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White House press secretary Jen Psaki faulted the “nature of” media as having been a “big driver” behind the use of the term “crisis” when referring to the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
During an interview with The Axe Files with David Axelrod podcast on Thursday, Psaki claimed that the migrant surge “wasn’t really a crisis,” just a “huge challenge.”
The comments came after Axelrod brought up the border, saying that “there is obviously a big problem down there.”
“There is this wrestling match you go through several times a week as to whether you’re going to call it a ‘crisis’ or how you’re going to describe it,” he said.
“This is the sort of game that drives you nuts in Washington,” he added. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to make you call it a crisis and then we will write a story saying you called it a crisis.’”
“White House in crisis,” Psaki said, suggesting a clickbait headline. “That’s a big driver of it.”
“Sometimes the chyrons, the social media leads, they’re looking for the nugget right? And we were pushed and pushed and pushed,” she said.
Psaki argued that migrant surges are “cyclical,” saying, “we’ve seen surges at the border. Every time it happens it’s bad.”
Meanwhile, more than 170,000 people were apprehended crossing the border illegally in March, breaking a 15-year record.
Though such a severe surge has not occurred in more than a decade, Psaki said that “until we do something to address it over the long term,” it’s “going to keep happening.”
“But really what we had to be focused on was what we were going to do about it and to us it’s like that wasn’t really a crisis, it was a huge challenge,” she added.
She continued: “But really a big driver was we understand and know the nature of some components of social media and media these days and we just didn’t want to feed into that on this issue or really any issue.”
However, at least one media outlet was similarly reserved about using the term “crisis.” A Washington Examiner report last month revealed that Politico management had instructed staff to avoid using the term to describe the influx of illegal immigrants at the southern border.
“Avoid referring to the present situation as a crisis, although we may quote others using that language while providing context,” deputy production director Maya Parthasarathy wrote to staff in a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner. “While the sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors is a problem for border officials, a political challenge for the Biden administration and a dire situation for many migrants who make the journey, it does not fit the dictionary definition of a crisis.”
The memo also cautions staff to “avoid emotive words like onslaught, tidal wave, flood, inundation, surge, invasion, army, march, sneak, and stealth,” which “could portray migrants as a negative, harmful influence.”
Yet even President Biden referred to “the crisis that ended up on the border with young people,” last month. However, Psaki insists he was not referring to migrants crossing the border and that the comment has been misinterpreted.
“The president does not feel that children coming to our border seeking refuge from violence, economic hardships, and other dire circumstances is a crisis,” Psaki told reporters days after Biden’s comment. “He does feel that the crisis in Central America, the dire circumstances that many are fleeing from, that that is a situation we need to spend our time, our effort on, and we need to address it if we’re going to prevent more of an influx of migrants from coming in years to come.”
She said the president’s mention of a crisis was intended to explain why he had not yet raised the refugee ceiling from the record-low set by the Trump administration.