Accuracy in Media

Time magazine has some explaining to do about this week’s cover and a photo of President Trump appearing to look down on a sobbing toddler at the border.

The photo illustration, against a background of red and with a caption that read “Welcome to America,” was meant to illustrate the uproar this week over children being separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

Only the child in the photo was not separated from her mother. Border Patrol officers merely asked her to set the girl down so they could search her after she had been taken into custody trying to sneak into the country in Hidalgo, Texas.

Time not only ran the photo on the cover, it produced a feature story on the man who took it – John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images. The photographer told Time the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy “has changed everything about enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border and resulted in a level of despair for immigrants that Americans can no longer ignore.”

“‘It’s a very different scene now,’ he said. ‘I’m almost positive these families last week had no idea they’d be separated from their children.’”

The photo, Time’s editors wrote, “has become a symbol of the human cost – and many critics say cruelty – of President Donald Trump’s hard line on immigration. The crying girl has become the face of the family separation policy, which has been criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

So he was there long enough to gather some fairly detailed thoughts on the situation. But, according to the Washington Post, in Time’s original story on his experience, “it stated the girl was carried away screaming by border agents, and later corrected the article to say that the two were taken away together.”

How did Time get this wrong? It did not have a reporter on the scene, and the photographer, who has photographed immigrants at the border for years and has published a book of his best images, saw the whole incident, which a Border Patrol agent has said lasted less than two minutes.

The Border Patrol agent also said the child stopped crying as soon as the pat-down ended and her mother picked her up again. He said he asked the mother if she and the child were OK and were told she is just tired and hungry. They were placed in a van and taken to a center, where they are still together. Moore saw all of this too.

In Honduras, the father of the girl and husband of her mom recognized his daughter in the images and learned from the Honduran Foreign Ministry later that they had not been separated.

Was it just a guess? The Washington Post suggested as much in its story on the reporting error.

“At first, not much was known about the mother and daughter or what happened to them,” the Post wrote. “Many speculated that the girl may ultimately have been separated from her mother, like the more than 2,300 migrant children split from their parents since May 5.”

Later, the Post said the photographer “knew only that they were from Honduras and had been on the road for about a month. ‘I can only imagine what dangers she’d pass through, along with the girl.’”

The Post said Moore photographed the girl crying as the border agent patted down the mother.

“But then, Moore told the Post, the woman picked up her daughter, they walked into the van, and the van drove away. Moore didn’t know what happened to the family but based on new federal policies, he speculated that she would be taken from her mother when the van reached its destination.

“’I don’t know what the truth is,’ Moore said. ‘I fear they were split up.’”

So, the photographer saw the mother and child get into the van together, but he feared that, after leaving his sight, they would split up. Did Time base its initial reporting on his guess?

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