Politico’s morning Playbook on Wednesday discussed “a tale of two immigration messages,” contrasting the Biden and Trump administrations’ media accessibility at the border. “The Biden administration has downplayed the influx of migrants, insisting it’s a challenge, not a ‘crisis,’” the site wrote, in comparison to how “the Trump administration highlighted chaos at the border to build public support for its hard-line immigration policies.”
The report played into right-wing messaging that the border situation is a “crisis” and that it’s all on Biden. In fact, the current increase at the border not only began in the final months of former President Donald Trump’s term, but it represents normal seasonal patterns plus “pent-up demand” from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, when most travel shut down.
But then Politico cited the notoriously anti-immigration Trump adviser Stephen Miller in order to comment on the subject of media access and his promotion of a desired public image about the situation.
“It was a global policy, allowing and encouraging media access,” STEPHEN MILLER, DONALD TRUMP’S top immigration adviser, told Playbook. “I used to call [Customs and Border Patrol] and say, ‘Why can’t you get more reporters to ride alongside?’ … I want to turn on ‘60 Minutes’ and see footage.”
While images of crowded, difficult conditions were helpful to the image Trump wanted to create, they run counter to the Biden administration’s objective of projecting a firm-but-compassionate response to border crossings. The upshot: This is one instance where the media-bashing Trump was on the side of the press — and Biden, despite his supposed respect for the role of journalism, is not.
Politico’s introduction of Miller as simply “Donald Trump’s top immigration adviser” elides Miller’s record of white nationalist sympathies, his role in the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families, and his total opposition to immigration in and of itself.
In a series of emails between Miller and former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh in 2015 and 2016, reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2019, Miller repeatedly alluded to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory about immigration, recommended the notorious “white genocide”-themed French novel The Camp of the Saints, and praised President Calvin Coolidge for almost completely shutting down immigration in the 1920s.
Indeed, Politico had previously reported in 2019 that Miller had wanted to completely end refugee admissions to the United States, by setting the cap at zero, and reported in 2020 on his efforts to keep unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody for extended periods of time, rather than placing them in health department shelters or with undocumented adults.
Politico also once printed a guest piece by Miller’s uncle, who castigated his nephew as an “immigration hypocrite” because their own family had fled anti-Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe: “If my nephew’s ideas on immigration had been in force a century ago, our family would have been wiped out.”
Thus, Miller’s far-right background is fully known to Politico — which now simply tags him as “Donald Trump’s top immigration adviser” and praises him for being open to the media while pushing his own messaging on the border situation.
Also notably, another section of today’s Playbook discussed a Politico/Morning Consult poll, saying that “declining support for providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants” shows that “the Biden administration and Democrats are currently losing the battle over public opinion.”
The actual numbers of the linked poll were a bit more complex, with a plurality of 43% favoring a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, only 27% favoring mass deportations, and 19% wanting them to be able to stay but not gain citizenship. Then a follow-up question on Dreamers — those who were brought to the country when they were just children — showed overwhelming support for citizenship at 62% and only 14% for deportations.
But Politico’s presentation of the poll further illustrated the point: Media access and messaging can not only shape public opinion but also shape how that public opinion is described in the first place.