NEWS
15/07/2019 13:36 BST | Updated 16/07/2019 09:15 BST

The 'R' Word: Why Won't Most Of The Media Call Donald Trump Racist?

Outlets were quick to cover the president's rant against congresswomen, but mainly skirted around the central issue.

The US president has come under fire after saying that a group of Democrat congresswomen from black and minority ethnic backgrounds should “go back” to where they “came from”.

In a series of a tweets, Donald Trump wrote: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Though he did did not mention anyone by name, Trump is widely thought to have been referring to a group of progressive congresswomen known as ‘the Squad’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Ocasio-Cortez, born in New York, is of Puerto Rican descent. Tlaib, a Palestinian American, was born in Michigan. Omar, a Somali refugee, moved to the US when she was 12 and is a naturalised US citizen. Pressley, a black woman, was born in Cincinnati.

Naturally, media outlets across the world were quick to cover the president’s racist comments. However, many US news reports skirted around the issue, neglecting to refer to Trump’s tweet as racist.

Instead platforms like NBC Nightly News described the president’s behaviour as “trying to stoke conflict between House Speaker and four minority liberal congresswomen”.

The outlet relied on reactions and statements from democrats who criticised Trump, and defended their colleagues, to flesh out their reporting.

The Wall Street Journal coverage headline was changed from ‘Trump targets lawmakers in tweets decried as racist’ to ‘Trump targets lawmakers in racially charged tweets’.

Other publications have used the ‘r’ word, but applied the cushion of attribution to third party sources.

Bloomberg ran the headline ‘Trump called racist after tweeting ‘go back’ at congresswomen’.

People Magazine went with ‘Trump slammed as ‘racist-in-chief after he tweets about congress women of colour’.

Meanwhile, Fox News anchors even appeared to be amused by Trump’s racism. Jedediah Bila, co-host of the weekend edition of “Fox & Friends,” along with correspondents Todd Piro and Griff Jenkins, laughed as they read the president’s comments aloud.

“Comedian-in-chief,” Piro said.

“Someone’s feeling very comedic today,” Bila added.

Piro described the congresswomen as an “Instagram group” in a reference to their prolific use of social media to raise awareness about their political causes.

“This is real life,” Piro said. “This isn’t social media, just having fun, trying to, you know, rile people up. This is real life. The words you say have real-life consequences. And I think that needs to be taken into consideration.”

Bila added that she believes Trump’s “making an important point.”

“Trump’s saying if you don’t like what this country stands for you’re not going to change it and take away all these things that Americans value so much,” she said.

“Like, if you don’t like it, leave and go set up camp somewhere else.”

The New York Times reported in the news section that Trump’s attack “was widely established as a racist trope” - suggesting that there is a room for interpretations to the contrary. 

In the Opinion section, however, it published a comment piece which was an attack on the president’s divisive rhetoric. “The central framing of this kind of thinking,” it reads, “is that this is a white country, founded and built by white men, and destined to be maintained as a white country.”

In the UK, BBC News stated that Trump is ‘accused’ of racism as a result of his tweet. 

There were a few media outlets that bucked the trend, however.

CNN ran an analysis piece by their own White House reporter headlined, ′Trump’s most openly racist rhetoric yet is not at all surprising’.

“Trump targeted the liberal Democratic lawmakers in a flurry of morning tweets that reverberated with extremist white nationalistic sentiment,” the piece reads.

The Daily Beast placed the onus on the reader to hold Trump to account for his racism. 

 

British news site The Independent published a story on Downing Street’s reaction to the president’s statements, with an unambiguous headline – ‘Theresa May condemns Donald Trump over racist tweet in unprecedented attack’.

Trump’s Twitter rant is the latest in a string of racist, xenophobic and prejudiced utterances from the president.

In 2018, he came under fire following reports that during a meeting at the White House he called African nations “shitholes”.

Following the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump said there were “good people on both sides”

He has repeatedly claimed that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, arguing that his birth certificate is fake.