August 8, 2015
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump owes Fox News’ Megyn Kelly an apology. Now. Right now.

Friday night, Trump took to CNN to complain about Kelly’s questioning in the Thursday night debate. Kelly asked legitimate pointed questions of Trump about his treatment of women and his loyalty to the GOP. Trump doesn’t like to be pressed by journalists. It’s fine for a candidate to complain about coverage or to complain about unfair treatment. But Trump went deep into the gutter attacking Kelly when he talked to CNN.

Seriously? The leading candidate for a national political party says a journalist asked him tough questions because she was menstruating? Journalism organizations should condemn such a personal attack on a journalist who is doing her job.

Trump’s Twitter account offered this Saturday morning:

The Red State gathering quickly disinvited Trump Saturday. To which Trump responded:

Kelly is tough enough to fight her own fight. But when the leading candidate for a political party publicly attacks a journalist saying she is asking tough questions because she is “bleeding out her whatever,” it is not political correctness that should push us to demand an apology, it is decency.

Trump has turned into a playground bully. Sunday editorials, the National GOP and other candidates should join Carly Fiorina in openly shaming him for misogynistic, sexist comments.

It is not out of bounds for a candidate or anyone else for that matter to complain about the press, especially if journalists treat them unfairly or report inaccurately.

Lyndon Johnson once complained, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read; ‘President Can’t Swim.”‘

Thomas Jefferson once complained, “Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.”

In 2000, candidate George Bush said to his running mate Dick Cheney that he had spotted a New York Times reporter in the crowd that he didn’t like. The President didn’t know his microphone was on when he said, “There’s Adam Clymer, major-league asshole from The New York Times.”  Bush never apologized, but should have, even though his comment was not meant to be public, it was.

The Bigger Picture

If you can’t move past the idea that this involves a billionaire politician and a Fox News anchor then see this as part of a bigger issue that needs our attention.

In May, 40 French female journalists signed an “open letter” saying they were sick of crass and sexist comments from French politicians. The issues included a French politician asking a female journalist if he could take her to a hotel. There’s more. The Guardian reported:

The letter also tells of the ministerial adviser who asked a female journalist after the summer holidays, “Are you tanned all over?” and the MP who, upon walking into a room of female political correspondents, announced “Ah, you’re hustling; are you expecting a customer?”

“The fact that these practices, which reflect what happens on the streets, in factories and in offices every day, involved elected representatives of the republic in charge of making policy, forces us to condemn them,” they write.

Women working in journalism know this issue too well. Nearly two thirds of female journalists interviewed in one study said they have experienced verbal sexual harassment on the job; 40% said they were harassed by a “source.” The Dart Center quoted this study about the effects of such behavior on female journalists:

According to a recent study (2014) of journalists conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute journalist-specific coping behaviors include:

  • Avoiding certain stories that would require them to come in contact with their harasser or avoiding reporting on particular beats.
  • Seeking comfort from other journalists who have experienced something similar, both to cope and to alert others of people who pose a threat.
  • Giving up working in journalism entirely.

To all of the candidates, let’s say the American political process is a rough game. It is rough because we allow open debate; we question authority because it is a way to find out what a person is made of. We never know what a president will face in office. So in large part, campaigns test integrity.

Female journalists around the globe have been putting up with sexist crap like Trump’s too long. Trump should contact Megyn Kelly personally and not weasel out with a tweet saying “if anybody was offended I am sorry.” Then he should knock it off, grow up and realize that when he agrees to attend a televised national debate, journalists will ask him questions that he may not like.  

It is not “political correctness” to apologize, it is just correct.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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