© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

News Media Wrestle With How To Describe Some Of Trump's Tweets


News organizations have wrestled with how to cover President Trump's tweets condemning four Democratic Congresswomen of color, specifically whether to call those tweets racist. NPR's David Folkenflik reports that news organizations became increasingly blunt as the story played out.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Here's CNN's John Berman on Monday morning.


JOHN BERMAN: What do you call someone who says clearly racist things? This morning the answer is Mr. President.

FOLKENFLIK: CNN went early and hard against Trump's tweets, which focused on four members of the U.S. House - three of them born in the U.S., the fourth a U.S. citizen for half her life. Trump wrote they should go back to the crime-infested places they came from. Most news organizations didn't follow CNN's tough line, at least not at first. Lydia Polgreen is editor-in-chief of HuffPost, a populist, left-of-center news site.

LYDIA POLGREEN: I used to work at The New York Times. There's a great deal of discomfort with the idea of simply stating as a fact that someone is racist or saying that someone is a liar without really fully knowing the intent of the person saying it.

FOLKENFLIK: Many news outlets initially limited themselves to calling the tweets controversial or racially charged, later citing Trump's critics who denounced them as racist - not HuffPost.

POLGREEN: This is so calculated. This is so frequent and so bolstered by repeated behavior that it - it's really hard to deny.

FOLKENFLIK: By Monday morning, The Associated Press and NPR News called the tweets racist on their own authority rather than simply quoting critics. David Lauter is Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

DAVID LAUTER: Even by Trumpian standards, this was something new. He had gone across a line that he had flirted with up until now but hadn't actually crossed in quite this way.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump's troubling record on race dates back decades. Yesterday, he doubled down.



KAITLAN COLLINS: ...Are racist, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Quiet. Quiet.

COLLINS: Are you OK with people thinking your tweets are racist, sir?

TRUMP: Quiet. These are people...

COLLINS: I'm asking a question...

TRUMP: ...That if they don't like it here, they can leave.

FOLKENFLIK: By Monday, the tide had shifted at places like The Washington Post and CBS News, where new news anchor Norah O'Donnell opened yesterday's show this way.


NORAH O'DONNELL: Four Democratic Congresswomen of color have just spoken publicly as a group for the first time about the racist tweets aimed at them by the President of the United States...

FOLKENFLIK: That said, The New York Times still hasn't used the word directly. And one place that Trump's tweets are not deemed unduly offensive, Twitter itself, which said that Trump hadn't violated its new rules.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.