Don’t blame “the media” for using this photo, often identified as immigrant children separated from their parents and placed in a cage. I saw this image in my social media feed numerous times over the weekend; it wasn’t journalists who kept sharing it, it was random people (and probably a non-trivial number of bots) on social media.
Critics of the president’s current immigration policies circulated a real news photo from 2014, invoking powerful emotions in their followers. See, for instance, this editorial in Jezebel:
The text under the image doesn’t specify that this photo was first published in 2014. You can see this photo yourself in this 2014 AZ Central feature. Opinionated writers who insufficiently describe the picture have contributed to the assumption that this image documents the results of Trump’s policies. Yes, it presents a heartbreaking image of children separated from their parents in a US immigration holding facility, and if you find it horrifying that this was happening under Obama, you might be even more horrified to imagine the situation under Trump. Yet this image doesn’t apply to the specific policies the Jezebel author was critiquing.
Here’s Trump’s take on the misuse of this photo:
President Donald Trump on Tuesday taunted online activists who shared photos of children at immigration detention facilities as a means of criticizing his administration, noting that the photos had been taken during the tenure of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages. They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires,” Trump wrote online. “Dems must agree to Wall and new Border Protection for good of country…Bipartisan Bill!”
The photograph in question began to circulate online over the weekend, shared by Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau and activists Shaun King and Linda Sarsour, among others. It shows two children lying on green mats on a concrete floor behind a chain-link fence. The photo was taken by The Associated Press and was published by The Arizona Republic in 2014 as part of a photo gallery. Favreau later deleted his tweet. —Politico
Yet again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that his relationship to things such as evidence, objective truth, statements made by his allies and staff members, and even his own prior statements depends completely on whatever rhetorical point he is making at the time. For instance, in a very short time span, Trump has complained about the flawed evidence the Democrats used against him (without actually refuting any points supported by other, credible evidence) and he has also claimed that the Republican-backed Mueller team intends to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections (according to CNN “without proof“).
In 2004, I called out liberal filmmaker Michael Moore for twisting the truth in order to serve his ends.
But what if someone doesn’t want you to know something? What if someone is generating lies, using half-truths to influence your mind?…Moore could simply have written “Bush sucks,” but anyone can do that; his method of creating a scene, convincing his readers to become enraged at the scene, and then prompting them to come to a particular conclusion is far more effective than the simple expression my student longs for. –“A Student’s Plea: ‘Give Me Something Known’“
I criticized Michael Moore for using these tactics to rally his left-leaning base against the right. By playing fast and loose with the truth, he lowered the bar, and paved the way for someone like Donald Trump. Of course, someone else had paved the way for Michael Moore, and so on throughout human history.