I’m combining a couple of different pieces here. The first is an editorial published Wednesday by the Post. The editorial stated the obvious about Biden’s current policy of not allowing journalists to document the border crisis:
As the Biden administration scrambles to accommodate a spike of migrant children crossing the border, it has largely cut off media access to the story where it is taking place, leaving the American public blind to the costs and consequences. Every administration endeavors to manage the images that shape public opinion, but this is not management; it seems more like censorship…
News organizations that for weeks have been requesting access to facilities, or permission to go on ride-alongs with border agents, have been refused or ignored. One photojournalist who has worked along the border for years, John Moore, wrote in The Post that the restrictions he has encountered are unprecedented in recent years.
The editorial board is giving itself a little wiggle room by saying “it seems more like censorship.” I think it’s more clear cut than that. The government is refusing to let professional journalists cover one of the biggest stories in the country. Yes, they can still write about it but we all know a story like this is driven by pictures. The Biden administration knows this and so does the media which used pictures of “kids in cages” to drive coverage for weeks during the Trump administration. So keeping photo journalists out of these facilities now is a blatant attempt to spike bad news using the paper-thin excuse of concern about spreading COVID.
Yesterday at President Biden’s first press conference he was asked about this and his response was, according to Erik Wemple, pretty lame.
In response to a question Thursday from Kristen Welker of NBC News about when the media would have access to border facilities that temporarily shelter child migrants, Biden said, “I don’t know.”
Honest, perhaps, but weak…
When Welker asked if he’d commit to permitting access to the overcrowded facilities, the president responded, “I will commit when my plan very shortly is underway to let you have access to not just them, but to other facilities as well.”
That equivocal response prompted Welker to try again, noting that the media had been allowed inside one facility but not the ones where “children are packed together. … Will you commit to transparency on this issue?” At that, Biden provided a wordier version of his previous response. “I will commit to transparency, as soon as I am in a position to be able to implement what we’re doing right now,” he said.
Wemple summed up Biden’s answer this way: “I’ll let you see the facilities once the crisis has passed.” That was very similar to my reaction yesterday:
Give us a few weeks to clean things up and then, maybe, I'll let you see what we're doing:https://t.co/2uhkw259D9
— John Sexton (@verumserum) March 25, 2021
There’s no precedent for this. As Wemple points out, a collection of government transparency groups wrote to DHS Sec. Mayorkas. Here’s a bit of what they said:
The Department’s justification for denying media access is that members of the press cannot safely access border facilities due to the ongoing pandemic; this position is untenable. The First Amendment is not suspended during public emergencies and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Further, the Department must treat the press as the essential workers they are, which includes providing access to the facilities at the southern border. The public’s need for timely, accurate information is even greater during emergencies, and both lawmakers and the public must have a full picture of the conditions at the border in order to hold the government accountable.
I don’t know which political operative in the Biden administration is running this attempt at censorship but I’ve had a nagging sense that this reminds me of someone. And then it hit me: Anita Dunn. Anita Dunn was White House Communications Director for President Obama. She became well known after a video of her quoting Chairman Mao made the rounds. She was also behind the Obama administration’s early war on Fox News. Dunn told the NY Times:
“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” said Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, in a telephone interview on Sunday. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
After leaving the White House in 2009, Dunn went back to work for a well-heeled crisis communications firm. But she became a Biden adviser last year during the campaign and this year he announced she would become one of his senior advisers. Axios reported she would work “closely with Kate Bedingfield, who’ll be White House communications director, and press secretary Jen Psaki.” So Anita Dunn is working in the White House giving the Biden team communications advice, like an in-house crisis comms person. And the biggest crisis they have right now is the one at the border. It’s a safe bet she’s weighing in on this.
In fact, the White House’s tiresome insistence on calling this a “challenge” instead of a crisis also sounds like something Dunn might have come up with. It’s in keeping with her statement about Chairman Mao who allegedly said “You fight your war I’ll fight mine.” Dunn explained at the time what that meant: “You don’t let external definition define how good you are internally.” If the media wants to call the border situation a crisis, just refuse to go along with it and call it a challenge. I could be wrong but the border messaging and the media censorship that goes with it all has a very Antia Dunn vibe to it.