January 29, 2016

The Huffington Post continued pushing up against traditional notions of journalistic neutrality Thursday when it appended the following editor’s note to a story about Donald Trump’s ongoing spat with Fox News:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

The note — which a company spokesperson says will follow every article about Donald Trump —  was the latest update to HuffPost’s shifting editorial policy regarding the real estate mogul turned presidential hopeful. After Trump first announced his candidacy in July, HuffPost declared it would relegate its Trump coverage to its Entertainment section, calling the bombastic presidential contestant’s run a “sideshow.”

That segregation was short lived. When Trump called for a blanket ban on all Muslim immigrants in December, HuffPost published a letter by founder Arianna Huffington calling Trump “an ugly and dangerous force in American politics” who would be treated as such. In her note, Huffington listed several factors that appear in HuffPost’s new kicker — namely xenophobia, falsehoods and racism.

Via email, Poynter asked Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post, about the decision to call attention to Trump’s more inflammatory rhetoric and whether the same standard would ever be applied to other politicians.

How does Thursday’s decision to attach an editor’s note fit in with HuffPost’s evolving editorial stance on Trump?

This editor’s note is an expansion of what we said in December — that we will never stop reminding our audience who Trump is and what his campaign really represents.

Does this interfere with your ability to provide fair coverage of Trump’s campaign?

Not at all. Why would it? These are merely statements of fact.

For how long will HuffPost continue to append this kicker to stories about Trump? What if he wins the GOP nomination? The general election? Will this kicker be applied to stories about president Trump?

As long as these things remain true about Donald Trump, we’ll continue to share them with readers. If Donald Trump disavows his rhetoric, then of course we would revisit.

What makes Donald Trump deserving of this kicker, in your mind? The Huffington Post publishes items about individuals who’ve said lots of unsavory things — Hitler, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin — but none of them include kickers detailing their misdeeds.

He is a unique figure in American politics, and in some ways the American people know him well, and in others they’re just getting to know him.

Why not list Donald Trump’s accomplishments in addition to his inflammatory statements and flaws?

Donald does a terrific job of talking about Donald Trump’s accomplishments, so this merely balances that out.

Why not hew to a more straightforward editorial stance and let readers draw their own conclusions about Trump?

I’ve never understood why the media see these two distinct things as connected. There’s an extraordinary amount of hubris in believing that if a media organization says something, it automatically removes the possibility that readers can draw their own conclusions. That seems to me to be an awfully pessimistic view of the intelligence of readers. We’re not telling them what to think, we’re telling them what we think — which in turn helps them evaluate the information we’re providing them, and aides them in making up their own minds. Being fully upfront and honest with readers is a mark of our respect for their ability to think freely and for themselves. Withholding certain bits of information out of a fear that it will brainwash readers is the opposite.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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