TIME cover paints Trump as immigration ‘boogeyman,’ in striking contrast with Obama coverage

A misleading TIME magazine cover of President Trump looming over a crying migrant girl has exemplified the media’s eagerness to portray the administration’s immigration policies in the harshest possible light. But it seems the iconic magazine treated the Obama administration with comparative kid gloves over similar practices, and with covers focused instead on “Manopause” and butter.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore captured the iconic photo of a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying as her mother was detained along the U.S.-Mexico border. For TIME and others, she quickly became the face of a “zero tolerance” policy that had resulted in children of detained illegals being separated from their parents.

The July 2 edition of the magazine features a cover complete with a Photoshopped version of Trump looking down on the crying girl with the caption “Welcome to America.” The dramatic image seems designed to illustrate the outrage surrounding Trump’s now-reversed policy.  

Unfortunately for TIME, the girl’s father told the Daily Mail that his wife and daughter were not actually separated, in an interview published after the magazine cover went viral. TIME is standing by the cover, but many observers feel the damage has been done.

“Far more people have seen the image and made conclusions based on it than will ever read the associated TIME article, or for that matter, any article dealing with the actual border situation,” media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News. “This cover has circled the internet and the globe and no doubt has made a tremendous rhetorical impact.”

The cover’s accompanying article was headlined, “A reckoning after Trump's border separation policy: What kind of country are we?” The feature by Karl Vick points out that Trump doesn’t use the term “democracy” too often, scorns relationships with other world leaders and paints a disturbing picture of life for the children “under the cold care of the federal government.”

Conservative strategist Chris Baron told Fox News that other outlets were quick to pick up the provocative TIME cover, which was splashed across everything from cable news to social media.

“We live in an ADD America. The cover image was the story for all intents and purposes,” Baron said.

Vick’s feature is extremely hard on Trump and even mentions that President Barack Obama “deported more immigrants than any previous president and detained families.”

time covers

Covers during the Obama-era immigration crisis featured topics such as “Manopause,” Taylor Swift and the health benefits of butter.

But the jab at Obama is a stark contrast with the way immigration was covered during the previous administration.

During the 2014 Obama-era immigration crisis, the topic was never deemed important enough to grace the magazine’s cover. There were no cover images of crying children as topics such as “the power of Taylor Swift,” “Manopause” and butter's benefits to good health occupied the coveted journalistic real estate.

Indeed, Obama managed to avoid the cover of TIME altogether in 2014 – not appearing once.

The summer of 2014 saw a spike in illegal immigration – commonly unaccompanied children at the Mexican border -- and Obama famously waited until after Election Day to take executive action.

While the president avoided the cover, the immigration crisis of the day did make the inside pages of the prestigious magazine. Following Obama's executive actions in November 2014, when he announced that five million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally would avoid deportation, the magazine boasted that his “potential successor” Hillary Clinton applauded the decision.

Another feature, headlined, “Legal scholars: Obama’s immigration actions lawful,” touted a group of 10 academics who penned a joint letter to the White House. Other articles were published that covered Republicans arguing about Obama’s response, GOP governors blasting the executive action and a feature headlined, “No good options for GOP on Obama’s immigration move.”

“The political left, comprised of the Democrats and the mainstream media, have an established pattern of immediately rushing to push emotion-based narratives before all the facts come out,” Daily Wire media reporter Ryan Saavedra told Fox News.

Saavedra said that many people “are too lazy” to read beyond a cover, and therefore a lot of damage can be done with a misleading one – something Obama didn’t have to worry about back in 2014.

“The crisis in humanity at the border has been going on for years, but TIME is clearly making an editorial statement at this juncture by choosing to cast Trump as the boogeyman for all of immigration's ills."

- Media analyst Jeffrey McCall

“TIME has stories? Does anyone care? The covers of these magazines go viral and get picked up on TV. That's all this is smoke and mirrors,” Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor retorted when asked if the cover images are more important than the content inside a magazine these days.

A quick search for the word “immigrants” on the official website of TIME yields more than 7,000 results, with several recent articles featuring disturbing images of children involved in the Trump-era crisis. The Obama era doesn’t appear to have many photos accompanying its coverage, apart from images of the president himself (Fox News did find one image of children protesting.)

“The crisis in humanity at the border has been going on for years, but TIME is clearly making an editorial statement at this juncture by choosing to cast Trump as the boogeyman for all of immigration's ills,” McCall said.

“Images are powerful and a picture truly is worth a thousand words and emotion, and sometimes even more. That said, pictures capture that one slice in time and don't always provide context or circumstance. Pictures tell stories and regardless of their accuracy in doing so, they evoke emotions and against the backdrop of the current immigration story, they're powerful,” psychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert told Fox News.

As for the young girl that graces the current cover with a menacing Trump starring down at her, Alpert said the impact of being a symbol of the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy will impact her – but he’s unsure if that’s a bad thing.

“We've seen similar photos in the past [such as] Elian Gonzalez," he said, referring to a Cuban engineer who, as a young boy in 2000, became embroiled in a heated international custody and immigration controversy involving the governments of Cuba and the United States.

"With older people, being the face of a national crisis can potentially and unwillingly thrust someone into a spotlight that could be overwhelming and pressures great, or quite the opposite,” Alpert said. “That person, might rise to the opportunity and use such a platform in a productive and helpful way.”

TIME provided the following statement when asked about the girl on current cover not actually being separated from her parents: “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason: Under the policy enforced by the administration, prior to its reversal this week, those who crossed the border illegally were criminally prosecuted, which in turn resulted in the separation of children and parents. Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment.”

While the magazine stood by its controversial cover, a correction was made to its website: “The original version of this story misstated what happened to the girl in the photo after she taken from the scene. The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.