August 8, 2022

This might be the most chilling passage I’ve read in my nearly three years of writing this newsletter.

“Trump-administration officials insisted for a whole year that family separations weren’t happening. Finally, in the spring of 2018, they announced the implementation of a separation policy with great fanfare — as if one had not already been under way for months. Then they declared that separating families was not the goal of the policy, but an unfortunate result of prosecuting parents who crossed the border illegally with their children. Yet a mountain of evidence shows that this is explicitly false: Separating children was not just a side effect, but the intent. Instead of working to reunify families after parents were prosecuted, officials worked to keep them apart for longer.

“Over the past year and a half, I have conducted more than 150 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of internal government documents, some of which were turned over to me only after a multiyear lawsuit. These records show that as officials were developing the policy that would ultimately tear thousands of families apart, they minimized its implications so as to obscure what they were doing. Many of these officials now insist that there had been no way to foresee all that would go wrong. But this is not true. The policy’s worst outcomes were all anticipated, and repeated internal and external warnings were ignored. Indeed, the records show that almost no logistical planning took place before the policy was initiated.”

This is from the latest incredible, gut-wrenching and infuriating cover story in The Atlantic from Caitlin Dickerson. The headline is a quote that breaks your heart: “We Need To Take Children Away.” It exposes the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

It is journalism at its very finest.

In a statement, The Atlantic writes that among its key findings: “… infants being separated from their parents, loss of parents and children in the federal detention system, and prolonged separations, some of which continue even today — was anticipated in internal government reports in advance of the policy being implemented. These reports include recommendations that would have helped avoid such negative outcomes — but the proposals were rejected or ignored.”

The Atlantic’s story shows how a never-before-seen Border Patrol report used variations of the phrase “family separation” nearly a dozen times.

That’s just the beginning. The story is nearly 30,000 words, making it one of the longest published in the outlet’s 165-year history. It took 18 months to report and write, and Dickerson conducted more than 150 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of internal government documents.

One of those interviews was with former Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said she regretted signing the family separation policy into existence. “Frankly,” she said, “I wish I hadn’t.”

Dickerson also spoke with Thomas Homan, the former acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Dickerson wrote that Homan is the intellectual father of the idea to separate families. And he still believes in the idea — not just in prosecutions, but as a deterrent. Homan told Dickerson, “Most parents don’t want to be separated. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think that would have an effect.”

Again, I cannot stress this enough: This is superb journalism by Dickerson and The Atlantic.

Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in a statement, “Caitlin has pulled off a dazzling achievement, writing the definitive account of the creation and implementation of a tragic and ruthless policy, one that could be implemented again, if Donald Trump, or one of his ideological acolytes, should come to power in 2024.”

Goldberg called it a “history-making accomplishment,” and added, “Caitlin, working with her editor, Scott Stossel, has constructed a narrative in which the relentless accretion of facts points us in a terrifying direction. It turns out that the story of the Trump administration’s child-separation policy is not simply a story of a consciously merciless program, implemented by consciously merciless men. It is the story of what happens when a bureaucracy is left to its own devices, when leaders abdicate their responsibilities, when American ideals are sacrificed on the altar of career advancement and self-preservation. Caitlin’s investigative skills are virtually without parallel in American journalism, and, in her cover story, she exposes the secret history of a heinous policy, and names names — including the names of people responsible who are still serving in government today.”

Dickerson writes, “​​It’s been said of other Trump-era projects that the administration’s incompetence mitigated its malevolence; here, the opposite happened. A flagrant failure to prepare meant that courts, detention centers, and children’s shelters became dangerously overwhelmed; that parents and children were lost to each other, sometimes many states apart; that four years later, some families are still separated — and that even many of those who have been reunited have suffered irreparable harm.”

She continues, “It is easy to pin culpability for family separations on the anti-immigration officials for which the Trump administration is known. But these separations were also endorsed and enabled by dozens of members of the government’s middle and upper management: Cabinet secretaries, commissioners, chiefs, and deputies who, for various reasons, didn’t voice concern even when they should have seen catastrophe looming; who trusted ‘the system’ to stop the worst from happening; … who assumed that someone else, in some other department, must be on top of the problem; who were so many layers of abstraction away from the reality of screaming children being pulled out of their parent’s arms that they could hide from the human consequences of what they were doing.”

Carve out some time to read this important story. I won’t sugarcoat it. Some of the details are hard to read. But they are too important not to.

Sunday’s big news

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gives a thumbs-up in his office after the Senate approved Democrats’ big election-year economic package on Sunday. (AP Photo/Lisa Mascaro)

The major news story Sunday was the U.S. Senate passing a $750 billion health care, tax and climate bill. Every Republican voted against the bill and the 50-50 tie was broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. The House is expected to pass the bill, which will then be signed by President Joe Biden.

The New York Times’ Emily Cochrane wrote that it’s the “most significant federal investment in history to counter climate change and lower the cost of prescription drugs, as Democrats banded together to push through major pieces of President Biden’s domestic agenda over unified Republican opposition.”

Cochrane and Lisa Friedman have more in “What’s in the Climate, Tax and Health Care Package.” And CNN’s Alex Rogers, Clare Foran, Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju have a good roundup of what’s in the bill.

Sunday’s vote caps what has been arguably the best run in the Biden administration. In the past week, the U.S. killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Biden had several legislative victories, gas prices have continued to drop and there was good news on the most recent jobs report.

Then came Sunday’s news.

In an opinion piece for CNN, former CNN producer and correspondent Frida Ghitis wrote, “… there’s little sign that the President’s standing has enjoyed a meaningful lift. Biden is winning battles, but he’s not getting a lot of love. Is it only a matter of time before Biden’s polls catch up with the new wave of accomplishments?”

Ghitis added, “For as long as he’s president, Biden will face the headwinds of shameless distortion by right-wing operatives, and he will suffer from not being the most charismatic, eloquent president at a time when the country’s very democracy is under threat. At this moment in his presidency, however, he can enjoy having scored a string of victories, and hope he has turned the tide.”

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote, “Biden has had some bad months, to be sure, but there is no way to get around the fact the last month or so has been stellar for the administration.”

Blow added, “Biden’s string of victories may not yet be enough to shift the narrative about him from spiraling to rebounding, but a fair read of recent events demands some adjustment.”

Most noteworthy of the Sunday morning comments

Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina had a strong warning for her fellow GOP lawmakers on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC. She said, “I am staunchly pro-life. I have a 100 percent pro-life voting record. I do think that it will be an issue in November if we’re not moderating ourselves, that we are including exceptions for women who’ve been raped, for girls who are victims of incest and, certainly, in every instance where the life of the mother is at stake. Somewhere in the middle is where we’ve got to meet.”

Mace added, “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ was not supposed to be a road map, right? This is a place where we can be in the center. We can protect life, and we can protect where people are on both sides of the aisle.”

Mace has been public about being raped when she was 16.

“You’ve got states that are going to try to ban women from traveling, that if you’re raped that you’ve got to report it to the police,” Mace said, “Well, I was raped when I was 16, and it took me a week to tell my mother. By that time any evidence would’ve been gone.”

Mace told moderator Chuck Todd, “On the far left you have folks that want abortion for any reason up until birth, and then on the far right we have states that are trying to ensure that no abortion for any reason including rape and incest victims in girls. Somewhere in the middle is where we’ve got to meet, and I do believe that Congress has a role, and I want to play a part in that role in shaping policy for the future for every American in our country.”

Meanwhile …

Last week, by a resounding 59% to 41% vote, voters in Kansas rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have eliminated the right to an abortion.

The headline on Peggy Noonan’s column in The Wall Street Journal: “What Pro-Lifers Should Learn From Kansas.” Noonan writes, “I found myself unshocked by the abortion vote in Kansas, and I don’t understand the shock of others.”

She added, “In Kansas, pro-lifers asked for too much. People don’t like big swerves and lurches, there’s enough anxiety in life. They want to absorb, find a way to trust. Dobbs was decided only six weeks ago.” She went on to call the proposed amendment in Kansas, “gross, ignorant and extreme. It excited their followers but hurt the cause they supposedly care about. There was an air of misogyny, of hostility to women.”

But there could be some irony here, Politico’s John F. Harris points out, about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. Harris wrote, “Alito’s long-term legacy may well be as the justice who facilitated a national consensus on behalf of abortion rights. Quite unintentionally, today’s hero of the ‘pro-life’ movement could end up being a giant of the ‘pro-choice’ movement.”

A new View

Catching up on this news from late last week: “The View,” as expected, has officially added two Republican commentators to its panel. Alyssa Farah Griffin, who worked in the communications department during the Trump administration, and Ana Navarro, a frequent panelist over the past several years, have been named regular panelists.

The two will join current panelists Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin and Sara Haines, although Navarro will not appear on the show every day.

To be clear, while both lean right and are Republicans, both also have been quite outspoken against former President Donald Trump. Farah Griffin quit her job in the Trump White House before the Jan. 6 insurrection and pretty much disavowed him after that.

On the show last week, Farah Griffin said, “The last couple of years have been a bit turbulent for me. I am so proud to have found my voice. Now it is my voice and I’m here to join this table.”

The two — especially Farah Griffin — will replace the opening left a year ago by Meghan McCain, the conservative voice who often clashed controversially with the rest of the panel. But already Farah Griffin’s voice seems to mesh in a way that isn’t quite as combative as McCain.

Farah Griffin told her co-workers that it’s going to “get sporty sometimes.” But she added, “… we can demonstrate what our elected leaders can’t, which is disagreeing but doing so respectfully. We don’t need these conspiracies and lies that have overtaken so much of news.”

Behar, perhaps the strongest of the liberal panelists, told “Entertainment Weekly,” “Alyssa’s got a whole different personality. So I think it will be smoother, frankly.”

Meanwhile, Farah Griffin’s hiring is drawing some pushback. The Associated Press’ David Bauder points out, “Not everyone has been quick to turn the page, and there’s a social media campaign to boycott ‘The View’ because of her hiring, with some fans unwilling to forgive the new host’s service to Trump.”

For example, MSNBC’s TIffany Cross said on her show, “Many in the media are still trying to normalize these folks. And why?”

He just doesn’t get it

Former Philadelphia Phillies player Pete Rose during an alumni day event before Sunday’s game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and the Washington Nationals, (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday celebrated their 1980 World Series team, including Pete Rose — baseball’s all-time hit leader who was on that team. Rose is not in the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball. But there are more controversies surrounding the now 81-year-old Rose. Allegations surfaced in 2017 that Rose had a sexual relationship with an underage girl in the 1970s. Rose has denied those allegations.

Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Alex Coffey asked Rose if his presence at Sunday’s festivities sent a negative message to women. Rose told Coffey, who is female, “No, I’m not here to talk about that. Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, babe.”

Babe? Really?

When asked the Associated Press about his comments to Coffey, Rose said, “I’m going to tell you one more time. I’m here for the Philly fans. I’m here for my teammates. I’m here for the Phillies organization. And who cares what happened 50 years ago? You weren’t even born. So you shouldn’t be talking about it, because you weren’t born. If you don’t know a damn thing about it, don’t talk about it.”

Coffey wrote, “A representative of Rose’s approached The Inquirer after the ceremony, insisting that Rose had something additional to say. The representative began apologizing on behalf of Rose, adding that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone. Rose claimed The Inquirer was trying to ‘attack’ him, before joking, ‘Will you forgive me if I sign 1,000 baseballs for you?’ At the end of the conversation, Rose said ‘sorry.’”

In a statement, the The Association for Women in Sports Media wrote, “The Association for Women in Sports Media applauds Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Alex Coffey and other members of the media for asking about the Phillies’ decision to honor Pete Rose despite previous claims he had sexual relationships with underage girls. There is no statute of limitations for accountability. Pete Rose is right about one thing he said today — it’s been 55 years since the reported inappropriate relationships, and times have changed. It’s no longer acceptable to call a reporter ‘babe.’”

Hot type

From The New York Times, text by Rick Rojas and Edgar Sandoval, videos by Emily Rhyne and photographs by Tamir Kalifa and Callaghan O’Hare in “The Excruciating Echo of Grief in Uvalde.”

Gawker’s Tarpley Hitt writes about The New Yorker/Erin Overbey situation in “The Archivist and the Magazine.”

Former golfing great Nick Faldo retired Sunday after 16 years as a broadcaster on CBS Sports’ golf coverage. Here is his emotional goodbye.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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