After President Donald Trump’s speech following back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times all ran similar headlines claiming that he condemned “bigotry” or “hate” but “not guns” or “gun policy.” While highlighting the president’s failure to directly address the issue of gun safety is important, the three dailies allowed Trump’s condemnation of bigotry to stand in headlines without contextualizing his role in perpetuating that same bigotry.
The New York Times ran the August 6 headline “Assailing hate but not guns” after its initial headline of “Trump urges unity vs. racism” was heavily criticized for downplaying the president’s weaponization of racial hatred. The Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, acknowledged the earlier headline was a mistake, however the second headline still failed to connect the president’s speech to his own record of racism and bigotry.
In addition to the Times’ second faulty attempt, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran two nearly identical headlines: “Trump condemns bigotry, not guns,” and “Trump blames bigotry -- but not gun policy.”
It is important for the press to cover the president’s failure to meaningfully discuss gun policy after two mass shootings killed 32 people in one weekend -- as opposed to Fox News, where anything except the gun is always the problem. However, the president’s long history of weaponizing racial and ethnic hatred must also be mentioned in any headline about his purported denunciation of bigotry.
That journalistic imperative is even stronger when the president’s speech is partly in response to a mass shooting reportedly committed by a white supremacist who cited as his motivation an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants -- an idea consistently pushed by Fox News and Trump himself.