Why are media outlets downplaying Trump's lying and demagoguery?
On Saturday, a Black Lives Matter protester who interrupted a Donald Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, was assaulted by a group of Trump supporters and then forcefully escorted out while Trump egged the situation on. Multiple parties, including CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and attendee Cort Gatliff, releasedvideoof the assault, which shows a group of people tackling and kicking Mercutio Southall Jr., a local activist.
According to Gatliff, “I saw a couple other people jump in and try to get their hit in. I was worried that since he was on the ground, he was going to get destroyed or something. Once it became clear that it was a protester and that there was some kind of brawl going on, Trump said ‘get him the hell out of here,’ or something similar and everyone started cheering for Trump. And then he started comparing how he was handling the situation versus how Bernie Sanders handled it. Trump was definitely stoking the fire, I thought.”
This video and Gatliff’s recount of the story detail one thing and one thing only, a gang assault of a black protester, one which Trump not only endorsed but encouraged. So why then did several outlets such as CBS News and The Wrap refer to the event as a “clash” or “brawl,” or in Daily Mail’s case focus on the removal of the protester?
These headlines and several others of the event downplay the truly disturbing nature of what actually happened at the rally and its aftermath. A candidate encouraged, and according to the Washington Post, still encourages the use of violence against peaceful protesters. Southall is never seen throwing any punches or described as actively engaged in fighting in any way, so describing this event as a “clash” that places agency for fighting on him is misleading. But this event is only one among many cases of outlets soft-pedaling the true depths of Trump’s demagoguery.
Outlets engaged in similar downplaying after Trump tweeted an image showing purported statistics about race and murders. The tweet, below, states data from a nonexistent “Crime Statistics Bureau—San Francisco” indicating that 81 percent of all whites are killed by blacks. This data, completely false and easily checked against FBI data, amounts to nothing more than an unsourced lie.
However, KTLA 5 simply described the data as “controversial,” while the New York Daily News used a slightly stronger descriptor of “questionable.” These descriptors are fine for some misunderstood data point, but fall flat when describing what is a simply untrue piece of information intended to mislead and support a dangerous agenda. Similar soft-pedaling has also occurred around Trump’s horrifying ideas for Muslim registries and mosque closings, as well as his insistence that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered on the 9/11 attacks.
Much of the media landscape, of course, endeavors to maintain a veneer of political neutrality. But refusing to call Trump out for ideas that fall far outside of the scope of reasonable political debate and for his use of lies and violence to call for an agenda of vast human rights violations does not serve the purpose or usefulness of neutrality. In this instance, neutrality simply enables the demagoguery to grow.