Opinion writer

In an interview on “Meet the Press,” President Trump repeated a whopper of a lie.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Separation, President Obama, I took over separation. I'm the one that put it together. What's happened though are the cartels and all of these bad people, they're using the kids. They’re, they’re, it's almost like slavery.

CHUCK TODD:

But let's not punish the kids more.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No this has been happening —

CHUCK TODD:

Aren’t you — the kids are getting punished more.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You’re right. And this has been happening long before I got there. What we’ve done is we’ve created, we’ve, we’ve ended separation. You know, under President Obama you had separation. I was the one that ended it. Now I said one thing, when I ended it I said, “Here’s what’s going to happen. More families are going to come up.” And that’s what’s happened. But they’re really coming up for the economics. But once you ended the separation. But I ended separation. I inherited separation from President Obama.

The Post’s fact-checkers back in April explained: “The Obama administration rejected a plan for family separations, according to Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top adviser for immigration. The Trump administration operated a pilot program for family separations in the El Paso area beginning in mid-2017.” Trump’s claim that “Obama did it first” is both morally vapid and completely wrong: “The Trump administration implemented this policy by choice, exercising its discretion to prosecute some crimes over others. But no law or court ruling mandates family separations. In fact, during its first 15 months, the Trump administration released nearly 100,000 immigrants who were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, a total that includes more than 37,500 unaccompanied minors and more than 61,000 family-unit members.” In short, “The zero-tolerance approach is worlds apart from the Obama- and Bush-era policy of separating children from adults at the border only in limited circumstances, such as when officials suspected human trafficking or another kind of danger to the child or when false claims of parentage were made.”

Jake Tapper at CNN showed the right way to confront administration members on Sunday, when he went right after Vice President Pence’s misrepresentations about the dismal condition of children still held. After playing a clip of administration lawyers arguing in the 9th Circuit that there was no responsibility to provide basic necessities to children such as toothbrushes, Pence tried to claim that he didn’t know what the lawyers were saying. Tapper kept after him:

”But this is going on right now,” Tapper said, adding “This is the wealthiest nation in the world. We have money to give toothpaste and soap and blankets to these kids in this facility in El Paso County. Right now, we do.”

“Well, of course — of course we do,” Pence said.

“So why aren’t we?” Taper asked.

Pence again dodged the question with a snicker, replying “My point is — my point is, it’s all a part of the appropriations process.”

Tapper then had to cut Pence off from the lengthy digression that followed in order to force the question again.

“But I’m talking about the kids — I’m talking about the kids our custody right now,” Taper said. “Just listen to this. This is ‘The New Yorker’ citing a team of lawyers who visited a border facility.”

Pence tried to interrupt him again, but Tapper insisted “I just want to quote this.”

“The conditions the lawyers were found were shocking,” Tapper read. “Flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated. Children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, taking care of each other because of the lack of attention from guards.”

“I know you. You’re a father. You’re a man of faith. You can’t approve of that,” Tapper said.

“Well, I — I — no — no American — no American should approve of this mass influx of people coming across our border,” Pence stammered. It is overwhelming our system at the southern border.

“But how about how we’re treating these children?” Tapper asked, again, and Pence deflected, again.

“I was at the detention center in Nogales just a few short months ago. It is a heartbreaking scene,” Pence said, but then added These are people who are being exploited by human traffickers, who charge them $5,000 a person to entice them to take their vulnerable children…”

“But now these kids are in our custody,” Tapper said.

Pence continued to blame Democrats in Congress, but Tapper again reiterated “But I would say that I’m talking about the kids on our southern border right now.”

He told Pence “you have the power right now to go back to the White House and say, we need to make sure that these kids — first of all, that there are people taking care of them, so it is not 12-year-olds taking care of 3-year-olds, and, second of all, that they have soap, that they have toothbrushes, that they have combs, that we’re taking care so they don’t all get the flu.”

Pence once again tried to blame Democrats, to which Tapper replied “I think Democrats would argue that they want to do a deal with President Trump, but he hasn’t showed any inclination.”

That’s precisely how reporters need to go after Trump and his morally deficient administration. This is the Trump administration’s policy. This is the Trump administration’s doing. This is the Trump administration’s refusal to address basic humanitarian needs (while raiding the Defense Department to build a useless wall that has nothing to do with asylum seekers presenting themselves at the border).

Allowing Trump and his ilk to bluster and flat-out lie their way through interviews might be the path of least resistance when trying to cover a lot of ground. However, if Trump and his teammates are not stopped dead in their tracks, the media become a platform for deceiving voters.

Headlines that echo the president — “Trump says Obama did it first” — are equally reprehensible. (It should be “Trump falsely blames Obama for his own policy.”) Trump, Pence and the rest are accustomed to running through their ridiculous talking points (e.g. the United States has the cleanest water and air in the world) without objection on outlets such as Fox. Other media can and must do better. And when the general-election debates roll around, moderators must be willing to correct misstatements of fact. (Or follow up by asking, “But that’s not true, is it Mr. President?")

We’re at risk of losing not only a shared set of facts but also a uniform belief that there are such things as facts. That’s straight out of the autocratic playbook — one that the media cannot facilitate.

Read more:

James Downie: Mike Pence is just helpless

Greg Sargent: Border crossings just spiked again. Trump’s response is getting more absurd.

Henry Olsen: We don’t take immigration enforcement seriously. Trump’s deportation threats show why.

Marc A. Thiessen: Don’t downplay Trump’s role in the U.S.-Mexico immigration deal. His strategy worked.

Alexandria Petri: Appropriate ways of describing what is happening at the border