Democracy Dies in Darkness

PostEverything | Perspective

I was wrong about Jeff Sessions

An apology for a tweet about the attorney general that has gone viral

By Daniel W. Drezner

April 12, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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Speaking in Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to bring more cases against those entering U.S. illegally. (Reuters)

Full disclosure: The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts does not like Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Not one little bit.

I didn't like him when he was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump. I didn't like him during the campaign when he dismissed divergent views as "soulless globalism." And I really don't like him bringing back the 1980s War on Drugs sentencing or putting a halt to forensic science reform.

Yesterday, however, I tweeted something inaccurate about the sitting attorney general. And for that I owe him an apology.

The genealogy of my error: First, perusing Twitter, the following tweet caught my eye:

I'm not going to lie, seeing the word "filth" used to seemingly describe illegal immigrants brought me up short. It's pretty potent language for an attorney general to use to describe fellow human beings. I quickly scanned the linked Wall Street Journal story and saw these paragraphs:

In remarks Tuesday to Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico Border in Nogales, Ariz., Mr. Sessions spoke in stark terms about the threat he said illegal immigration posed.

"We mean international criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent citizens," Mr. Sessions said, according to the text of his prepared remarks. "It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth."

This seemed like a typical Sessions tactic of using absurd language to talk about the entire category of illegal immigrants, a category he really dislikes. So I tweeted the following:

At that point, I had to fulfill some day-job responsibilities, like meeting with students and colleagues and such.

By the time I got back on Twitter, it had gone viral. And it turned out that my tweet was not true at all.

First of all, here's the relevant portion of the attorney general's prepared remarks:

But it is also here, along this border, that transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake. And it is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration.

Let's stop here for a minute. When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders. Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings.

It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.

The context is clear: Sessions was going to use "filth" to describe MS-13 and drug cartels, not all illegal immigrants crossing the border. One might think, like I do, that the language is hyperbolic, but in context it did not imply what I thought it implied in my tweet.

Furthermore, as it turns out, Sessions didn't even say the word "filth" in his speech, as the Washington Examiner's T. Becket Adams reported:

Here is what the attorney general told border agents Tuesday:

"[A]long this border … transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake. And it is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration," he said.

Sessions added, "Let's stop here for a moment. When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean international criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into war-zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders. Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings."

He concluded with this line: "It is here, on this sliver of land, on this border, where we first take our stand."

As the updated Wall Street Journal story noted, "Mr. Sessions deviated from his prepared remarks and didn't say 'filth' as he delivered his speech."

So, full stop, I was wrong, and I apologize to the attorney general for making this mistake. I wish I had caught the error in time to delete the tweet before it went viral. Alas, I did not. Deleting it now seems like I'd be trying to erase my mistake. I did respond with a follow-up tweet, but that is insufficient given all the attention this received.

So, yet again: I made a mistake, and I'm sorry. Spoiler Alerts regrets the error.


Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

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