Only two media outlets on Facebook called out Trump's attacks against Rep. Cummings as racist

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted a slew of racist attacks against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the 7th Congressional District he represents, including Baltimore, calling it a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Almost all Facebook pages of national media outlets failed to properly identify Trump’s tweetstorm as racist. 

Media Matters reviewed 85 Facebook posts about the story published between July 27 and 28 from 29 pages of national media news outlets and found only two posts that explicitly called Trump’s attacks “racist.” The first post was from MSNBC and contained a link to a story titled “Trump targets Rep. Cummings in latest racist comments.” The second post was a video from ABC News Politics with a caption that ABC News senior political analyst Matthew Dowd said Trump’s tweets contained “racist language.”

Major media outlets skirted around the racist connotation of Trump’s tweets, labeling his remarks as “derogatory,” “inflammatory,” and “divisive political rhetoric.” One post from The Hill wrote that Trump’s tweets were “inflaming racial tensions once again.” Other posts described the racist attacks as Trump lashing out. A set of posts quoted Democrats calling out Trump’s tweets as racist, but the word was in quotes

Some posts covering the response to the tweets, from Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reprinted his defenses without any pushback or qualification. The Los Angeles Times wrote in a post that Mulvaney “insisted that Trump’s comments were not racist, but he said he understood why some people could perceive them that way.” A headline from The Hill quoted Mulvaney claiming that Trump’s comments had “absolutely zero to do with race.” And CBS News quoted Mulvaney’s defense without providing any context at all. 

This isn’t the first time that major media outlets have failed to properly identify Trump’s racist comments as such. After Trump told four women of color in Congress to “go back” to where they came from, media outlets used a laundry list of euphemisms -- “racially charged,” “incendiary,” “inflammatory,” and so on -- to avoid identifying Trump’s attacks as racist. In March, the Associated Press Stylebook recommended against using “euphemisms for ‘racist’ or ‘racism’ when [these] terms are truly applicable.”


Media Matters reviewed all Facebook posts mentioning the word “Trump” and published between 12 a.m. EST on July 27 and 12 a.m. EST on July 29, 2019, from the following Facebook pages of U.S. wire services; major broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House: ABC News, ABC News Politics, AP, AP Politics, Axios, Breaking News, CBS News, CBS News Politics, CNN, CNN Politics, Fox News, Fox News Politics, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, NBCNews, NBC Politics, NPR, NPR Politics, NYT Politics, Politico, Reuters, Roll Call, The Hill, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Washington Post, Washington Post Politics, and WSJ Politics. 

Of the 839 posts, 85 posts contained news related to Trump’s racist attacks targeting Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Baltimore. The link headline and text content for each post were reviewed for mentions of “racism” and “racist.”