When the news media provides facts without context it does the public a disservice. This is one of the core principles captured by the dictate of the five W’s — who, what, when, how and why — taught in every high school-level journalism class. It would seem that the New York Times has neglected that basic rule.
This article was originally published at Salon
Last Saturday, the flagship newspaper of establishment journalism focused on White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s role in the Trump administration’s decision to hold thousands of refugee and immigrant children as de facto political hostages in prison camps and warehouses.
Nowhere in the New York Times story was there any explanation or discussion of Stephen Miller’s background, his values or what other motivations could drive him to be so enthusiastically cruel toward nonwhite children and their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
This information is readily available: The Times made a choice not to include it.
Stephen Miller — like other Trump advisers such as Michael Anton, Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon — is a white supremacist. Like other members of the so-called alt-right (a collection of far-right extremists that includes neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other racists) Miller hides behind Trumpian slogans about making America great again and neutral-sounding terms such as “nationalism” and “populism” to advance a policy agenda where nonwhites are treated as second-class citizens and white people are empowered above all other groups.
Miller is also the principal architect of the Trump administration’s proposed immigration “reforms,” which would effectively turn the clock back to the 1920s and 1930s, a time when nonwhites were effectively not allowed to immigrate to the United States.
Ultimately, Donald Trump’s administration — with white supremacists like Miller serving as a type of racial id — is making clear what has some level always been understood in America: To be a “real” American is first and foremost to be “white” and “Christian.” (Miller is personally of Jewish heritage. Reportedly his maternal grandparents immigrated to America to escape anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian Empire. This only heightens the irony and his moral malfeasance.)
What else do we know about Stephen Miller?
While in college he was friends with and mentored by the notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer. Together, Miller and Spencer collaborated on bringing right-wing ideologues to Duke University where Miller was a student.
White supremacists are gleeful and inspired by Stephen Miller’s role in the Trump administration. White supremacists know that Miller and Trump share their agenda, whatever caveats they may offer in public.
While in high school in the famously liberal community of Santa Monica, California, Miller harassed black and brown students.
Miller also reportedly stopped being friends with one of his childhood friends because the latter was Hispanic. He once gave a viciously racist speech in which he mocked and belittled the nonwhite janitorial and other support staff at his high school.
During college and in the years afterwards, as he schemed and maneuvered his way toward Donald Trump’s White House, Miller continued to associate with and work for racist right-wing ideologues, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
What do some of the people who know and understand Stephen Miller have to say about him?
One of Miller’s high school classmates from California discussed him with a reporter for Vanity Fair:
But Silverman says there was no mistaking Miller’s agenda, even then. “He believes multiculturalism is a weakness, that when we celebrate our differences we are ignoring our ‘American culture,’ ” Silverman wrote on Facebook. “He didn’t like someone from El Salvador celebrating their homeland, or someone from Vietnam bringing in food from their country of origin. He wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country. At 16, Stephen was an extreme nationalist.”…
Does Silverman have any advice for people who are just learning about Stephen Miller for the first time? “Take him seriously and know that he is a dangerous person,” he says. “He has a dangerous mind and a dangerous way of thinking. He wants to shift what America is about . … You’ve got to stay vigilant. He’s not taking days off. If there’s one thing Miller is, and he’s a lot of things, he’s absolutely motivated. This is his entire life. This is everything for him. He’s not going to rest. He won’t rest. He won’t stop . … He’s not a Trump shill. He was this way before Trump, before Bannon. He was radicalized way before that.”
Stephen Miller’s uncle, David Glosser, also sounded the alarm about his nephew and the latter’s boss Donald Trump. On Facebook he wrote:
Mr. Trump is trying to sell you something … He sells fear of immigrants, contempt of our daughters, sisters, and wives, and sows discord and anger. He knows the dictator’s disgraceful sales tricks of challenging the integrity of democratic elections, he finds an unpopular outside group to blame our troubles on, cooks up false electoral fraud theories if he doesn’t get his way, threatens and bullies his opponents, and tells us that he is the only one that can lead the nation ahead. He’s trying to sell you something, and it’s not a good product. For the first time in my memory a major American political party’s presidential candidate has proposed that laws and regulations be established solely on the basis of a person’s religion and ethnic background. The legitimization of this as a basis of serious political discussion is a terrible step into darkness. Remember, what goes around comes around. If today it’s “them,” then tomorrow it may be you.
Finally, my nephew and I must both reflect long and hard on one awful truth. If in the early 20th century the USA had built a wall against poor desperate ignorant immigrants of a different religion, like the Glossers, all of us would have gone up the crematoria chimneys with the other six million kinsmen whom we can never know.
Stephen Miller is not just another policy adviser with unconventional views. Like Trump, is the embodiment of a much larger cultural moment and a destructive and savage political ideology. In a recent essay at the History News Network, historian Richard Frankel offered the following warning about Trump and Miller’s policy of stealing children from their families:
The fundamental problem with nationalism is that entry into the country is open to a limited group of people. Deciding who is a member of the nation, who is in and who is out, is a decision to limit the boundaries of one’s moral universe to encompass only those of your group. All those who are within that moral boundary are of concern to you; they are to be protected. All those who are outside that boundary — outside the national or racial community — are of little or no concern. If anything, they represent a potential threat that must be eliminated. But the farther the boundary of your moral universe extends, the more people who fall within it, the more people whose fate is of concern to you. In the 1930s, Jews found themselves largely outside the moral universe of too many people, and that helped seal their fate.
The question we need to ask ourselves today is, where are the children, those innocent children brought to this country by parents desperate to escape horrific conditions at home, desperate to risk their lives to find a better life in America? Where are they located in relation to our moral universe? Is ours extensive enough to include them and therefore compel us to help them? Or will we close our doors again — and in the process terrorize these children, tearing them from the arms of their parents, perhaps never to see them again — as this new generation of refugees grapples with its own choiceless choices?
Why did the New York Times choose not to provide the proper context for Miller’s role in the Trump’s administration’s policy decision to tear apart the families of nonwhite immigrants and refugees who are seeking a new life in America?
The Times, like other “journals of record,” often values access to the powerful and influential over telling the truth about them. For example, on Tuesday, Times editors explained that at the request of the White House they were not going to share audio of an interview with Miller in which he tried to explain the child-separation policy.
There is still a deep reluctance by the New York Times, other mainstream publications and the major TV news networks to call Donald Trump a liar — even when the evidence is clear that he has publicly lied at least 3,000 times while president. If so many reporters and journalists are afraid to state the obvious about the man in the White House they will also most likely retreat from telling uncomfortable truths about the people with whom he has surrounded himself.
The right-wing myth that there is a “liberal news media” that treats conservatives “unfairly” is a weapon that has trained the New York Times and other members of the fourth estate to kowtow before Donald Trump in particular and the conservative movement more generally. “Balance” and “fairness” must be pursued, even if it means the truth is made to suffer and the American people are left ill-equipped to make good political decisions.
America’s newsrooms are overwhelmingly white and male. Thus there are comparatively few voices willing to explain how white supremacy and white racism function as core tenets of Trump’s regime. Unfortunately, for too many white reporters, journalists and opinion writers Trump and his administration’s racism, prejudice, bigotry and violence are viewed as an abnormal curiosity rather than an existential threat to American democracy because they do not feel its pain directly and personally.
In total, both average white Americans and white elites possess a deep and abiding belief in the inherent goodness of White America and Whiteness. As Michael Eric Dyson explained in a recent conversation here at Salon:
It’s collective whiteness that’s at stake here because white folks as a group would like to exempt themselves from the specific species and variety of white animus that they see going on there. But no: This is you all. This is your baby. He was fed on lies, mythologies, the accreted mendacity of a white culture that will not confront its own erosion and its own corruption. Ultimately, this is the culmination of what we know whiteness to be. It certainly is, if not expected, then predicted, that something like this could occur. We are in a moment where the doubling down on a kind of racial apocalypse that Donald Trump represents is in the offing.
White supremacists and bigots like Stephen Miller and Donald Trump wear suits and ties. Today’s most dangerous white supremacists and racists are not adorned in neo-Nazi regalia or KKK robes. Too many people — even journalists and reporters who ought to know better — must be confronted with cartoon-like extremists in order to finally, and grudgingly, acknowledge the existence of racism and white supremacy in America. The proof of racism is not in how one dresses. It lies rather in words and deeds — and in the case of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, the policies they advance.