Same Border Rules, Vastly Different Portrayals

Trump's pandemic travel bans received vastly different media treatment than Biden's.


On January 31, 2020, when there were six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, then-President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on non-citizens who had recently visited China. A few hours later, Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden slammed Trump's approach to the nascent pandemic.

"We have right now a crisis with the coronavirus, emanating from China," Biden said. "In moments like this, this is where the credibility of a president is most needed, as he explains what we should and should not do. This is no time for Donald Trump's record of hysterical xenophobia and fear mongering to lead the way instead of science."

Biden's speech did not specifically mention the China policy. But six weeks later, on the day after the NBA suspended its season and actor Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for the virus, Biden, by then the Democratic front-runner, decried the futility of Trump's newly expanded travel restrictions. "A wall will not stop the coronavirus," he tweeted. "Banning all travel from Europe—or any other part of the world—will not stop it." In remarks to reporters, he added that "travel restrictions based on favoritism and politics rather than a risk will be counterproductive."

Many things about coronavirus science and politics changed during the ensuing 20 months. So when news hit around Thanksgiving that the omicron variant had been identified in South Africa, Biden, having supplanted Trump in the White House, was working with a much bigger toolbox of scientific knowledge and proven mitigations. What was his position on COVID travel bans now? The same as Trump's, it turns out.

"As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries," Biden said. Six of the eight African countries did not have a single reported case involving the omicron variant at the time of the announcement. "As we move forward," the president added, "we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises."

When Trump announced his China restrictions, the reaction from the news media tilted toward the alarmist. "The travel disruption sent shocks through the stock market and rattled industries that depend on the flow of goods and people between the world's two largest economies," The New York Times reported. "Planning was upended for companies across a vast global supply chain."

Yet when Biden pulled the same move, the decision was treated with something closer to empathy. "The sudden arrival of Omicron represented a jarring, here-we-go-again moment for a weary and politically divided country after nearly two years of battling the pandemic," the Times reported. "It also underscored the difficult position the president is in as he seeks to respond aggressively to yet another public health threat." Later in the article the paper tut-tutted that "Republicans seized on the existence of another variant to attack the president."

If political polarization and tribalism are contributing to a bifurcation of how two huge clumps of Americans view reality, journalism has a potentially critical role to play in mediating informational disputes. That's especially true when news organizations cover emotional, life-and-death issues involving immigration and disease, which tend to generate some of the most hyperbolic and consequential differences in perceptions.

Yet the journalism profession increasingly sees such political refereeing as an anachronistic trap set by bad-faith conservatives who want to smuggle asymmetrically extremist ideas into a "both sides" frame. "To the extent…that journalists and pundits focus critically on President Biden and Democrats and give short shrift to Republicans' obstructions—as if the cancer of Trumpism was in remission, if not cured—that indeed distorts reality and disserves readers, listeners and viewers," former New York Times White House correspondent Jackie Calmes wrote in an October 15 Los Angeles Times piece. Calmes warned that "democracy is literally at stake."

It's true that Trump, as both candidate and president, was a font of spectacular, policy-shaping lies on subjects such as sanctuary cities, voter fraud, and the visa lottery system. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman James Schwab resigned in 2018, his reasoning was simple: "I didn't feel like fabricating the truth." But because they aim their alert systems at Republicans, news organizations look ridiculous when they cover Biden moves on immigration that are indistinguishable from his predecessor's.

The 46th president, for instance, has continued 45's use of the 1944 Public Health Service Act, codified in Title 42, to rapidly remove unauthorized visitors who try to enter the U.S. during the pandemic. When it was Trump doing it, news outlets such as the investigative nonprofit ProPublica were filled with headlines like "ICE Is Making Sure Migrant Kids Don't Have COVID-19—Then Expelling Them to 'Prevent the Spread' of COVID-19" and "Democratic Senators Demand Answers on Trump's Secretive Border Expulsions." After Biden doubled Trump's monthly rate of Title 42 expulsions, the response from ProPublica and Democrats was considerably more muted.

In December, Biden complied with a court order requiring reinstatement of Trump's controversial "Remain in Mexico" policy of rebuffing asylum seekers at the southern border. He reemphasized the Obama-era policy of denying Cuban and Haitian asylum seekers who arrive  by sea. He has let stand a 2018 Board of Immigration Appeals ruling that people who were held as slave laborers by terrorist groups cannot qualify for asylum because they provided "material support for terrorism." His administration has continued seizing private property along the U.S.-Mexico border to accommodate a wall he vociferously campaigned against.

Like many other immigration policies, these examples demonstrate far more continuity between Democratic and Republican administrations than mainstream news outlets are inclined to recognize. While activists on both sides of the issue recognize that commonality, many journalists prefer a simplistic morality play.

When Trump announced the China travel ban, The New York Times highlighted criticism from University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm: "The cow's already out of the barn, and we're now talking about shutting the barn door." Covering Biden's similar attempts to contain the omicron variant, the Times quoted an epidemiologist voicing a sunnier attitude: "When you go to a crime scene, what do the police do right away? They lock everything down so they can figure out what's going on. But that doesn't mean they are going to keep things locked down for the rest of the day or the rest of the week."

The source of that sentiment? The same Michael Osterholm.

"To see what is in front of one's nose," George Orwell famously wrote, "needs a constant struggle." When it comes to immigration or COVID, don't count on the media to be much help.

NEXT: Brickbat: Tainted Testimony

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  1. Wow, it took you this long to notice?

    1. To be fair, this is from the March 2022 print issue, which means it was written back in November 2019.

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  2. Welch had to get in the obligatory Trump insults. Cocktail parties matter.


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  3. The majority of the journalism profession are tribal Democrats who make policy judgements on who is doing it rather than if they believe the policy effective, legal, etc. During Trump's presidency Reason decried the loss of trust in journalism by society. This is why that loss of trust exists, but it has been going on for decades and has been getting worse.

    1. I love the NY Times claiming Trump insulting journalists was an assault on free press while Biden doing so was a "feel good moment"

  4. Stop the presses! The news media are biased shitweasels? Has anybody notified the New York Times of this bombshell reporting?

    1. Just wait 'till welchie boy hears about the Mostly Peaceful Protests.

    2. It looks like Welch has finally caught up with the headlines, from 1995. Reason is here to give you cutting edge informative articles like this one that talks about this strange new phenomena of the mainstream media being lying Democratic Party hacks.

    3. It's telling that he references osterholm whose been one of the most fanatical, authoritarian, psycho doctors during the entire pandemic. The guy has literally called for full police enforced lock downs with EVERY SINGLE VARIANT. The guy claimed we'd have tens of millions of people dead already. It's no surprise Biden wanted him on the covid team. He's a fucking kook.

      1. And maybe I'm slow, but the irony of a guy calling for all of us to be locked in our homes for 2 years while simultaneously claiming we should let everyone into the country who wants to come just struck me.

        It's kinda like he's saying a strong border between you and your neighbor can prevent disease spread but a strong border between you and your neighboring country cannot.

        1. It was extremely striking at the start of the panic how some countries would close down schools, stadiums, stores, cafes, etc. but simply would not compromise on open borders. Each country's particularities were quite interesting: China shut down all domestic air travel but encouraged international air travel as normal, Germany made sure her borders stayed open because of European solidarity or something while forbidding any medical equipment or personnel from leaving to help in Italy, and at home the Trump administration started restricting international travel over a month and a half before recommending lockdowns.

          1. Yeah it was quite odd. I'm libertarian but I also have thought about what if this disease was actually something like airborne ebola or something where people just started bleeding out of their eyes and drowning in their own blood all over the world. Wouldn't the proper thing to do be to immediately lock down all international travel like it was a zombie movie?

            I'm anti lock down on American soil. But I also have no problem temporarily locking out all non citizens in a time of crisis. And clearly their would have to be some nuance in allowing citizens abroad to return while keeping non citizens out.

            1. Think about what a virus would have to do to REALLY cause a World War Z/Pandemic Inc destruction of civilization. It would have to infect, spread without symptoms and lay dormant for days before suddenly killing the host. Natural Selection doesn't tend to produce viruses that- long term- kill massive populations of their hosts. If that is happening, the virus puts itself at risk of starving to death on a lack of hosts.

              The reason COVID was so successful at spreading was that it actually doesn't kill a lot of its hosts. The vast majority walk around shedding it and infecting others who do the same. Even the most impactful of viruses, the Black Death, was largely spread via fleas infected rats- not people.

              While it is possible that we get a truly killer virus that has the perfect infectious and killer attributes, this is an apocalyptic scenario along the lines of a planet killer meteor strike. Could it happen? Sure. Should we organize our governing and moral philosophies around that remote possibility? Absolutely not.

              1. Should we organize our governing and moral philosophies around that remote possibility? Absolutely not.

                Between HIV and COVID, it's pretty clear that it doesn't matter if we organize our government and moral philosophies around them, we should at least save ourselves the money and hassle.

                There is a part of your argument that I do disagree with though. Your argument is predicated on the idea that natural selection is the generator of the infection. That's been flawed as an ideology since the 50s and in practice since at least the 70s. The utter failure of public health in the face of natural phenomenon makes their incompetency in the face of unnatural phenomena seem dangerously scary.

                1. That's a good point considering covid is much more infectuos being lab manipulated than it's cousins Sars and mers were being naturally evolved.

                  We are probably more likely to face this same lab leak/accident cause for the next pandemic than a naturally evolved virus if gain of function research is severely curbed.

              2. Oh I agree, just saying I've tried thinking About what a libertarian would do in that situation.

                1. My point is that this is a classic "runaway train" moral dilemma. You are artificially constrained to specific variables that are intentionally designed to make you play chicken with your principles. The entire point of these scenarios is to artificially put you into these extreme scenarios where you would be crazy to live by your principles. "Imagine ALIENS came to the planet and said, 'violate the NAP and tax your neighbor or we blow up the planet!' What do you do?!'"

                  My point is that while these might test some boundaries of your moral philosophy, they are in fact sophist attempts to say "well we are just haggling about price!"

                  At the end of the day, COVID was *exactly* the civilization wrecking situation you contemplate...right up until it wasn't. Over and again, people insisted that the rules had changed, that COVID was unprecedented, etc etc. And what did we really get? A disease that is especially lethal to people with comorbidities (and therefore also old people who tend to accumulate comorbidities). But because it was sold as a Civilization killer, many otherwise principled people abandoned their morals in the face of crisis.

                  But the reality is that we didn't know the full truth, and we will not know the full truth the next time someone insists that we have Eboliaria-Pox that will kill civilization. We do know that all the people claiming we just need to submit have proven themselves again and again to be lying liars who lie. So your moral dilemma is not, "What do you do when a civilization ending virus hits", but instead, "What do you do when an authoritarian tells you must submit to his will to avoid a civilization-ending virus."

                  I am absolutely comfortable, as a libertarian, telling those people to go get fucked. And if in the tiny, tiny, tiny possibility submitting to authoritarianism was the only way to prevent an ACTUAL existential human threat, well, I'll sleep soundly on my principles thank you very much.

            2. And clearly their would have to be some nuance in allowing citizens abroad to return while keeping non citizens out.

              This is what actual quarantine is for. Hold several thousand Americans for two weeks to make sure they don't bleed out of their eyes and drown in their own blood before being released? Not the most ethical solution but with people drowning in their own blood by the thousands, ethics is a bit of a compromise. Presumably, with restricted air and border traffic, you've got some place to house them.

          2. It is also noteworthy that those countries that could effectively seal their borders did so with great effect. Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia all implemented serious bans and quarantines.

            I think arguing over border-ban policies for the US is relatively silly. We have thousands of miles of borders with other countries and over 150 international airports. Compare that to South Korea that has 5, plus only a border that their Northern Neighbor has heavily mined.

            Travel bans may work, but probably not for the US. That hasn't changed many countries' attempts to implement them.

            1. They might not...but maintaining open borders seems positively idiotic, no?

              1. Open borders is Reason's raison d'être!! Hell, flying untested, unvetted illegals all over the country is just fine with them! Never mind it might as well be a planned effort to extend the "Covid crisis" and the perks, power and funding that accrue to SOME PEOPLE as a result.

                Nah. Is that something that our good buddies, the public servants in the FBI and other intelligence community alphabet agencies, would dismiss as "conspiracy theory"?? I'm pretty sure they would. DESPITE the way it clearly looks.

            2. Well, they closed their borders effectively at least.

              How effective it was at fighting the virus however is the question Johns Hopkins just answered, and no in said countries' favor.

          3. I fail to recall the Trump administration recommending lockdowns. Got a cite?

            1. It's right there, next to "Trump wants to send Army troops to put down the protests in Portland!!" and his authoritarian EOs mandating the death penalty for taking too much Ibuprofen!

  5. Summary: “Biden not open borders enough, and the press lets him get away with it. And, Trump sucks.”

    In a nutshell, that’s Reason.

  6. It is a bit late for Reason to abandon Biden now.

    1. They had to patiently wait until it didn't matter anymore.

  7. @MattWelch....So where were you Matt, back in 2016-20, when you had the pen in your hand. You were merrily joining in on maligning POTUS Trump and his supporters.

    Now with the passage of time, the things you wrote so confidently back then have been shown to be utter crap. You were wrong. The very least you could do is try having a piece of 'humble pie'. You were just as wrong as the rest of the MSM.

    You'll have a lot more 'street cred' by acknowledging where you were wrong. We'll see if your ego is strong enough to do that.

    1. How Will Reason Staffers Vote in 2020?
      "If it was going to be close in my state, I might have considered holding my nose and voting for the person most likely to supplant the eminently fireable incumbent. But New York has chosen the Democrat by at least 16 percentage points in every presidential election since the end of the Cold War" - MATT WELCH
      Editor at Large

      1. Welch lost his street cred. That is really what is comes down to. The man wrote a whole lot of things during that 4 year period that with the passage of time, were utter crap. The least he could do is own that, and maybe try a piece of 'humble pie'.

        OT...What is going on in Canada with the truckers?! Holy cow! How do you think it turns out?

        1. His biggest pile of crap was the rise of the in dependants. That turned out to be the compleate opposite of what happened

        2. You'd think Reason would find it interesting.

          1. There are a lot of things "you'd think Reason would find interesting" where their coverage mirrors that of WaPo, NPR, and CNN. (i.e.: nonexistent)
            I'm an ex-subscriber, and I'm content to allow Reason to compete with CNN, MSNBC, NYT, et. al., for the vast audience of wine karens, Twitter blue checks, antifas and donor class tools.

            Good luck to them.

            Just remember the primary, overweening moral principle that we should all honor: No mean tweets!

            1. Dear troll, what do you read for serious content?

  8. Interestingly, AOC must have run out of crocodile tears for all the kids in cages and migrants.

    I guess supply chain issues? Price gouging at fault?

    1. AOC only cries for AOC.

    2. Or systemic racism.
      Or Trump.

      That about exhausts the list of proggie "solutions", or, as most people would define them, "excuses".

    3. She can't wear a dress to the MET to the same effect for kids in cages.

  9. The media is the enemy of the people.

  10. Another Orwell quote comes to mind:

    "There will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

  11. "We have right now a crisis with the coronavirus, emanating from China the Afghan Withdrawal, Federal Spending, Regulatory Overreach, Inflation, Supply Chain Management, Border Security, and my tapioca pudding cup is late," Biden said. "In moments like this, this is where the credibility of a president is most needed.

    What he should have said.

  12. This article doesn't fit the narrative of how Reason loves Biden and hates Trump while giving the media a pass because they're just wannabe mainstream.

    Therefore this article doesn't exist.

    1. Can you ever not be a troll?

    2. As usual, you get it wrong. If Welch would have written this article when Biden's travel ban was enacted you would have had something.
      Instead, he writes this article when it is ok for him professionally publish such thoughts in his shit profession.

      But you know that.

    3. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.

  13. Why does Trump have angel wings behind him? Was that a Welchian directive?

    1. He's muted, but my guess is it's just another part of the Hank Phillips fever dream, wherein the religious and their evil cadres (churches) run the country, but only the bad stuff.

      It's similar to Rev Kirkland's delusional equation that 10 religious universities=10,000 liberal indoctrination centers, but usually more entertaining. Not entertaining enough to unblock, though.

  14. Both halves of the Kleptocracy are supposed to jail and kill over whatever Congress legislates. And U.S. immigration laws are not much different from those of any other functioning state. Johnson-era mandatory minimums were instituted as a Doomsday Machine turning judges into levers pulled to eject sumptuary sentences. Orange Hitler and Drug Czar Biden swore to export the same paranoid superstitious laws against production and trade that wreck neighboring economies and flood us with refugees.

  15. "Biden, having supplanted Trump in the White House, was working with a much bigger toolbox of scientific knowledge and proven mitigations"

    Proven mitigations? Could someone please elaborate? Shirley, we aren't talking about masks or hand sanitizer or curfews, right?

  16. Same Border Rules, Vastly Different Portrayals

    The good news is that my fellow libertarian Black, gay conservatives on here have been consistent. It’s a necessary component of economic Liberty to make sure that poor White people be shielded from competition posed by poor MExicans. Just read that in the Constitution if you don’t believe me.

    1. Hmmm...what was that definition of "racism" I read recently?

  17. That's just because Trump lost his Nazi Card....

    Democrats are Power-Mad Gov-Gun toting oppressive gangs. There "aggressive" (they pretend in progressive) policy says it all.

    1. ...when it comes go government (which is nothing but a legal gun toting forceful entity) "progressing" gun usage is always oppressive.

      It's amazing how stupid democrats really are.

  18. The media continually lied about Trump and his policies in a bad light.
    The media continually lies about Bide and his policies in a good light.
    The media today has less respect than a used car salesman convicted of rolling back odometers.

  19. I don't have a problem with their criticism of Trump, they probably believed what they were saying. However, once Biden did the same thing they should have applied the same treatment to Biden, or at the very least apologized to Trump.

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