'Your administration tore babies from their parents': Critics slam Sarah Sanders for Covington comments

Washington Post

In the days since a video featuring a group of Covington Catholic High School students and a Native American elder first captivated the nation, journalists, lawmakers, celebrities and even President Donald Trump have all weighed in, their comments joining the cacophony of voices that have only fueled what has become an explosive debate on race and politics with few clear answers.

But emerging from that fray as one of the most prominent people supporting the students from the private, all-male school in Park Hills, Kentucky, is White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

"I've never seen people so happy to destroy a kid's life," Sanders, echoing Trump, said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity on Tuesday.

She doubled down in another Fox News appearance Wednesday, saying Trump "would certainly be open" to having the students — some of whom were wearing "Make America Great Again" hats in the video — visit the White House once the partial government shutdown ends.

"The idea that anybody could take joy in the destruction of young kids is absolutely outrageous to me, and that's exactly what we saw members of the media and other leaders do," she said on "Fox & Friends."

She continued: "These are kids. Let's not forget, these are 15-, 16-year-old kids that were put in a very tough position and actually handled it very well."

While the students have maintained that they were not the aggressors, critics argue that their actions are more morally ambiguous than their supporters claim. Sanders's words mark the latest flash point in a raging battle over who has the right interpretation of a moment that appears to change depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

Her comments drew instant disbelief and rebuke, with many slamming her as a "hypocrite."

"Really?" Parkland survivor and activist David Hogg wrote in a tweet that had more than 335,000 likes as of early Thursday.

In the aftermath of the February 2018 school shooting that left 17 dead, Hogg and his classmates were vilified by prominent conservatives and right-wing media figures who accused the teens of being "crisis actors" or making up their experiences. The surviving students and their families also received death threats.

In March, Fox News host Laura Ingraham took aim at Hogg on Twitter, taunting him over his college applications getting rejected. Ingraham later apologized after Hogg organized an aggressive advertiser boycott of her show, "The Ingraham Angle."

Many also quickly drew attention to Trump's family separation policy at the border, which Sanders has defended, saying at one point, "It's a moral policy to follow and enforce the law." Trump halted the separations in June 2018 and a federal judge ordered reunifications to be completed the following month. As of October, The Washington Post's Arelis R. Hernández reported, 245 children had yet to be returned to their families.

"Your administration tore babies from their parents' arms and threw children in cages," tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

Others wanted to remind Sanders of how minority youths are often treated by the public.

Several people highlighted the slayings of black youths such as Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. Studies about race and media have often come to the conclusion that black people are more likely to be shown in a negative light, compared with white people.

Trump, critics pointed out, also took an active role in disparaging the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenagers who were convicted, and later exonerated with DNA evidence, for raping a woman in the 1980s. At the time, Trump spent a reported $85,000 on ads in all four major New York daily newspapers that referenced the Central Park rape case and called for the death penalty, according to The Washington Post's Janell Ross. The five men were freed when a serial rapist confessed to the crime in 2002. In 2016, when asked about the men, Trump continued to imply he believed they were guilty, Ross reported.

Some, however, stood up for Sanders.

"I wish Sarah Sanders would run for POTUS," one Twitter user wrote. "I have never known a @PressSec with so much grit."

This story first appeared in the Washington Post

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