When she first received the breaking news report, Rachel Maddow seemed to be holding it together like any other night.
“This has just come out from the Associated Press,” the MSNBC television host said as she began reading the report in front of her. She paused, swallowing.
“This is incredible. Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children …”
Her voice catching, Maddow covered her mouth. She tried to keep going. “… to at least three …”
Then she stopped again, visibly tearing up.
“Put up the graphic of this,” she asked, pointing to the camera, her lips quivering. “Thank you. Do we have it? No.”
Maddow continued reading: “…three tender age shelters in South Texas. Lawyers and medical providers …” She stopped again. “I think I’m going to have to hand this off.”
“Sorry, that does it for us tonight. We’ll see you again tomorrow,” she said, handing the show over to host Lawrence O’Donnell.
After the show, she tweeted an apology for breaking down.
“Ugh, I’m sorry,” she said. “If nothing else, it is my job to actually be able to speak while I’m on TV.”
She explained that she was “unable to read” the Associated Press story that broke while she was on the air. She linked to the article, which reported that at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas have been housing children as young as babies. The story cited lawyers and medical providers who described “playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis.”
The story quoted Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services, referring to “specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category,” he said. Customs and Border Protection has at times defined it as 5 and under.
“Again, I apologize for losing it there for a moment,” Maddow said. “Not the way I intended that to go, not by a mile.”
But many viewers on Twitter said that Maddow expressed a sentiment felt by scores of Americans amid the Trump administration’s forced separation of migrant children from their parents at the border. The Department of Homeland Security has said 2,342 children have been separated from their parents since last month. Stories and images of children held in chain-link cages have sparked outrage nationwide.
“Rachel Maddow crying on live national television is the first thing that has felt sane in two weeks,” one viewer tweeted.
“She represented what millions of Americans have been feeling, and still feel,” said another.
Maddow was one of the top trending topics on Twitter early Wednesday morning, along with “Tender Age,” “Baby Jails” and “BABIES.”
Another name trending on Twitter was Corey Lewandowski, who on Fox News on Tuesday night interrupted a fellow guest’s anecdote about a “10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.”
“Womp womp,” Lewandowski, President Trump’s former campaign manager said.
Many on Twitter contrasted Maddow’s reaction to that of Lewandowski’s.
“The juxtaposition today of Corey Lewandowski’s cruelly dismissive comments vs. Rachel Maddow’s voice breaking, has been an emotional gut punch,” one viewer tweeted.
As CNN’s Brian Stelter said, “these two moments convey the country’s divide.”