Three months ago the Associated Press updated its influential AP Stylebook, which news editors and producers across the country use as a guideline in terms of what language to use when covering today's current events. In a key and dramatic change, the AP this year began urging news outlets to accurately describe racist behavior when it's in the news, and to stop dancing around bigoted actions by describing them via timid euphemisms, such as “racially motivated,” “racially incendiary,” and “racially tinged.” Basically, according to the AP, if something's racist, then journalists should say so.
At the time, I urged news organizations to embrace the AP's suggestions and, specifically, to immediately apply the new language guidelines to Trump and his clear history of racist rhetoric. Over the weekend, though, most news organizations failed miserably at that task when Trump posted obviously racists tweets in reference to Democratic congresswomen of color and urged them to “go back” to the “crime infested” countries they came from—even though three of the four were born in the United States. The “go back” taunt has been a mainstay of racist rhetoric for generations among bigots who want to make America more white.
Yet scores of newsrooms refused to label the attacks as such. Leaning up against an old crutch, a Wall Street Journal headline called the tweets “racially charged.” Likely nervous about sparking a right-wing media backlash, journalists continue to tiptoe around Trump's open embrace of hate speech and his deeply racist leanings.
Taunting Democratic “progressives” in Congress, Trump tweeted, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Trump appeared to be referring to first-year Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, whose family left Somalia as refugees and moved to Minneapolis in 1997, was born outside the United States.
But instead of focusing on his blatant racism, the story of Trump's racist tweets was most often presented as a story about how Democrats were upset with Trump.
“His message was immediately seized upon by Democrats, who called it a racist trope,” the New York Times reported. “Democrats immediately denounced the comments as racist,” the Journal noted. From USA Today: “President Donald Trump's opponents accused him of xenophobia and racism on Sunday.” Reuters couched the Trump outburst as, “a comment that was condemned by Democrats as racist,” while ABC News passively suggested Trump was “being called a racist” for his tweets.
That's an obvious media cop-out, because the real story was not that Democrats were upset at Trump. The real story was that Trump spewed a venomous and public racist attack, unmatched in the history of United States presidents.