While declaring President Donald Trump’s “shithole” remark as unprecedented is debatable — this is Trump, after all, and you don’t need to be a historian to dredge up terrible quotes or policies from Nixon, Reagan and other politicos — it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen mainstream news organization publish something as crass as “shithole” uncensored.
The significance of news organizations using “shithole” uncensored and what it means for future Trump coverage is similarly debatable. I’m in the camp that thinks it was a definite good move by the industry, because it clearly and accurately showcases Trump’s blunt racism without obscuring it with hyperbole, punditry or political analysis that would ultimately dilute the fact that yes, the president of the United States is an astonishingly racist individual.
The verbatim reprinting of Trump’s comments about Haiti and African countries were good and it’s the kind of thing news media should be encouraged to do more. But beyond that, we need to perfectly cognizant about who people like Trump are, and be prepared to factor that into all manners of news reporting.
Let’s be straight: Donald Trump is a racist. This is an irrevocable fact. Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, is a racist. This is not editorializing. That’s not his only negative trait but for the sake of being concise, let’s just focus on his racism here.
This is the man who launched his presidential campaign by referring to most Mexicans as rapists and criminals. He has successfully instituted a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. He pardoned Joe Arpaio, a man who made a career out of terrorizing minorities. One of the first newsworthy acts of Trump’s life was about a federal lawsuit that accused him of racial discrimination
Donald Trump is a racist. This isn’t a new discovery, but it’s a truth that the news media has been relatively hesitant to confront. Rare to nonexistent are the mainstream news articles that directly refer to Trump as a racist.
There are plenty of Trump quotes that are referred to as “racist remarks” by third-party interviewees or pundits in news articles, but few reports directly state that Trump is a racist. The news media has no problem referring to Kim Jong-un as a dictator or Osama bin Laden as a terrorist and should have no qualms about describing Trump as a racist. The facts are no less salient.
Crucially, this is not something that should be relegated to op-eds. For one, those aren’t helpful. Secondly, Trump’s racism is fact, not opinion, and only referring to Trump as a racist in editorial pieces undermines that.
Hand-wringing about Trump’s latest racist gaffe or letting politicians with similarly repellent (but more politely masked) views write weak denouncements, both popular tactics in America’s second most popular conservative newspaper, are bad solutions. We need strong, evidence-driven reporting on Trump’s racism and reporters and editors that are willing to openly and clearly stand against bigotry.
That said, I wasn’t a fan of 2016 Huffington Post’s decision to add an angry footnote to the end of each of their hard news articles about Trump. It came off as preachy and arrogant. I don’t believe that every news article about Trump or his political party needs to blatantly note that they — in the latter’s case, a noticeable number, anyway — are racist, but it’s a truth that reporters must acknowledge and consider when reporting on the news.
I am under no illusion that factoring Trump’s racism into news reporting will sway his most hardcore supporters, but it doesn’t need to. If we provide clear, logical reporting on politicians’ most egregious traits, that will do far more to sway the quieter center-left and center-right majorities than hysterical think pieces or political analyses from detached media elites with no grasp on contemporary culture.
Alright, it’s been a bit over 24 hours since the “shithole” news broke, and my newsroom’s friendly neighborhood CNN television is still covering the controversy in breathless detail. While the the last 24 hours of CNN guest pundits have been as insufferable as usual, it absolutely must be noted that Don Lemon clearly stated that Trump is a racist. This is fantastic, and an encouraging sign that some people are willing to step up.
There’s work to be done, but news coverage of the “shithole” comment makes me cautiously optimistic about future political reporting. I hope that the last 24 hours emboldens the industry to further sink their hands into the muck and expose these monsters for who they are. Despite what some journalists think, there’s no ambiguity about these people’s beliefs, and it’s long past time to stress that.