ABC chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz demonstrated how easily journalists can normalize bigotry while hosting ABC’s This Week. Raddatz noted the anti-Muslim views of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn at the beginning of This Week, but in subsequent discussions of Flynn she refrained from mentioning them at all.
President-elect Donald Trump has named Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his pick for national security adviser on Friday. In addition to holding international conflicts of interest, Flynn is also explicitly anti-Muslim. Flynn has said that “fear of Muslims is rational,” is a board member of the anti-Muslim hate group ACT! For America, defended Trump’s proposed Muslim ban during the presidential campaign, compared Islam to cancer, and denied that Islam is a religion.
During her guest hosting of the November 20 edition of This Week, Raddatz briefly referenced some of Flynn’s anti-Islam comments while reviewing who Trump has selected to serve in his administration so far. When highlighting at the top of her show the criticism that some of Trump’s picks have drawn, Raddatz noted that Flynn “is under fire for calling Islam a cancer and his tweet that ‘fear of Muslims is rational.’”
Next, when interviewing Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus, Raddatz said Flynn “has a history of controversial views about Islam,” noting that Flynn has said that “Islam is not a real religion, but a political ideology masked behind a religion.” When asked if Trump shares that view, Priebus answered, “I think so,” but “phrasing can always be done differently.”
Later, when leading into an interview with former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, Raddatz merely said Flynn is known “for his controversial views on Islam.”
During her interview with Hayden, Raddatz said Flynn was “praised for his intelligence gathering” and asked about his qualifications as national security adviser -- but made no mention of Flynn’s anti-Muslim bigotry.
And during a panel discussion near the end of the show, Raddatz lumped Flynn in with other retired military personnel, framing him as just someone with military experience, and made no mention of his anti-Muslim bigotry.
The media’s coverage of Trump -- including his policies, rhetoric, and hires -- will set the tone for the national political dialogue about his presidency. 60 Minutes showed what not to do in Trump’s first sit-down interview after the election, allowing him to reintroduce his most criticized positions as reasonable while glossing over the most dangerous features and promises of his campaign. There has also been a concerted effort in conservative media to rehabilitate Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief adviser who until recently ran Breitbart News, the “platform of the alt-right.”
One pitfall media has run into is describing the bigoted rhetoric and draconian positions of Trump -- and the people he surrounds himself with -- as “controversial.” Media use neutral-sounding words like controversial to avoid making what they consider editorial judgments about Trump’s rhetoric and policies, but doing so ultimately treats bigotry as a valid political belief.
Over the course of one show, Raddatz described Flynn as “controversial” and painted him as highly respected, while essentially disappearing his anti-Muslim bigotry. In doing so, Raddatz helped normalize Trump and the bigots he is choosing to staff his incoming administration with.