The New York Times, in reporting on President Trump’s White House address yesterday on the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, changed its first edition headline, “Trump urges unity vs. racism” after it quickly attracted strong backlash online. Its replacement in the second edition — “Assailing hate but not guns” — was hardly better and was echoed in the headline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s front page round up of wire reports, “Trump assails white supremacy.”
Reporters don’t write headlines; editors do. For all the negative attention the New York Times got, the piece that ran underneath it was pretty good (the online headline is “Shootings Spur Debate on Extremism and Guns, With Trump on Defense”). Unlike the Democrat-Gazette story, it devotes a lot of words to Trump’s past divisive and racist rhetoric.
The D-G report buries mention of Trump’s history of racism at the bottom of its story and ties it to “[s]ome of the Democrats campaigning for their party’s presidential nomination.”
Strictly speaking, the D-G headline and its wire-service round-up are correct. President Trump, reading from a teleprompter — which he’s repeatedly derided; “it gets very boring when you do the teleprompter deal,” he said last week in Cincinnati — did offer a fairly boilerplate condemnation of white supremacy yesterday. That he cleared that low bar is newsworthy considering his past statements.
But it’s inexcusable and irresponsible to not put Teleprompter Trump in context of every day Trump: on Twitter, at rallies and in other off-the-cuff speeches. I’m very comfortable asserting that the president is a vile, imbecilic racist. I don’t expect traditional, straight news orgs to do the same. But it’s not especially difficult to play it straight AND do the work of informing readers and viewers by selecting even just a few of the almost endless quotes and deeds that demonstrate our president’s long history of bigotry.