President Donald Trump made openly racist remarks on Sunday, tweeting that “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” of color should “go back” to other countries instead of “telling the people of the United States ... how our government is to be run.” Many tweets and headlines from news organizations reporting on Trump’s posts failed to accurately label them as racist and instead merely quoted others doing so -- or even worse, simply quoted his words without criticism.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 15, 2019
However, some prominent national media outlets fell back on insufficient euphemisms to describe Trump’s racist tweets. Several ABC News Twitter accounts described the president’s comments as “racially-charged,” as did The Wall Street Journal and NPR (though a later ABC News headline did describe the tweets as “racist”). The New York Times in particular failed in its multiple news articles covering the tweets, in one headline describing what Trump wrote as fanning a “racial fire.”
News analysis: President Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last. https://t.co/trsqLWFH8o
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 15, 2019
Even worse, the Times gave equal weight in a headline to a later Trump tweet accusing the targets of his original racist tweets of racism.
Experienced journalists criticized the Times for failing to accurately convey the racist nature of Trump’s remarks in its own words. And one Times television critic who did not single out his paper wrote: “A real problem is that politics in Trump’s era has taken on a moral dimension that news outlets either aren’t equipped to cover, or think it’s their duty to avoid. And if they avoid it, they avoid their job, which is to accurately represent to their audience what’s happening.”
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) July 15, 2019
— Jonathan M. Katz✍🏻 (@KatzOnEarth) July 14, 2019
President Trump's insult against congresswomen showed that in the game of race, we are all pawns, which, though they may glitter, certainly aren't gold: my column pic.twitter.com/jmcujLq0Gx
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) July 15, 2019
Pres. Trump is not backing down from critics who say his Twitter attacks on a group of Progressive Democratic lawmakers are racist. He appears to be directing his attacks at a group of 4 freshman Congresswomen, all of whom are American citizens. @PaulaReidCBS has more: pic.twitter.com/zSfT5HFgrI
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) July 15, 2019
Among #10ThingstoKnow: Trump's latest tweets labeled racist; Financier Jeffrey Epstein prepares for bail fight; Democrats must contend with party's generational divide; #MeToo hits Cuba. https://t.co/eWiggPMO08
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 15, 2019
President Trump doubles down on attacks denounced as racist that appeared targeted at freshman Democratic Reps. Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley https://t.co/aUi4YZhCro
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 15, 2019
President Trump is under fire for a tweetstorm aimed at several Democratic congresswomen, and some have branded his comments as racist.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 15, 2019
— The Hill (@thehill) July 15, 2019
Democratic congresswomen have denounced President Trump's tweet saying progressives should “go back” and fix the “crime infested places from which they came” as “white nationalism” https://t.co/T2eC6JfNki
— Axios (@axios) July 15, 2019
Quite a few headlines and Twitter posts from various news organizations didn’t even include criticism of Trump’s racist comments, simply parroting them in full or in part and thus giving them credibility.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump wrote in a tweet on Sunday.https://t.co/AGiVoaMJyf
— POLITICO (@politico) July 15, 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump tells a group of mostly American-born Democratic congresswomen to ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.’ https://t.co/8DYQSSTZF4 via @Reuters pic.twitter.com/cQTtHPJMK7
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 15, 2019
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 14, 2019
And some media outlets’ headlines and tweets treated Trump’s comments as a claim to be fact-checked, instead of calling out the racist nature of what he wrote. The Associated Press even treated Trump’s racism to a debunking:
THE FACTS: The women-of-color lawmakers whom Trump is criticizing are American citizens.
He was almost certainly referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what's become known as “the squad.” The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County. Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati.
Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.
Tlaib, who is Muslim, was born in Detroit.
Trump appeared to be inserting himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez's influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color.
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, calling out some of the media coverage that failed to label Trump’s tweets as racist, wrote:
It makes good sense for media organizations to be careful and non-inflammatory in their news coverage. That kind of caution continues to be a virtue.
But a crucial part of being careful is being accurate, clear and direct. When confronted with racism and lying, we can’t run and hide in the name of neutrality and impartiality. To do that is a dereliction of duty.
Journalists don’t need to see themselves as political advocates when they say obvious things in plain terms. And doing so doesn’t make them Democratic operatives as their pro-Trump critics are sure to charge.
It just means they are doing the most fundamental job they have: telling the truth as plainly and directly as possible.