David Zurawik

MSNBC brings moral authority to cruel Trump immigration actions

Cable news TV is not the first place I go looking for moral authority.

But I am happy to say that I found it there at MSNBC as it reported, critiqued and challenged the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of separating parents and children from families that had come seeking asylum at the Texas border.


For all the times I criticize cable news for its sins, it is an absolute pleasure to watch a channel get several of its hooks into a story and go all out on it, as MSNBC did Wednesday and Thursday. This is especially true when the news operation is clearly on the side of righteousness against a policy as depraved this. Proof of that depravity was Attorney General Jeff Sessions citing a passage in the Bible once used in the 19th Century to defend slavery to support the administration’s actions.

MSNBC Correspondent Jacob Soboroff showed what observation, experience, synthesis, clarity and a willingness to make a clean moral call sounded like when he was asked by MSNBC show host Chris Hayes what he saw when he toured an abandoned Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, where more than 1,400 immigrant children who have been separated from their parents are being housed.


It should be noted the private company running this facility denied admission to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, two weeks ago.

“I have been inside a federal prison before,” Soboroff said standing outside the Walmart where the children are housed “I have been inside several county jails. This place is called a shelter, but effectively these kids are incarcerated. There’s 1,400 of them — over 1,400 of them — that are spending not weeks, but months in this place. They’re not literally in cages or in cells, but, I kid you not, one of the first things an employee of this shelter said to me when we walked inside was, ‘Can you try to smile at these kids, because it’s weird to see people from the outside. They feel like animals locked up in cages being looked at. It was an extraordinary thing to see.’”

Without overstatement or hyperbole, his reporting has been steeped in a sense of righteous concern for these boys ages 10 to 17 who are “locked up in that Walmart for 22 hours a day.”

By 6 p.m. Thursday, MSNBC, using Soboroff’s reporting as its underpinning was shredding the administration for the depravity of its policy and the pathetic defense of those actions.

“What we’re seeing is a policy of deliberate orphaning, of separating people from their own children … a policy of deliberate traumatizing children, ” host Ari Melber said during his show.

“Now, we don’t do a lot of Bible talk here in the news, people can make up their own minds. I did learn that you’re supposed to love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt. That’s a verse I remember,” Melber added. “But today the representative of the president of the United States explained this policy, this treatment of children, by citing of all things the Bible.”

Videotape was then shown of Sessions, who announced the zero tolerance policy last month, addressing a group of law enforcement workers in Indiana Thursday.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said in defense of what was happening in Texas.


(The Washington Post quoted experts who said that passage was also used by defenders of slavery in the 19th Century.)

Given his questionable history on civil rights, citing a passage once used to defend slavery is probably not the best choice for Sessions.

MSNBC then showed video of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying it was “very Biblical” to enforce laws as the administration is doing in Brownsville.

As all of this is playing out, part of the screen carries a freeze frame of Donald Trump looking defiant with his chin jutting aggressively out — reminiscent of the the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

“The Beat with Ari Melber” went to a panel of experts explaining the politics of what Team Trump was doing and the psychological scars some children will bear as result of it.

And all of it was framed by Soboroff’s clear, sober, moral analysis.


“Strange does not do it justice what it’s like in there,” Soboroff said, even as he voiced fear that things will get worse with “tent cities” being set up elsewhere in Texas for children separated from their parents.

There are those who would argue that a journalistic platform should not be in the business of making any kind of moral call: The idea is that objectivity, whatever that is these days, precludes it.

I once accepted that line of thinking.

But at the time, I never imagined living under an administration as morally bankrupt as this — and quoting scripture to defend itself.