The New York Times has long proclaimed itself to be the nation’s (and maybe the world’s) newspaper of record, dedicating to publishing “All the news that’s fit to print.” But when it comes to its coverage of the debate over admitting refugees from today’s war-torn Middle East, the paper’s approach seems to be “All the news that fits support for leniency.” For twice within the last week alone, The Times has put out features that completely ignore some of the most important facts that have complicated this controversy.
Last Friday, The Times ran an item emphasizing how long refugees from Syria must wait to enter the country, and how many background checks they face. That’s undoubtedly useful information. But did reporters Haeyoun Park and Larry Buchanan even mention the complete absence of independent corroborating information available to the federal or United Nations officials trying to vet them? No. Did their editors believe that such information was pertinent, and that Times readers deserved to know it? Apparently not.
In fact, there’s no evidence that the reporters consulted with specialists on refugee admissions and border security who harbor major doubts about screening’s sufficiency. Nor is there evidence that the editors requested more diverse sourcing. This conclusion seems justified because the only sources of information listed at the item’s end are agencies of an Obama administration that’s been vigorously, and often belligerently, insisting that the vetting situation is under control, and two non-profit organizations that strongly support this position. So the article unavoidably created the impression that not only are current Syria refugee procedures painstaking, but that they are painstaking enough.
Comparable lapses characterize today’s Times offering on “the origins of Jihadist-inspired attacks in the U.S.” According to this article, “All of the Sept. 11 attackers entered the United States using tourist, business or student visas. Since then, most of the attackers in the United States claiming or appearing to be motivated by extremist Islam were born in this country or were naturalized citizens. None were refugees.”
That’s important to know. But it’s at least as important to know that Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions has released a list of 12 vetted refugees who this year alone have been charged or implicated in federal courts of participation in Jihadist attacks in the United States.
In addition, two years ago, ABC News reported that “The discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky — who later admitted in court that they’d attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq — prompted the [FBI] to assign hundreds of specialists to an around-the-clock effort aimed at checking its archive of 100,000 improvised explosive devices collected in the war zones, known as IEDs, for other suspected terrorists’ fingerprints.”
ABC then proceeded to quote by name the FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center as stating that “We are currently supporting dozens of current counter-terrorism investigations like that.” Moreover, according to the report (which quotes numerous other FBI agents by name), “Several dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees….”
These disclosures don’t invalidate the article’s claim about the great number and severity of the terrorist threats to Americans that have not come from refugees. But they completely invalidate the clear suggestion that tighter restrictions on refugee admissions, which President Obama has so far adamantly refused to consider, can not meaningfully enhance Americans’ security. Nor did either Times piece mention the live possibility that the refugee threat could grow significantly going forward, as the Middle East experiences ever heavier, bloodier conflict, and as the U.S. and other militaries keep failing to put the kind of pressure on ISIS that kept Al Qaeda on the run for much of the post-September 11 period.
Also revealing – and unacceptable: Similar to the first piece, none of the “security experts” quoted in the piece contradicted the Obama line. The only ones mentioned by name come from the New America Foundation, which has a long record of backing the president’s domestic and foreign policies, and the Cato Institute, which has long favored an Open Borders approach to American immigration policy. How difficult would it have been for Times reporters Sergio Pecanha and K.K. Rebecca Lai to find specialists who disagreed? And again, did their editors even make this request?
The point here isn’t that Mr. Obama and his supporters are indisputably wrong and that their opponents are indisputably right about refugee policy. The point is that the issue is complicated, that important evidence can be cited to support both of the groups of approaches that have recently emerged, and that a responsible newspaper would not have pretended that the case for the status quo is airtight. If the powers-that-be at The Times want to make that case (as is of course their right), they should use the editorial page.