President Donald Trump is a racist. This is a straightforward statement of fact. It was true in 1973, when the Justice Department sued the company run by him and his father for discriminating against black potential tenants; and it was true in 1989, when Trump took out a racist ad in New York City newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in the case of the Central Park Five; and it was true on Thursday, when Trump referred to African nations and Haiti as “shithole” countries and wondered why the U.S. couldn’t get more immigrants from countries like Norway.
But news organizations, whose nominal business is putting true things on the page, don’t like calling racist things racist. They prefer euphemism, distance, coyness. A racist slur becomes a “racially tinged” or “racially charged” remark, as if race itself were anything but the product of racism. One would think Trump is too oafish and explicit for the old damping genteelism of the media. One would be wrong. With a few notable exceptions — CNN’s newscasts in particular, where Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper were refreshingly explicit — the media fell back on its traditional circumlocutions.
A few examples from news stories that either didn’t use “racist” at all or used it only when ascribing the characterization to someone else and not as a statement of fact:
The Associated Press: “bluntly vulgar language,” “accused of racism,” “the most controversial of his remarks: using the word ’shithole,’” “contemptuous blanket description,” “charges that the president is racist.”
Los Angeles Times: “the slur,” “cruder and blunter,” “disparaging,” “appalling,” “insulting,” “off-the-cuff,” “outrageous, immature, inhumane and vulgar,” “an attack on people of color around the world,” “racially charged,” “insensitive and highly offensive,” “racial provocations.”