Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is racist. That’s not a hot take or a snarky political opinion. It’s a fact. Trump has affirmed his racism throughout his life, from demonizing the later-exonerated Central Park Five to calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug mules while announcing his candidacy for president. While in office, he’s openly sympathized with Nazis and overseen the separation of asylum-seeking Latin American families and imprisonment of children.
But corporate journalists still insist on acting shocked when a public figure calls out Trump’s racism.
CNN’s Manu Raju tried to pin down congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for the below tweet, in which she said Trump has “trafficked in hate” his entire life after Trump demanded Omar’s resignation following her comments on Israel.
You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you? https://t.co/EqqTyjkiNE
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 13, 2019
This is how Raju characterized the exchange:
Rep. Ilhan Omar in no mood to talk about her controversies this week. First, she said: “No thank you” when asked to comment on Trump saying she should resign. Second time I saw her, she yelled: “Are you serious?” when I tried to question her.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 13, 2019
And this is what actually happened:
Earlier today @mkraju tweeted that Rep Omar “angrily yelled at him” for asking about her tweets.
Here’s the clip.
Yall keep me honest, please, but on what planet is this “angrily yelling” at him??🤔 pic.twitter.com/a5XVs5brAE
— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) February 13, 2019
Clearly, Raju’s description and the video are at odds. Omar told Raju she had no further comment beyond the tweet. (She then rightfully harangued Elliott Abrams for being a war criminal). Raju, meanwhile, continued tweeting about the run-in with Omar instead of looking in the mirror and asking whether pestering freshman representatives about self-explanatory tweets constituted actual journalism.
Some Twitter users, however, were quick to point out Raju’s hypocrisy.
In 1 day, you've asked her about this more than the amount of times every single journalist asked Trump about Steve King.
— Tuxedo Mask (@TheLoveBel0w) February 13, 2019
For mainstream journalists, there’s value in feigning shock when someone says Donald Trump is racist—especially when that someone is a young, brown-skinned, female Democrat. They see it as an opportunity to win back credibility with Trump supporters even though this move has never worked, not even once.
The problem isn’t individual reporters like Raju. It’s that mainstream media still values representing “both sides” over accurately reporting the truth. But Trump supporters’ opinion of networks like CNN is entirely based on whether Donald Trump thinks he’s being treated fairly, which he never does and never will. That hypothetical credibility won’t instantly return just because a reporter wonders why someone would call the president racist.
Asking an interview subject to contextualize Donald Trump’s racism isn’t good journalism because it’s taking the onus off the actual racist. And in this case, when the bigot-in-question is the most powerful person in America, it’s the opposite of speaking truth to power.
Anderson Cooper’s now-infamous “how can you say that” follow-up to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was as reflexive as it was shocked. Maybe it was a poor word choice in the moment. Or maybe it was instinctual for a prominent journalist, whose news anchor salary is high enough to let him comfortably pass on the $200 million he could inherit as an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, to defend a powerful institution despite the fact that it’s occupied by a racist. It doesn’t matter that Ocasio-Cortez provided a thoughtful, detailed answer to the follow-up. The not-so-subtle mystery lies within why Cooper phrased it that way, or asked it at all.
Perhaps more politicians will describe Donald Trump’s behavior, rhetoric, policy and entire administration as racist. But expect plenty of fake journalistic shock before we get there.