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Trump's racist tweetstorm

President Trump launched a bigoted attack against four minority congresswomen on Sunday morning. His tweets were straight up racist. Did the news media accurately describe it that way?

By and large, no, most major news outlets did not do that. Reporters and anchors took the story seriously but largely leaned on "critics," primarily Democrats, and cited their accusations of racism. The significance of Trump's words risked being lost in a partisan fog.

He said/she said is a tried and true journalistic technique, of course, but it is insufficient at a time like this. If telling Democratic congresswomen to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came" isn't racist, what is?

There were some exceptions -- CNN chief among the news outlets -- that called out this example of racism emanating from the highest office in the land in an authoritative, institutional voice. CNN's banners and headlines said "racist rant" and "racist attacks."

 

The moral dimension


NYT TV critic James Poniezowik crystallized what I've been thinking all day. "A real problem is that politics in Trump's era has taken on a moral dimension that news outlets either aren't equipped to cover, or think it's their duty to avoid," he tweeted. "And if they avoid it, they avoid their job, which is to accurately represent to their audience what's happening."

 

How it was covered


So let's size up how the nation's most-read, most-watched news outlets handled the tweets. As I mentioned, CNN identified the tweets as racist throughout the day. Some MSNBC programs did, too. On Fox News, so far as I can tell, the word was only used by guests or attributed to critics.

The big three nightly newscasts used the "critics" crutch as well. "Democrats are calling the remarks racist," ABC anchor Tom Llamas said. Later, he said Trump is "being called racist after firing off several tweets..." And the graphic next to him said "RACIALLY CHARGED TWEET."

On NBC, Kate Snow said the "inflammatory" Trump tweet was different than most, "with many decrying it as racist." A package by Hans Nichols quoted various condemnations from Dem lawmakers and said 2020 candidates "piled on" with criticism. 

CBS was by far the weakest of the three, never getting close to the R-word. I was struck by this because the correspondent, Errol Barnett, did point out on Twitter that the hashtag #RacistInChief was trending. "President Trump took aim at a familiar target today, Democrats. This time, though, he aimed at four progressive lawmakers, all of them women of color," anchor Elaine Quijano said. Quite a nonchalant way to describe a racist rant!

Newspaper websites, with the advantages of more space and time, gave more context. But there was still reluctance to reach any editorial conclusion. The LA Times said "it's usually considered a racist taunt." WaPo cited Nancy Pelosi, saying she "described them as racist and divisive." 

The AP's headline was blunt -- "Leave the US, Trump tells liberal congresswomen of color" -- and its story noted Trump's "long history of making racist remarks," but left it to Democrats to say Sunday's tweets were racist. Same thing at the WSJ: The homepage headline was "Trump Targets Lawmakers in Tweets Decried as Racist." Later it was changed to say "Trump Targets Lawmakers in Racially Charged Tweets."

I know that reporters in at least two newsrooms argued with their higher-ups about this language issue on Sunday. But in both cases they lost.

The NYT's main story initially cited Dem criticism, but the top of its story was later strengthened to say Trump's insult "was widely established as a racist trope." Still: Widely established by who? Is it a racist trope, or not?

In a separate "news analysis," Peter Baker went further, saying that "when it comes to race, Mr. Trump plays with fire like no other president in a century." Here's his piece...

 

Putting pressure on the press


This is just a sampling of the Twitter commentary I noticed on Sunday... 

David Gergen said "it's hard to recall this much bigotry and nativism in the White House since pre-Civil War."

Ben Rhodes tweeted: "Trump launched his political brand 8 years ago saying the first African American President was born in Africa. It has always been about racism, and the fact that this has ever been a controversial thing to say is part of the problem."

Sherrilyn Ifill ‏wrote: "Today's Twitter thread by Mr. Trump may be the most appalling among thousands of appalling tweets from this President."

Joy Reid wrote: "And now we all know him, so he feels comfortable letting it out in front of all of us."

George Conway asked: "What would likely happen if anyone, even a CEO, made such a racist statement in any workplace in America?"


THE ROOTS OF TRUMP'S TWEETS...
 

Another tweetstorm provoked by Fox & Friends?


Ilhan Omar, one of the presumed targets of Trump's tweetstorm, was on stage with fellow lawmakers Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Deb Haaland at the Netroots Nation conference on Saturday. Media Matters' Matthew Gertz noted that "Fox & Friends" ran a "DEMOCRATS DIVIDED?" segment and played soundbites from the conference "about 20 minutes before" Trump's rant. 
I also think it's worth looking back a little further, to last Tuesday, when Tucker Carlson said Omar hates America and claimed immigrants like her are "dangerous" to America. Oliver Darcy and I talked about the Carlson-Trump connection on Sunday's "Reliable..."

 --> Reason's Robby Soave told me on "Reliable Sources," "it's shameful that this faction of the pro-Trump right has seemed to actually embrace identity politics, something the right has long criticized as being bad for this country..."

 

The resonance of "go back"


As Darcy commented on "Reliable Sources" Sunday morning, people who are not white-skinned and blue-eyed know how it feels to be told to "go back where you came from," and that's what makes the rhetoric from Trump and his allies so repugnant.

"As a woman of color, as a Latina, I can say, I've heard these kinds of sentiments directed at me," CNN anchor Ana Cabrera said on the air Sunday evening. But usually the people saying "go back" are hateful anonymous commenters. This time "these words are coming from the president of the United States," she said, sounding genuinely taken aback.

Journalists, activists and ordinary citizens shared their experiences all over social media on Sunday. And the NYT asked people to send in recollections: "Have You Been Told to ‘Go Back’ to Your Country Even Though You Are American? Tell Us About It."

 --> Vox's Jane Coaston said on "Reliable" that Trump's underlying claim is that "to criticize this country means you are no longer able to be a representative of this country -- which is a very strange thing for someone who in 2015 described America as a hellhole to say..."

 

The big picture


CNN analyst Ron Brownstein speaking on Sunday afternoon: "Under Trump, the Republican coalition has become overwhelmingly centered on the voters and the parts of the country that are most uneasy with demographic change. There was polling from PRRI last year -- 2/3s of Republicans now say that the growing number of immigrants threaten traditional American values and traditions. As opposed to 60% of the country, overall, saying that immigrants strengthen the society."

Trump is centering the GOP "primarily on the parts of the country that are least comfortable with all of these changes," Brownstein said. "And everything we are seeing -- from the wall, which is symbolic in its own way of standing against change -- to these raids, to the openly racist tweets, is an acknowledgment of that. And what's striking is how few Republicans, however much they may grumble privately, have been willing to stand up against this redefinition of the party."

 

"Fundamentally un-American"


There's so much more to say, but let me start to wrap up this section with Stephen Collinson's analysis for CNN.com, which is leading the homepage right now. "The most shocking thing about Donald Trump's racist tweets is that possibly the most fundamentally un-American outburst of modern presidential rhetoric did not come remotely as a surprise," he wrote Sunday. "The second most shocking aspect of an episode that would have rocked any other administration is that the President knows he can trade in such base tactics because he will pay no price in a Republican Party cowed by his fervent political base."

 

Keeping track of the no-comments


With Collinson's point in mind, maybe more news outlets should follow the lead of the Tampa Bay Times, which made the lawmakers' silence a story on Sunday afternoon. "We asked the offices of Florida's four congressional representatives who are immigrants or the children of immigrants" for comment, Kirby Wilson wrote. As of Sunday at 11pm ET, the two reps who are Democrats have responded; the two Republicans have not. Wilson's story leaves space for their answers and says "should they respond, this story will be updated..."
 

FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE

 -- MSNBC's David Gura tweeted: "Now that Robert Mueller's testimony has been pushed back a week, it no longer coincides with a 'Make America Great Again Rally' in North Carolina, scheduled to be counterprogramming. How long until the Trump re-election campaign announces another one, for Wednesday, July 24th?" (Twitter)

 -- The Daily Caller wrote an entire story about Andrew Gillum's appearance on CNN's "SOTU" while misidentifying him as Bakari Sellers. After Jake Tapper and others called out the Caller, the story was corrected... (Beast)

 -- Gillum tweeted in response: "Seriously, folks!!!! We. Don’t. All. Look. Alike!" (TPM)
 
 

Media week ahead calendar


Monday: Amazon Prime Day begins...

Monday evening: Norah O'Donnell's first night anchoring the "CBS Evening News..."

Tuesday: Tim Alberta's "American Carnage" hits bookshelves...

Tuesday morning: Emmy nominations will be announced at 11:30am ET...

Tuesday: Execs from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google testify before the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee...

Wednesday: Netflix earnings...

Wednesday: The Comic-Con Museum inducts Batman into its brand-new Character Hall of Fame...

Thursday: Comic-Con International officially kicks off in San Diego...

Thursday: CNN's live draw for the #DemDebates will take place at 8pm ET...

Friday: "The Lion King" hits theaters...

Saturday: The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing...
 
 

Norah O'Donnell's 6:30 debut


"Based on the rehearsals at the network's studio last week," CBS News president Susan Zirinsky is "aiming to bring more gravitas to the 'CBS Evening News With Norah O'Donnell,'" the LAT's Stephen Battaglio writes. "The theme music is slower and more orchestral-sounding. The flashy, rapid-fire video montage that opened the program is gone."

Battaglio's story also says "colleagues at CBS News and her former shop, NBC, believe O'Donnell is a hard-driving personality who will bring a competitive edge to the network's evening news operation, which has been adrift for several years..."
 

FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO

 -- Jodi Kantor, Mike McIntire and Vanessa Friedman's weekend must-read about Jeffrey Epstein: How New York's elite welcomed him back into polite society after his Florida jail sentence... (NYT)

 -- Julie K. Brown read the story and tweeted, "Kudos to the @nytimes for doing this story. A lot of people who should have known better welcomed him — long after it was known he had a problem..." (Twitter)

 -- On "Reliable Sources," we discussed how Alex Acosta is just the latest in a string of Trump admin departures linked to investigative reporting, in this case by Brown and her Miami Herald colleagues... (CNN)
 
 

Blackout post-mortem


I first noticed Saturday evening's blackout in midtown Manhattan when my home WiFi stopped working. Typical. Once we realized the power outages were widespread, Jamie called into NY1 and I called into CNN. The lights were back on around 11pm... Twenty four hours later, here are my takeaways:

 -- The blackout hit "when many networks were on the air live — but most viewers barely noticed, likely due to quick thinking by the control room teams." Newscast Studio recapped all the coverage here...

 -- At 30 Rock, "staffers were forced to use backup generators to broadcast Saturday's edition of the Nightly News..."

 -- Cell towers in my neighborhood still had power, but they were under incredible strain from the # of customers who were searching for info without any WiFi. For a while data service was so sluggish that I could only communicate with the CNN control room via text message. Theory: Losing power and wireless service would have caused a real commotion...

 -- For perspective: In Louisiana, due to Tropical Depression Barry, at least 55,158 customers are without power statewide as of 10pm ET Sunday...


NYPost wants de Blasio out of office


This is Monday's cover of Rupert Murdoch's NYC tabloid, pegged to Bill de Blasio being in Iowa during the blackout...
Of course, we know what de Blasio thinks of Murdoch's publications.

The NY Daily News cover is also tough on the mayor and the power company -- "DIM AND DIMMER." Here's a photo...
 
 

The New Republic owner apologizes


The owner and publisher of The New Republic, Win McCormack, apologized on Saturday for that terrible Dale Peck piece about Pete Buttigieg. He said the article "was both inappropriate and offensive. It has been removed from our site."

As a result of the uproar, TNR is no longer co-hosting an upcoming 2020 candidate forum on climate change. CNN Business' Jackie Wattles has details here...
 

FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE

 -- Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez were spotted in the stands at Wimbledon... (NYPost)

 -- James Murdoch "has added the biggest reported investment yet to his closely watched portfolio: a bet on the virtual-reality provider called the Void LLC..." (Bloomberg)

 -- As expected, Rahm Emanuel is joining ABC as a contributor... (Variety)

 -- Fox's NYC HQ has "finally" revamped its ticker... (TVNewser
 
 

Lead of the day


"It was not a given that Steve Hilton, the conservative Fox News host, and Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who worked in the Obama White House, would get along. But when they met by chance at a cocktail party in Washington last year, they quickly landed on one surprisingly strong point of agreement: It was time to break up Big Tech."

That's how Nellie Bowles starts her NYT story about uncomfortable bedfellows in the battle against Google, Facebook, etc. "Now those who have found mutual understanding need to figure out if they can actually get along. It is not easy," she writes. "Often, it is awkward..."
 
 

Understanding the information wars


Information is being weaponized. Attention is being hijacked. And members of the mainstream media are just beginning to adapt to this brave new world. So I led Sunday's "Reliable Sources" with a monologue about the info wars, teeing off on the recent "social media summit" that wasn't.

The challenges include a rising sea of hyper-partisan content... untold numbers of misleading memes and videos... and incredibly loud bots and trolls. None of this is high-quality trusted journalism, but it all represents a challenge to journalism. Here's what Samantha Vinograd said during our discussion...
Later in the show, Renee DiResta and Oliver Darcy broke down Big Tech bias claims, and Darcy returned at the end of the hour for some honest talk about the limits of media literacy. "I'm not really sure how we get out of this..."
 


Kristol's message for Paul Ryan


Bill Kristol cited the former Speaker of the House's comments in "American Carnage" and called him out via Twitter on Saturday:

"If Paul Ryan believes we all have to 'be a good person. Set a good example,' he could DO SOMETHING about it. He's on the board of Fox Corp. Perhaps he could DO SOMETHING to halt some of the most egregious nativism and reckless demagoguery and conspiracy theorizing at Fox News?"
 

Duchess Meghan meets Queen Bey at 'The Lion King' premiere


CNN's Michelle Lou writes: "Two royal couples showed up at 'The Lion King' premiere on Sunday. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan attended the European premiere of the movie in London. Shortly after, pop royalty -- Beyoncé and Jay-Z -- arrived." Read on...
 


Weekend box office totals


Brian Lowry emails: "Toy Story 4" added another $20.7 million to its tally, bringing its total near $350 million in North America. After a lower-than-expected opening, the Pixar sequel has performed quite well, and even if "The Lion King" cannibalizes its audience next weekend, it’s a reminder that movies parents can take children to see during the summer don’t always follow the usual box-office rules.

In other box office news: Proving again that nobody knows anything, Paramount opted not to widely screen "Crawl," its alligator horror movie, for critics, but those that saw it actually gave the movie largely favorable reviews.

And: Fox's action-comedy "Stuber" stumbled to a mere $8 million weekend, marking the latest ill-timed disappointment (after "Dark Phoenix") from the studio in terms of impressing the new bosses at Disney.
 

Eye on the worldwide record...


One more note from Brian Lowry: Disney's second-wave push for "Avengers: Endgame" to unseat "Avatar" as the all-time worldwide box-office champ has closed the gap to a mere $7 million, $2.788 to $2.781 billion.
 
 

The "symbolic epicenter" of Hollywood right now


"Every era in Hollywood has a symbolic epicenter, a place that sums up everything, especially power and sometimes absurdity," the NYT's Brooks Barnes writes. Right now it's the 4,780-square foot Netflix building lobby on Sunset Boulevard. He's right: "If you wanted to make a movie or series about Hollywood circa 2019 — an update on 'Entourage' or 'The Player' or 'Get Shorty' — you would have to set a scene there." Read on...
 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST...
 

A reminder:


Megan Thomas flagged this THR article by Rick Porter titled "The Mind-Blowing Amount of Time Americans Spend Watching TV."

"Simply put," he wrote, "in a country with a very large population like the U.S., where TVs are present in nearly every household, the capacity to consume television content is just about limitless." Read on...
 
Thank you for reading! Send me your feedback anytime. See you tomorrow...
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