President Donald Trump’s ever-shifting explanations regarding his choice to forcibly remove migrant children from their parents as part of a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy have left his media allies scrambling to keep up in recent weeks.
But the newest must-run segment by right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group — the country’s largest owner of local television stations — may preview the administration’s final-draft spin plan.
The president “correctly decided to step in” Wednesday “to stop the separation of children from their families at the border,” former Trump staffer turned Sinclair propagandist Boris Epshteyn says in the segment.
“President Trump [made the decision] to enforce a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and prosecute all adults illegally crossing our borders,” Epshteyn says. “Many members of the media and opponents of the president have seized on this issue to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters. Let’s be honest: While some of the concern is real, a lot of it is politically driven by the liberals in politics and the media.”
Note the passive voice Epshteyn uses while describing what Trump started doing in May: “the separation of children.” The president’s former assistant then uses active voice to describe what Trump was forced by immense political pressure to do Wednesday, “correctly decided to step in.”
Epshteyn carefully adheres to that delusional re-ordering of events throughout the segment, elsewhere terming Trump as “working to show that it is possible to balance humanity with security” and “addressing” (active) “the separation” (passive) of migrant teens, toddlers, and infants from their confused, asylum-seeking parents.
Sinclair-owned stations are required to run Epshteyn’s segments. The company currently controls local media in four out of every 10 U.S. homes, and could soon reach seven in 10 if Trump’s FCC approves its purchase of the Tribune Company’s television holdings. That means Epshteyn’s blatant reconfiguring of very recent history will be forced down the brainstems of roughly the same share of the country as still approves of Trump’s job performance in tracking polls.
Epshteyn’s monologue, while filled with right-wing propaganda, actually reveals useful information. The Sinclair-Trump symbiosis is strong. If this is the tack Sinclair is choosing in the wake of Trump’s highest-profile political defeat to date — one that prompted the president to briefly acknowledge he cares more about looking strong than being right — it may forecast what’s coming from the White House, the Speaker of the House’s office, and the rest of the Trump machine.
If the White House follows Epshteyn’s lead, they’re likely to focus energy on blaming the policy Trump launched in May and ended in June by claiming that Barack Obama invented it. He didn’t — hard-hearted family detention policies begun under Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were limited in scope, while Trump’s zero-tolerance policy targets every single border-crosser — but Trump has already been tweeting that Obama did.
The president and his congressional allies have also taken to claiming that everyone’s only pretending to be upset about the brutalization of children at the hands of uniformed state security services when what they really want is open borders. He’s hinted that migrant families fake their asylum claims and that Democrats are looking to harvest future voters rather than to undo a voluntary cruelty initiated at Trump’s behest in May.
At one point this morning in discussing his border mess, Trump even appeared to embrace the fringe “qAnon” web conspiracy that centers on the still-simmering right-wing belief that prominent Democrats are satanic child-rapists.
Epshteyn’s segment nods to some of these scattered, grasping narratives. He says that opponents of Trump’s psychological torture of kids must think “that border security and humane treatment of families are mutually exclusive,” gripes that Trump’s enemies want “to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters” as though all the rending-apart of families is just your standard off-the-rack Tough Guy stuff, and scolds that “while some of the concern is real, a lot of it is politically driven by the liberals.”
But the segment primarily serves as a signal-fire for Epshteyn’s former boss. The strategy, if Trump listens to his TV network, will be to pretend he never did the very-bad thing he did, that he sprung into manful and athletic action to stop that very-bad thing he never did, and that it’s really all somebody else’s fault.