The problem with CNN is not just that the network is in the habit of fomenting conspiracies or clinging to heavily debunked myths. It is the fact that its stories are the sole source of “news” for some of its 835,000 daily viewers.
So when network legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says, as he did Monday, that outgoing Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, will be remembered as “the woman who put children in cages” and “broke up families across the border,” CNN tuners-in will accept it as “fact” and even pass it along at the breakfast table or cocktail parties.
The problem with the myth Toobin is repeating here it that it was laid to rest long ago. It sprung up in early 2018 with a photo of migrant children asleep in a cage that was plastered all over the internet. If any of the “gotcha” seekers had examined the photograph’s cutline, they would have noticed that it was dated July 13, 2014: The picture and others like it that surfaced were shot during the Obama years. But that didn’t prevent journalists eager to blame Donald Trump from jumping all over this new evidence of his “cruelty.” The Young Turks’ Emma Vigeland tweeted:
Some great journalism here– This week, @azcentral will be releasing multiple stories on the detention of immigrant children. These are some of the horrifying images in their first report.
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) May 28, 2018
She was right about the source of the photos shown. They did appear in The Arizona Republic in connection with a story about the conditions under which detained migrant children were held. But Vigeland’s grammatical tenses were all off. Those stories had already run four years earlier.
Even more damning to the myth was an appearance on NBC News at the height of the scandal by former Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson, who admitted that under the Obama administration family detention not only existed but was expanded. Several days later, on “Fox News Sunday,” Johnson added:
Without a doubt the images, and the reality, from 2014, just like 2018, are not pretty. We expanded it, I freely admit it was controversial, we believed it was necessary at the time, I still believe it is necessary to remain a certain capability for families.
It is to CNN’s discredit that they are still peddling the falsehood that the Trump administration alone “put children in cages.”