NBC News came under fire Tuesday after HuffPost revealed that the network had directed staff not to describe Iowa Rep. Steve King’s recent racist comments as racist, but it wasn’t the only outlet that appeared hesitant to put that label on the Republican lawmaker.
King’s comments to The New York Times last week ― “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” ― have been condemned by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, resulting in King losing his positions on House committees.
As NBC’s since-revised guidance came to light, other networks have faced scrutiny about how they’ve described King’s remarks. Here’s what stood out.
CNN: King made “overtly racist remarks.”
CNN has dedicated a significant chunk of air time to the controversy relative to other networks, and it’s also been direct in calling King’s comments racist.
“CNN Tonight” host Don Lemon repeatedly called King’s comments racist on Monday’s episode. When his guest, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R), who’s challenging King in the 2020 primary, would only say that King’s comments “speak for themselves,” Lemon challenged him, saying “Honestly, I think that’s a copout answer.”
On Tuesday morning, “CNN Newsroom” host Jim Sciutto described King’s comments as “overtly racist remarks.” Similarly, “New Day” hosts Alisyn Camerota and John Berman didn’t shy away from calling King “racist” that morning.
But hosts Christine Romans and Dave Briggs of “Early Star” tiptoed a bit more, calling King’s language “remarks condoning racism” and “remarks defending racism.”
ABC: King was “questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive.”
ABC News has mostly opted for roundabout language in characterizing King’s remarks, leading with phrases such as “racially-charged comments” in its chyrons.
Despite King’s lengthy history of racist remarks, ABC appeared to give him the benefit of the doubt, leaving open the possibility that he was just pondering etymology. On Saturday, the network reported that King had “questioned why the terms ‘white nationalism’ and ‘white supremacy’ are considered offensive in modern America.”
On Tuesday, however, the network described King as “questioning why white supremacy is considered offensive” ― a wordier way of saying he was asking why racism is bad.
CBS: King’s comments were “alleged” to be racist.
CBS largely wrote about King’s comments by putting the onus of calling his words “racist” on everyone else.
The network referred to King’s “comment to the New York Times that was widely seen as racist” on Tuesday with a chyron about his “alleged racist remarks.”
The day after King’s quote came out in the Times, CBS didn’t mention the scandal at all in its broadcast of “CBS Evening News,” Media Matters noted.
MSNBC: These are only King’s “latest racist comments.”
Mika Brzezinski of “Morning Joe” also referred to the quote as one of King’s “latest racist comments” on Tuesday. Host Ali Velshi was also widely praised for repeatedly calling King’s remarks “racist” on air and saying the lawmaker “wears racism more comfortably than most people I’ve ever seen in Congress.”
Fox News: Don’t make racism claims “with abandon.”
Though Fox News earned some credit on Twitter when its news alert called King’s comments racist (a word that the Times and The Washington Post declined to use in their alerts for the same story on Monday), the conservative network hasn’t given the story much air time.
King’s quote got a 30-second mention on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning, in which the hosts referred to his statement as “comments about white supremacy and white nationalism.” For comparison’s sake, the show spent 12 minutes discussing a razor commercial that day.
Fox News senior analyst Brit Hume turned the criticism back on journalists, saying Tuesday that the term “racist” shouldn’t be “hurled around with abandon” even though he thought King’s comments were reprehensible.