Border crisis exposes media's empathy gap: Maddow cries, Lewandowski says "womp womp"

Maddow cried on air at the plight of immigrant children taken from their parents while Lewandowski mocked it

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published June 20, 2018 10:20AM (EDT)

Rachel Maddow; Corey Lewandowsk (MSNBC/AP/Mary Altaffer)
Rachel Maddow; Corey Lewandowsk (MSNBC/AP/Mary Altaffer)

"A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'" Those were the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln during his famous Cooper Union address in 1860. Although he was talking about the pro-slavery movement's threats to start a Civil War if a Republican was elected to the presidency, they apply just as accurately to the logic used by President Donald Trump and his supporters over the issue of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.

The argument is that it's the fault of Democrats because they won't give the Republicans what they want on immigration reform, even though it is beyond dispute that Trump's White House initiated this policy and could terminate it immediately if they so chose.

This brings us to two of the most recent reactions to this policy: One from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and the other by Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager.

With Maddow, it was a demonstration of a tale about morality. As the veteran broadcaster attempted to describe how the babies and toddlers of migrants were being taken to "tender age" shelters, she broke down into tears.

"The AP has just broken some new news. This has just come out from the Associated Press. This is incredible. Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children to at least three . . . Put up the graphic of this. Thank you. Do we have it? No. Three tender age shelters in south Texas. Lawyers and medical providers just . . . Think I'm going to have to hand this off. Sorry," Maddow said during her broadcast, breaking into tears a number of times. She eventually decided that she couldn't proceed and handed the broadcast off to her colleague Lawrence O'Donnell.

Contrast that reaction with Lewandowski's, who mocked the news that a little girl with Down Syndrome had been taken away from her mother by law enforcement agents at the border.

"I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage," former senior Democratic National Committee adviser Zac Petkanas said during a Fox News appearance on Tuesday in which he debated Lewandowski.

"Womp womp," Lewandowski replied in a mocking tone.

"Did you say 'womp womp' to a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome being taken from her mother?" Petkanas shot back. "How dare you! How dare you! How absolutely dare you, sir! How dare you! We have infants that are being taken from their mothers! We have infants that are being stolen from their mothers and being put into cages and you go 'Womp womp!'"

As Petkanas expressed his outrage, Lewandowski shot back, "What I said is you can pick anything you want to but the bottom line is very clear: When you cross the border illegally, you have torn up the rights of this country. Look, we are a country with borders. We are a country of laws."

It is worth noting that Lewandowski was hired by CNN as a commentator in 2016 and that he headed a campaign in which Trump himself openly mocked a reporter with disabilities.

Lewandowski's attitude toward immigrant children is one that seems to be shared by a large number of his fellow Republicans. While only 28 percent of Americans overall approve of Trump's policy of separating children from their parents and 67 percent disapprove of that policy, 58 percent of Republicans approve of it and only 34 percent disapprove of it, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Fifty-six percent of voters who lean Republican and 51 percent of voters who identify as conservative also approve of the policy.

This brings us to the Fox News show "Outnumbered," where the hosts basically repeated the type of reasoning that Lincoln condemned nearly 160 years ago in order to place blame for Trump's policy on Democrats who won't bend to his will.

"It’s nearly impossible to have a rational conversation about this because of the level of hyperbole, especially coming from the left," "Outnumbered" co-host Pete Hegseth declared. "Because they haven't stood for anything. Now they see this as a golden opportunity to be for the kids and hammer the President as heartless, when in reality this is a president who ran on strong immigration policies. The hill won't give him a wall."

His views were echoed by co-host Trish Regan, who claimed Democrats didn't want to work with Republicans on this issue because they preferred to manipulate people over the immigration issue.

"They do not want to, because for political reasons they would much rather cry on television like Elijah Cummings did," Regan said. "They would much rather show, in some cases, fake photos. We have seen some doctored photos of children behind these so-called cages. They would rather play this out on a very emotional level because you’re appealing, in the Democrats’ mind, to people’s hearts, and nobody wants to see children separated from their parents. But at the same time, it plays to any hatred they can gin up as we go into ’18 for Donald Trump."

This approach has not won over all Republicans. Steve Schmidt, who worked as a strategist for Republican presidential candidates George W. Bush and John McCain, took to Twitter on Tuesday night to renounce his former party on the grounds that he could not in good conscience support its policies.

"It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few Governors like Baker, Hogan and Kasich it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders. This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history," Schmidt wrote. "It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families. It is immoral and must be repudiated. Our country is in trouble. Our politics are badly broken. The first step to a season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities. I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency."

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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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