Donald Trump nor Pence has been asked about the administration’s immigration policies during the recent presidential and vice presidential debates.

    Cable and broadcast coverage of the report is yet another recent example of the networks’ negligence in reporting on the cruelty of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable channels CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for any of the terms Sessions, Rosenstein, Nielsen, Hamilton, Miller, Horowitz, Vance, Department of Justice, DOJ, Justice Department, Trump administration, zero tolerance, prosecution, or policy within close proximity any of the terms illegals, alien, kid, family, or migrant or any variation of any the terms child, separate, or immigrant from 4 a.m. October 6 through 11 a.m. October 8, 2020.

    We timed any mention or discussion of Trump administration officials advocating the separation of migrant children from their families. We included full segments on the issue, which we defined as instances when the issue was the stated topic of discussion, and “significant discussion” of the issue, which we defined as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the issue. We timed only the relevant portions of the multitopic segment. We also included passing mentions of the issue and teasers of upcoming segments about the issue later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.