Deflecting the hard questions on racist language

Your Wednesday news roundup

July 17, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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July 17, 2019

Good Wednesday morning. Here we are three days later and President Donald Trump’s tweets about four Democratic congresswomen of color are still leading the news. That includes a jaw-dropping comment from one of the president’s closest advisers.

Deflection is the new normal

Kellyanne Conway stuns reporters and pundits by questioning a reporter’s ethnicity.

On Tuesday, it was the Republican leadership’s turn to weigh in on the president’s tweets. Clearly, a line has been drawn. On the left side, mostly those who believe the president’s tweets were racist. On the right, mostly those who stopped short of calling them racist.

In the middle: media that continues to push and prod the discussion about whether or not the president’s tweets were, indeed, “racist.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked time and time againTuesday if the president’s tweets were racist. Time and time again he talked about legal immigration being “good for America.” (McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 8 and is now the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.) However, he would not call Trump’s tweets “racist.”

When that was pointed out, McConnell said, “The president’s not a racist” and then said “everyone ought to tone down the rhetoric.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he didn’t think the president’s tweets were racist, adding, “I believe this is about ideology. This is about socialism versus freedom.”

But the most bizarre exchange, by far, involved White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking from the White House lawn.

When asked about the controversy by Breakfast Media reporter Andrew Feinberg, Conway asked Feinberg, “What’s your ethnicity?”

Feinberg said, “Uh … why is that relevant?”

 

Conway said, “Because I’m asking a question,” and then she said her ancestors were from Ireland and Italy.

Feinberg said, “My ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking you.”

Conway then said it was relevant for her to ask about Feinberg’s ethnicity because Trump was talking about where the congresswomen were “originally” from. (I’m still not sure how that makes her question OK.) Conway concluded by defending Trump’s tweets: “A lot of us are sick and tired of this country – of America coming last, to people who swore an oath of office.”

Later, Conway retweeted the exchange, saying, “This was meant with no disrespect.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote, “This is, in a word, outrageous. … That Conway actually uttered the words ‘what’s your ethnicity’ to a reporter — and refused to drop her line of inquiry — amid an ongoing racial firestorm sparked by Trump’s own willingness to tell non-white members of Congress to go back where you came from is stunning, even coming, as it did, from an administration that has repeatedly shown there simply is no bottom.”

Voting pretty much along party lines, the House voted Tuesday, 240 to 187, to condemn Trump’s comments.

Gayle King’s exclusive


Gayle King interviews four U.S. congresswomen for today’s “CBS This Morning.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Gayle King continues to be the big star on morning TV. The “CBS This Morning” co-host has an exclusive interview today with the four congresswomen who were the target of Trump’s tweets: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). (The interview was taped Tuesday, and the segment is set to air between 7 and 9 a.m. Wednesday.)

 

When asked what she thought when she heard about the tweet, Tlaib told King, “I’m dealing with the biggest bully I’ve ever had to deal with in my lifetime and trying to push back on that and trying to do the job that we all have been sent here to do, which is centered around the people at home. This is a distraction.”

Journo: The most hate mail I’ve ever gotten


Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, right, and his wife, Rachel Holt, in January. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City is an intriguing place to write about politics. Its congressional district is represented by a Democrat, yet the state of Oklahoma is mostly red with two Republican senators and a Republican governor. Earlier this week, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, a Republican, showed his support for immigrants in the wake of Trump’s tweets. Holt is the first Native American mayor of that city and tweeted, “I suppose I could go back to my country but I would have to leave some of myself here. It’s all messy & complicated but made simpler when we exercise empathy, grace & love and we welcome all.”

Ben Felder, news director at The Oklahoman, wrote about Holt’s comments and ended up drawing the ire of many readers when he described Trump’s tweets as “repeating racist rhetoric that nonwhite citizens are not Americans.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Felder told me, “I’ve written a lot about politics. I’ve written a lot about the president. I’ve written a lot about race. I’ve probably gotten more hate mail (on this) than anything I’ve ever written.”

Felder guesses that about 90 percent of the pushback he has received is because he used the word “racist” in his description of the president’s tweets. Felder said he went through the times the word “racist” has appeared in the paper, but could not find any instances where he had called someone or their actions “racist” and pointed out that he didn’t call Trump a racist in this case. Neither did the mayor. Felder said he didn’t want to make a statement one way or the other about Trump, and added that he doesn’t think journalists have a role to definitively say whether or not Trump is a racist.

“So what was important to me,” Felder said, “was (that) I wanted to be very specific about what part of his tweet was being seen as racist. And I wanted to provide a little bit of explanation of why. So I thought by saying, ‘repeating racist rhetoric’ brought some context to the whole idea of telling someone to go back to their country or go back to where you came from. I mean that is pretty historically racist thing to say. I felt comfortable saying that.”

Ethics and diversity experts weigh in


President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Should news organizations label what the president tweeted as “racist?” Poynter’s Kelly McBride and Doris Truong discussed the topic in a piece on Poynter.org. McBride is the senior vice president of Poynter and the chair of the Craig Newmark for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter. Truong is Poynter’s director of training and diversity.

Truong said she believes the tweets were racist and said news organizations have a responsibility to say so. She also said, “It’s uncomfortable to point out that someone’s language is racist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are trying to interpret the motivations of the speaker.”

McBride said, “If your goal is to educate people about the history and meaning of that phrase, ‘Go back where you came from,’ you need to draw them into your story and then explain why and how these words reflect a racist history and intention.”

RELATED TRAINING: Handling Race and Ethnicity

Chartbeat founder’s new venture

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Tony Haile was famously a polar explorer before he founded real-time metrics firm Chartbeat in 2009. Some may wonder whether he has been out walking the ice floes since leaving Chartbeat in 2016. But in fact he has been developing a new subscription service, Scroll, which at long last debuted in free beta format this week.

When Scroll rolls out for real it will cost $5 a month. For that, the subscriber gets an ad-free display of content from a range of publications from BuzzFeed to The Atlantic to USA Today. The twist is that the subscription revenue — 70 percent to the publishers, 30 percent to Scroll —  will be distributed on the basis of time spent and other measures of engagement.

During Scroll’s gestation, some other similar, potentially competitor services have emerged —  Apple News Plus and a monthly pass to articles on Medium. A Scroll subscription does not get you an end around a paywall, but Haile has said that the target audience is the 97 percent of adults who are occasional readers rather than news junkies. While a host of earlier subscription ventures have faltered, industry watchers like me are inclined not to automatically bet against Haile, given the break-through success of Chartbeat.

Reaching niche audiences


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in Washington on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

When Democratic presidential candidates publish op-eds to reach black voters, where do they go? To black publications. The Atlantic’s managing editor Adrienne Green writes that “their choice of venue is just as important as what they write.”

For example, Elizabeth Warren wrote an op-ed about valuing black women for Essence magazine.

Green added, “Legacy black publications have elevated the concerns of black people since before the ugliness of Jim Crow, the rage of the civil-rights era, and the tangle of excitement and anguish that has fueled America’s unsteady progress since then.”

Soft landing in the big easy


Fans line up outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams last January. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

For sports fans in New Orleans who loved the sports coverage of the original Times-Picayune, there’s good news. The staff is starting to reassemble itself at the subscription-based, ad-free online site The Athletic. Longtime sports columnist Jeff Duncan, who lost his job when the New Orleans Advocate bought the rival Times-Picayune, announced Tuesday that he will continue writing high-profile sports columns about Louisiana teams for The Athletic. Duncan will join other former Times-Picayune sportswriters such as Larry Holder, Brody Miller, Will Guillory and Katherine Terrell, who used to work at the Times-Picayune before a stint with ESPN. In addition, The Athletic’s managing editor in New Orleans is Jennifer Armstrong, the former sports editor of the Times-Picayune.

Hot type


This July 20, 1969, photo shows astronaut Neil Armstrong reflected in the helmet visor of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon. (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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