Tuesday’s episode of The Daily, the New York Times’ mega-popular news podcast, threw listeners a curveball. In opening a show about the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the southern U.S. border, host Michael Barbaro and White House reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis described to listeners an audio clip they would not hear:
Barbaro: Julie, you talked recently with Stephen Miller, President Trump’s domestic policy adviser, about this very controversial situation playing out at the border with parents and children being separated. And we were going to hear that audio on the show today.
Barbaro: Julie Davis covers the White House and immigration for the Times.
Davis: We were, until I heard from the White House earlier today that they were not at all comfortable with us using that audio, because when I went into the West Wing to interview Stephen Miller with Michael Shear, my colleague here at the Times, the purpose was we were doing a big deep dive story on this family separation practice that’s broken out all over the country. And we didn’t talk about any sort of alternative uses for the interview. And when they found out that his voice was actually going to be on a podcast discussing it, they were not happy about this. So, they asked us not to use it.
Barbaro: Alright, so, instead of hearing that audio, we’re going to talk to about the conversation you had with Stephen Miller and his thinking around this practice. So, how does Miller talk about the way the immigration system used to work?
The conversation carried on from there without a clear explanation of why the Times agreed to the White House’s request, or would even ask for such permission in the first place. Davis analyzed Miller’s perspective at length, meaning at least portions of their conversation were on the record. And a front page story on Sunday—co-bylined by Davis and Shear and portraying Miller as the mastermind of the policy amid a divided White House—appeared to rely in part on this same interview. It included one direct quote from him:
“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” [Miller] said during an interview in his West Wing office this past week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
Davis has been covering the family separation policy intensively for much of this month, writing or contributing to several stories on the topic that include input from Miller. In a June 11 piece about Attorney General Jeff Sessions cracking down on asylum seekers fleeing gang violence or domestic abuse, Miller was quoted defending the administration’s plan:
“We effectively have a policy where if you make an unproven assertion up front of having quote unquote credible fear, that you can be released into the United States almost immediately,” Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser who has been the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration crackdown, said last week in an interview.
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Likewise, in a Saturday story about Trump’s “false assertion that Democrats were responsible for his administration’s policy,” Miller was on display backing up his boss’ call for hardline immigration reform:
“The loopholes, both legal and judicial, are now wholly owned and belong to Democrats,” Stephen Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser and top immigration hand, said in a recent interview, “because they alone oppose their changing.”
“No one in our government is willing to take moral lectures from people who support and perpetuate policies that grievously harm innocent Americans,” Mr. Miller added.
Per Tuesday’s episode of The Daily, the White House did not want the recording of Miller saying such things to be made public. But listeners were left unclear as to why the New York Times would agree to that request on a news story dominating the national political conversation. I emailed both Barbaro and Davis about it this morning, and I’ll update this post if I hear back from them. Davis did provide something of an explanation on Twitter Tuesday morning:
Davis’ implicit argument is that she represented how she would use her interview with Miller in one way, and thus felt the need to circle back to the White House before using it in a different way. It is possible Miller wouldn’t have initially granted the interview—apparently used in multiple stories that were mostly critical of the administration—had he known it was also podcast fodder. It’s also possible that Miller talked about Trump’s family separation policy in a way that would be even less flattering in audio form, and that the White House “would not allow” it to be used after seeing how the media narrative played out. Regardless, a recording of his remarks likely would have proven quite the contrast to the recording of crying children published by ProPublica on Monday.
Now, we’re all left more curious about what Miller said and how he said it—not to mention the extent to which “on the record” is actually on the record at the Times. Podcasts are a new beast for the newspaper. I’ve reached out to Spokesperson Danielle Rhoades-Ha about whether it has a policy for such crossover situations and am awaiting her response.
Update, 12:15 p.m.: The Times issued a statement about the matter.