The Washington Examiner distinguished itself as a purveyor of immigration hysteria in January, when it published a flimsily sourced story about how a rancher had found Muslim prayer rugs at the southern border. “There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico,” said the anonymously quoted rancher in the Examiner story. “People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across.”
Somehow, President Trump managed to find this story:
According to a report by Quartz’s Heather Timmons, Trump’s invocation of an Examiner story in service of strict immigration policies may have been part of a strategy of sorts. Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser with hard-line views on immigration, pushed the Examiner to publish alarmist stories on the topic so he could steer them toward the president. The goal, Timmons reports, was to place pressure on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen:
Miller would leak the latest numbers on apprehensions or asylum seekers at the border to reporters at the right-leaning Washington Examiner. The Washington Examiner would write a story, with an alarming headline about the growing number of people crossing into the US, sometimes criticizing Nielsen. Then Miller would print the story out, and get a paper copy to Trump.
A look at some recent Examiner headlines on immigration:
April 4: “Border shock: 50% surge in gang members, 650,000 illegal immigrants will be freed into US in 2019"
March 7: “The border is flooded with fraudulent families. When will Congress do something about it?”
Feb. 19: “Border apprehensions jump 84 percent, 606,000 expected this year”
Jan. 27: “Border Patrol struggles with flood of sick migrants"
So, sure: There’s stuff in the Washington Examiner that might just lend itself to the machinations of a fellow such as Miller. The Erik Wemple Blog has previously reported how Paul Bedard, a longtime D.C. journo who writes the outlet’s “Washington Secrets” column, did some dirty work for the White House when he passed along an anonymous and implausible claim that a Politico reporter had laughed about the death of a Navy SEAL. It was a savage and shameful episode.
Covering immigration from the straight-news side of the Examiner is Anna Giaritelli, whose byline sits atop the scare story on the alleged prayer rugs. Getting the word out about the supposedly terrorist implications of immigration squares with her work history: She formerly worked as press secretary of the hard-line Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Don’t get the idea that the Examiner is a print version of Fox News’s “Hannity,” however. The publication’s opinion writers take shots at Trump on a number of topics, including his meanness, his trade policies and, yes, his border policies.
Though the Quartz allegations sound scandalous, they’re not. Who cares whether the Examiner published statistics on immigration that were supplied by Miller? People with agendas in the halls of government “leak” stuff to the media each and every day. They send tips, links, heads-ups and sometimes even non-public documents to secure coverage favorable to their causes. It’s this traditional, time-tested work that Miller is alleged to have done vis-a-vis the Examiner. So long as the Examiner accurately portrays the figures, it’s a matter of business as usual.
What isn’t business as usual is the president’s stupidity. It’s here that the prayer rug story comes into play. That the president would have tweeted out this Examiner piece demonstrates that all his skepticism about reporters’ sources is driven not by any expertise but rather self-interest: When the information is unhelpful, the sources don’t exist; when it’s helpful, the sources needn’t be questioned. Go ahead, read that prayer rug story in full. In an attached video, the rancher on which Giaritelli hangs the story admits that she lacks “proof” of the claim.
The Erik Wemple Blog checked with Examiner editorial director Hugo Gurdon about these matters. He declined to be interviewed.