July 16, 2019

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July 16, 2019

Good Tuesday morning. Norah O’Donnell ended her first broadcast Monday as the new anchor of the “CBS Evening News” by invoking the name of a broadcasting legend. But it’s how she started her broadcast that caught the attention of the media world.

Using the R-word

Norah O’Donnell goes there in her first evening newscast, while other media types continue to debate the semantics.

Mere moments into her first broadcast as anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” O’Donnell went with a bold move: she used the word “racist” to describe Sunday’s tweets by President Donald Trump. Trump had targeted four Democratic congresswomen of color, telling them to “go back” to where they came from because of what he saw as criticism of the United States.

By comparison, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt said that Trump’s words were “a demeaning phrase often used by racists.” But O’Donnell offered no qualifiers. Her use of the word “racist” even differed than that of the network’s morning show, in which hosts said Trump’s “critics” referred to the tweets as racist. The night before, the “ABC World News Tonight” broadcast also used the crutch of saying others were calling Trump’s tweet racist.

This brings me to a tweet sent out Monday by Fox News’ Brit Hume:

“Trump’s ‘go back’ comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost.”

You could make an argument that Hume’s claim that the word being “recklessly flung around” applies mostly to politicians and non-journalists. The fact is, news outlets are generally leery of using the word “racist” in straight news stories even though the AP Stylebook says, “Do not use racially charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable.” That’s what made O’Donnell’s use of the word notable.

Even as of Monday, news outlets were split on their use of the word. (Again, this is for straight news stories, as opposed to columns and op-eds.) The homepage of The New York Times website said Trump was “under fire for comments condemned as racist.” The Wall Street Journal quoted others saying the tweets were racist. And USA Today simply wrote around it, choosing to write what Trump tweeted without adjectives and letting others call the tweets “racist.”

On the other side, The Washington Post’s main news story Monday night started with: “President Trump on Monday defended his racist remarks …” NBC’s Hallie Jackson used the word “racist.” And CNN used the word earlier and more often than most TV networks.

But in the end, the question to ask is: should news organizations use the word or should they simply pass along what someone says and let the audience determine whether or not it is racist?

Here’s what Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote:

“It makes good sense for news organizations to be careful and noninflammatory in their news coverage. That kind of caution continues to be a virtue.

But a crucial part of being careful is being accurate, clear and direct. When confronted with racism and lying, we can’t run and hide in the name of neutrality and impartiality. To do that is a dereliction of duty.”

RELATED TRAINING: Handling race and ethnicity

No take-backs here

President Donald Trump speaks during a Made in America showcase at the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump was asked Monday about the controversy and, as CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out, it was Fox News’ John Roberts who asked the question.

Roberts asked, “Does it concern you that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point?”

Trump answered: “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”

Borrowing (and drawing) a historical line

Edward R. Murrow chats with President John Kennedy in1961 at the White House. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)

The “CBS Evening News” with O’Donnell as anchor was a tight, no-frills broadcast (that’s a compliment) that closed with O’Donnell quoting CBS News legend Edward R. Murrow:

“Thank you for joining us tonight. There’s a great legacy here at CBS News of the finest journalists. One of them was Edward R. Murrow, who eloquently captured the power of television when he said, ‘This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.’ To Mr. Murrow, we will try to use it well, and with integrity. From all of us at CBS News, I’m Norah O’Donnell. Goodnight.”

Follow the leader?

So how many people — and who, exactly — actually follow Trump on Twitter? He has about 62 million followers. According to the latest from Pew Research Center, that represents about 19% of adult Twitter users.

Not surprisingly, those listed as Republican and Republican-leaning independent adult Twitter users are more likely than Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents to follow Trump. About 31% of Republicans on Twitter follow Trump, while only 13% of Democrats do. By comparison, 38% of Democratic Twitter users follow Barack Obama, while 9% of Republican Twitter users follow Obama.

Pulitzer winners announce moves

Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab and David Barstow, right, of the New York Times, winners of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, with Columbia University President Lee Bollinger in 2013. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

David Barstow, who in April became just the second journalist (and first reporter) to win four Pulitzer Prizes, is leaving The New York Times to become the new head of investigative reporting at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

In a statement, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said, “David Barstow is one of the finest journalists of his generation. His name has appeared on some of the most important stories The Times has published. He is a sensational writer, and reporter, and a journalist of high integrity. We are sorry to see him go, of course.”

Barstow said in the announcement, “I’ve long believed that the best way to teach investigative reporting is by actually doing investigative reporting. … I can’t wait to mentor, encourage and work side by side with the brilliant students at the School of Journalism who are enthusiastically taking up the torch of investigative reporting.”

Barstow isn’t the only 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner on the move. ProPublica immigration reporter Hannah Dreier, who won the Pulitzer for feature writing in April, is joining The Washington Post as a staff writer for National Enterprise. Dreier won for her series on the Central American gang MS-13 and its impact on immigration.

Hot type

The crew of Apollo 11 in 1969: from left, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, module pilot; Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, lunar module pilot. (NASA via AP)

  • As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, The New York Times’ Dennis Overbye asks, “Is it time to play with spaceships again?”
  • The Miami Herald and McClatchy Studios launch a new six-part podcast today. “Smoked” is about IndyCar prodigy Randy Lanier and his double life as a pot-smuggling kingpin.
  • In a blockbuster exclusive, HuffPost’s Yashar Ali writes that the BBC has agreed to not share reporting from Iran on BBC Persian. And that has “angered staffers who see it as complicity with a government that imprisons, tortures and kills journalists.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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