Thursday was, as some called it, “shitholegate.”
In the morning, The Washington Post reported that President Trump had called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries” during a White House meeting on immigration policy. In the evening, the coverage on cable news was hot and loud. And some of it was particularly direct.
There also has been a larger industry discussion on whether to label the president of the United States as a “racist” — on air and in chyrons — on television.
“The president of the United States is racist,” CNN’s Don Lemon said on Thursday night. “The president of the United States is tired of so many black people coming to this country,” his colleague Anderson Cooper said. “The sentiment the president expressed today is a racist sentiment.”
During a segment on Cooper’s show, CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta said that “this president, deep down, may just be a racist.”
“Generally, I prefer for network anchors to pose questions, rather than answer them,” former CNN correspondent Frank Sesno said of cable news coverage. “However, in the context of the president’s comments — and the behavior and language that preceded them — several anchors and reporters offered unusually blunt labels and uncharacteristically personal opinions.”
The Hollywood Reporter received no response to a request to talk with a CNN executive about the network’s standards and policies on referring to the president in such blunt language.
“It might happen once or twice without CNN executives being aware, but it wouldn’t continue if they were not OK,” former CNN executive Jon Klein said.
According to a CNN employee, there was no all-staff memo distributed about the network’s “shithole” coverage. (News outlets also differed on how they presented the specific vulgarity on air.)
On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow called Trump an “openly racist president.” A network spokesman didn’t return a query about company policy.
Meanwhile, on Fox News, primetime host Tucker Carlson vociferously defended the president’s reported comment.
As for whether or not it’s prudent to use the label, Klein said, “Anchors should report facts. However, there’s a strong argument to be made that calling Trump’s remark racist is not an opinion, it is fact — given the dictionary definition of ‘racist.'”