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?