Trump uses media coverage of Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk comments to whitewash his own racism

Bloomberg's remarks deserve scrutiny -- but we shouldn't let right-wing media use them to whitewash Trump's record

President Donald Trump’s racism is so baked into expectations, he is actually getting away with calling other candidates racist for policies that he himself has long championed. This time, Trump and right-wing media figures are rallying around some genuinely problematic past comments from Mike Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York City and now a Democratic presidential candidate, in which he mounted a virtual defense of racial profiling in the city’s “stop and frisk” policing.

It’s not just a problem of right-wing trolling: Mainstream media outlets seem to be just fine getting played in what is an obvious effort to distract from Trump’s own racist positions.

CNN mentions only toward the end of a long article that Trump supported the same policies for which he criticized Bloomberg. CBS News noted that Trump supported stop and frisk 10 paragraphs into its piece — while NPR and Yahoo News didn’t even mention that key detail at all.

During an appearance at the Aspen Institute back in 2015 (for which Bloomberg sought to keep footage under wraps — though audio did get out), Bloomberg said: “One of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana. They’re all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do you do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” Bloomberg also said that “95%” of both murderers and murder victims are men of color between the ages of 16 and 25: “You can just take the descriptions and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops.”

The New York Times reported what happened next:

For Mr. Trump, it was an opportunity to try to shape the coverage of the Democratic contest more to his liking.

Like an assignment editor at a tabloid newspaper, the president poured accelerant on the story, aided by his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his campaign manager, who helped fuel a social media firestorm, already underway, that had the hashtag “#BloombergIsARacist.” Within an hour, Mr. Trump had deleted his own tweet without explanation. But by the afternoon, the hashtag was trending on Twitter and cable news programs, including on CNN and MSNBC, where guests were still talking about the audio clip — and Mr. Trump’s meddling.

The Times article continued: “Mr. Trump has himself been a vocal supporter over the years of the same police tactics that Mr. Bloomberg once championed, and the very accusation he was leveling against his potential rival — that he is a racist — conjures up one of the most often repeated accusations against the president himself.”

Perhaps no better single example of this kind of bad-faith analysis can be found than coverage of the controversy from Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Geraldo Rivera. On Hannity’s radio show Tuesday, Rivera proclaimed: “Donald Trump is making an argument that resonates, that he is the true civil rights leader, not Bloomberg.”

Geraldo Rivera: Donald Trump “is the true civil rights leader” in the 2020 race

Geraldo Rivera: Donald Trump “is the true civil rights leader” in the 2020 race
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Citation From the February 11, 2020, edition of Premiere Radio's The Sean Hannity Show

But then on the Tuesday night edition of Hannity’s Fox News show, Rivera and Hannity both said they personally supported Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policies (and indeed they did, even when Bloomberg's policy was found unconstitutional), while castigating Bloomberg for having changed his own position.

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Citation From the February 11, 2020, edition of Fox News’ Hannity

GERALDO RIVERA (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE): Sean, the problem isn't the truth or falsity of what Bloomberg said, whether in private or public. The problem is that Bloomberg disavowed his own policies only when he decided to run for president. It is hypocrisy. That is the issue.

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): But now he really believe for 17 years, Geraldo. This is revealing.

RIVERA: Now, I supported stop and frisk. I supported Mayor Giuliani —

HANNITY: That's not the issue.

RIVERA: — in 1994 —

HANNITY: I did, too.

Trump has his own richly documented history of racist demagoguery against communities of color on issues of crime and policing, going back to his campaign for the death penalty against the (later exonerated) Central Park Five in the 1980s.

Then as a candidate for president, he made a supposed pitch to Black voters, declaring, “You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, … what the hell do you have to lose?” (And of course, he had kicked off his campaign by alleging of Mexican immigrants: "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”)

As president, Trump described the Baltimore district of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) as “a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess,” and “the worst run and most dangerous [district] anywhere in the United States.”