In the aftermath of controversial tweets President Donald Trump posted this month about Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), CNN’s Brian Stelter was livid.
We must call this out for what it is, Stelter fumed in so many words. If Trump made comments that journalists at the network felt were “racist,” they were going to label them as such.
He wasn’t talking about the opinion side, where you’d expect them. He was referring to the straight-news side, where you wouldn’t.
Here’s what Trump tweeted:
“So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”
Because the President told them to “go back” to where they came from (only one, Omar, is originally from another country), Stelter immediately concluded what he tweeted was “racist” in nature and responded accordingly.
In his newsletter the following morning, Stelter decried “Trump’s racist tweetstorm” and said “his tweets were straight up racist. Did the news media accurately describe it that way?” he continued.
“If telling Democratic congresswomen to ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’ isn’t racist, what is?” Stelter asked rhetorically, imploring other journalists, and even other news outlets, to follow his lead.
Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, has devoted a significant amount of time on this issue since, both on his social media feed and on the news network. Other straight-news reporters at the network such as Jake Tapper have also characterized the tweets from Trump as “racist.”
Doing this does readers a disservice because it doesn’t give them the option to form their own opinions on what was said. Instead of reporting “Democrats say Trump’s tweets are racist” or “Tweets Democrats condemn as racist,” CNN has taken away the qualifiers and is making that determination instead of allowing the reader to do so.
Also, this type of definitive labeling of controversial political comments obliterates the line between straight-news reporting and opinion journalism, a line that the struggling news outlet was already crossing with regularity in other areas.
Worse still for network, one thing is transparently obvious: It’s a standard they don’t, and won’t, hold themselves to when it comes to controversial comments made by Democrats.
Omar and Tlaib both, for example, made numerous inflammatory statements earlier this year that Democrats and Republicans alike said were anti-Semitic. The two freshmen congresswomen engaged in dual loyalty tropes that have historically been considered anti-Semitic. Did CNN label them that way in their reporting?
Instead, they reported that Tlaib and Omar, both Muslim-American congresswomen, were “changing the conversation” and “challenging the political status quo.” As to the comments themselves, CNN made sure to put qualifiers on them. Omar’s tweets were “condemned by both sides of the aisle as anti-Semitic,” they reported.
Fox News’s media analyst Howard Kurtz, who is respected on both sides of the aisle, said in his analysis that “people are smart enough to make up their minds for themselves” about what politicians say. “I think news organizations need to be more cautious.”
He’s right. CNN should respect their readers enough to let them draw their own conclusions. Sadly, they don’t.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.