Media-bias concerns aren't going away
When even clickbait proves more accurate than a CNN political story, it's tough to brush off complaints of media bias as a figment of conservative critics' imagination.
Eric Trump clicked "like" on an offensive tweet about Sen. Kamala Harris after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden named her his running mate, CNN reported on its website. The story's central claim is true, but CNN Politics breaking-news reporter Devan Cole then pounced on President Donald Trump, casting his more conventional critiques of Harris as nefarious.
Trump said Harris is "nasty" and accused her of being "disrespectful" to Biden in Democratic primary debates, the story noted.
"The insults by the president all played into racist and sexist stereotypes about Black women and made clear that Trump does not intend to throw away a playbook filled with misogynistic attacks and dog-whistle racism that have imbued his political career," Cole wrote.
While Trump's record of controversial public statements is long, the two examples Cole cited fail to support his premise. "Nasty" and "disrespectful" carry neither racist nor sexist connotations. They're garden-variety jabs that fall within the bounds of ordinary political pugilism. For Trump, those adjectives are tame.
CNN wasn't out on a creaky limb by itself; The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Guardian also criticized Trump's use of the word "nasty."
Calling Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman" during the 2016 presidential campaign famously backfired, as Clinton and her supporters reclaimed the label as a badge of honor. But Trump also used the word "nasty" to describe two male senators -- Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. That suggests he considers it an all-purpose insult, not a sexist slight.
The relevant context comes not from CNN but from People magazine. A People.com headline reads like an inadvertent fact-check: "The Many People Donald Trump Has Called 'Nasty' (and It's Not Just Women)." The story that followed was a click-through gallery with pictures of the president's past foes.
Undercut by a listicle, Cole's broadside against Trump appeared under the guise of news coverage. Editorializing is fine when an opinion piece is clearly marked as commentary or analysis. Using what's supposed to be an objective story to make the dubious claim that the word "disrespectful" is inherently racist and sexist diminishes CNN's credibility.
Blending fact and opinion is a symptom of a growing disease. Nearly 3 out of 4 people believe biased news reporting is a major problem, according to "American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy," a survey the Knight Foundation produced in cooperation with Gallup pollsters.