Hypocrisy in headlines: How newspapers covered Trump’s call to end racism


In the wake of the shooting in Texas, Donald Trump has asked the nation to come together to condemn white supremacy and racism. Given his own past statements stirring up racial animosity, how are news media supposed to write about that?

For context, he’s been telling women of color in Congress to “go back where they came from,” describing Hispanic migrants as an “invasion,” and laughing at the suggestion that the best way to stop the flow is to “shoot them.” Although this president says he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body and he’s the least racist person in the world, his words have inflamed racial animosity, apparently including the guy who shot up a Wal-Mart in El Paso.

Is there a balanced way to write about somebody who says he’s trying to create unity even as he fans the flames of hatred? Newspaper editors are twisting themselves into pretzels as they try.

A survey of newspaper headlines about the speech

The New York Times posted this credulous headline:

That certainly ignores the context of Trump’s previous rhetoric. The backlash was so severe that they changed it in the next edition:

What about that other icon of the “mainstream media,” the Washington Post? It looks a lot like the Times’ second try:

The Boston Globe is a “liberal” paper. Its headline decries the lack of details, but the subhead calls out the hypocrisy, as does a feature lower down on the page.

What about conservative papers? A neutral headline appeared in Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Finally, what does the headline about the speech look like in El Paso, the site of the shootings? While I wasn’t able to see the El Paso Times’ front page, it includes a number of articles about the shooting, including the mayor’s support for Trump’s upcoming visit to El Paso and Democrats’ objections. Their comments about his speech are in an article from another Gannett Paper, USA Today, along with a transcript of the speech:

What’s the right approach?

Newspapers are supposed to deliver a balanced, unbiased view. But the President’s racially charged past statements about invasions and the like are crucial context here. You cannot report a speech in which he decries racism — reading robotically from a teleprompter — without acknowledging that context.

Almost all the papers I cited here have editorials that point out Trump’s hypocrisy. Nobody is giving him a pass. And the news articles about his speech also tend to refer to criticism of his past statements as racist.

But what about the headline? Headlines leave things out, there’s only room for a little bit of content there. But leaving out the context here is missing the most important element of the story.

Here’s my suggested headline:

Defying his own past statements, Trump calls for end to racism

What do you think? Is this an accurate reflection of what Trump said? Or does it reflect my own bias?

Should the word hypocrisy be in the headline?

19 responses to “Hypocrisy in headlines: How newspapers covered Trump’s call to end racism

  1. This works, but might not fit the space for a headline. You can omit own. Using the show, rather than tell, credo of journalism there’s no need to mention hypocrisy.

      1. Leave either “his” or “own” otherwise the context of ownership could be transferred. Possibly “Despite” rather than “Defying”?

  2. Trump’s playing for time. How many other instances of grand promises with no details attached have we seen from him – only to see nothing, or miniscule-at-best actions, resulting? He counts on his blitzkrieg assault to further weaken the ability of the average US citizen to keep attention on any one thing. Then, when the original kerfuffle has blown over, he just assumes that he need do nothing. This will be the same. Mark my words.

    As they say in Texas, the man is all hat and no cattle.

    1. From a journalistic standpoint, the news folk need to make a decision whether they will call him out on his hypocrisy and require actual action from him (and his cronies and supporters) or will just play along with him. Either way, it won’t matter. He’s not going to change his game.

  3. I see you making some pretzels in your post as well. “Racial animosity”, “racially charged”? Why the reluctance to just say “racist”? It’s almost like calling something racist is worse than the racism itself with folks (who aren’t on the receiving end of racism). The man is clearly a xenophobic liar – take a deep breath and just accept that for starters.

    Here’s a soft headline to make you feel better: “President uncharacteristically and unconvincingly reads message condemning white supremacy while still sidestepping gun control”

  4. I like the way the Globe handled it best. Urges action, skips details, Dems urge specific action, focus on past rhetoric — because it’s not just Trump’s ramping up racism towards POC and immigrants, it is Mitch McConnell’s and GOP’s inaction (and suppression) on solutions to mass murders. Whether they choose to admit it or not, journalists frame social issues by their word choices and omissions. Americans of all stripes overwhelmingly stand behind background checks, for example. When issues are framed to show “equal time” only between parties, it can leave out the voice of the American people.

  5. The real story here is that the NYT caved to political influence from the left by editing their headline post-publication in response to the “outrage”. I’m no Trump supporter. I’m also not a liberal. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, when you take a breath and cut the emotion out of this rhetoric, how can the NYT’s actions not bother you? One of the most prominent national newspapers just allowed themselves to be edited by politicians (sorry for the passive voice Josh) on the top news story of the day. I cannot overstate the dangers of this. Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times.

  6. I am old enough to remember when news organizations actually *reported* news on the news pages, and left the editorializing on the Editorial pages. The front page is not the place for context – it is the place for reportage. Any injection of opinion is an attempt to influence the readers’ opinions.

    1. This sounds very nice in theory. But without context, news is meaningless. It’s how you write the context and which context you choose that demands close attention to potential bias.

      1. Ughhhh … *Kronkite = Cronkite 🙁

        Anyway, just trying to say he inserted an opinion and context around Tet – which was certainly more significant in ultimate withdrawal from conflict than a tactical victory headline would have given it.

  7. The headline should say simply: “After mass shootings, Trump calls for an end to racism”. It is what he said. The fact that the news changed the headline based on feedback from average people really angers me. News is news, and commentary and opinion should be clearly defined. Why did the media change what they wrote due to complaints? Where is the idolized purity of the news reporter who brings the truth in the story no matter where it leads? Why does the media always seem to have to explain to readers that they think that Trump is evil, racist, terrible person? I can determine from his own words what I think, I don’t need to have someone in the media spin it for me, in *any* direction. When I hear someone say something, I will judge the person on what they said. If I know them, I will judge them on what I know about them in their character. I think Trump is a boorish ass. Some people think he is great, some people hate him with a passion. His inaccurate use of language often leaves people confused. I get all that. Many people know folks who speak in a similar style, so we can understand what he means, (or at least most of the time.) Trump is constantly berated for things he says and does that other public figures can get away with completely. This is pure hypocrisy, and bias in the media, and it shows on both sides of the aisle. People constantly speak of racist dog whistles and how he pushes a racist agenda. Other people who know him will say differently, that he is not a racist. He seemed to be very popular with the African American Community before he got into politics. In the end, I think people will see what they want to see, no matter what he says and does. How about the news media goes back to reporting the facts, and let the reader decide their own opinion. Any attempt to do differently, especially when it comes to political discourse, borders on propaganda.

  8. Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

    Generally if he said “The sky is blue”. the press would say “Trump says the sky is blue but doesn’t address racism.”

    The media always spins the headlines for the most unrest. Bad brings bucks. If it bleeds it leads. So anything they can do to make it get people mad, and click links is the way they roll.

    Sort of like Mueller’s use of the word “Exoneration” in a legal document. Mueller couldn’t exonerate Trump because it’s illegal. NOT because he could not be exonerated. He was exonerated by virtue of having found nothing wrong. But Mueller used the term incorrectly against Judicial Department Federal Code, making people think he could have exonerated him!

    So that term “… but was not exhonerated” was repeated in the media 123,457 times in the following five days. Just like Hitler said : “A lie told once is but a lie. A lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

    Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz points out : “Exoneration is not the job of our legal system. Mueller’s attempt to introduce it is an extraordinary and dangerous innovation that would endanger the presumption of innocence we all have under the law.”

    Once the media grabs a lie, and discovers how the population will ralley behind it, they repeat it a thousand times, and it becomes the truth. Sort of like “Four Women of Color” , right Joshua?

    Fact check : https://youtu.be/VijjacEjSkI

    1. Trump painted himself into this corner with his previous comments. And hours later he was back at it. This forced statement against racism was clearly out of character. I don’t think it’s a problem for the media to report that.

  9. Actually “Defying” is probably a ‘spin’ word. But maybe it’s a good word for this.

    He defies what he said before.
    IN spite of his past statements, Trump calls for end to racism

    Is it good to defy words? Is it good to defy past statements.
    That’s sort of like Clinton saying a blow job is not a sexual act, but then later admitted it was. Is that “defying” what he previously said?

    How about
    “Trump calls for end to racism”

    You see, the headline you propose for “News” is actually a lie :
    “Defying his own past statements,”

    Can you cite a speech where Trump called for racism? (Use C-Spam, because all the others will gladly agree to lie.) When did Trump “call for racism” … that he now denies?

    Nope. Sorry. That dog won’t fly.

  10. Actually, I’m waiting for the media to simply do a ban of anything Trump says for an entire week. Act like he doesn’t exist. Goodness knows the nation needs a rest. Nothing he says can help. But he needs to know what it feels like to be ignored. He thrives on any media coverage; to be ignored will hurt his warped narcissistic feelings. What if the media said to him — if you can’t say anything positive or uplifting, we aren’t interested in what you have to say. Kinda like our parents taught us — if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

    1. Yes! Yes! Yes! If only the major media would decide (independently, because we don’t want suggestions of collusion) to completely ignore Trump’s Twitter feed and report only official statements from the White House. press briefings (if they exist at this point) and presidential speeches!

  11. The media blackout, if it would happen, would be amazing, indeed. It would certainly pierce his thin skin.

    1. There are major media outlets that are supportive of him, and possibly even the negative baggage he drags along with him. They’d never join in. Without those, he’d just bash those who did participate, and there’d be no change in how he operates.

    2. He wouldn’t change, no matter what happens l. It’s not in his nature. There’s truth in the old saw that reminds us, ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe ‘em.’

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