Here's how The New York Times' obsession with white voters helps amplify Trump's racism
Forever committed to shining a constant, glowing spotlight on members of Donald Trump's political base with a series of endless updates that closely examine their unwavering support, The New York Times has carved out a completely new political beat during the past two years. The Times' white voter obsession (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) remains baffling and absurd as a form of political journalism. The paper has never explained why it considers Trump loyalists remaining loyal Trump to constitute big news. Instead, these soft profiles seem to be a way for the supposedly liberal and biased Times to show conservatives that it’s willing to present their best side.
But more importantly, as Trump signals his clearly racist strategy for re-election with his recent taunt that Democratic congresswomen of color should "go back" to where they came from, the Times' continued fawning over his most devoted followers helps amplify his bigoted message. In the work of Times reporters and editors, racism is being presented as just another wedge issue that should not be judged too harshly, and that both sides can agree to disagree on.
"In the Times’ view, those issues are just the same as left-right debates over taxation, surveillance, the size of government, and a host of issues where there are legitimate differences of opinion," wrote Oliver Willis, in the wake of the Times' latest front-page piece on white Trump loyalists. "But on these core issues, there are not two morally equivalent sides. In America this was enshrined a long time ago with the Declaration that all men are "created equal.""
Indeed, as part of its chronic coverage of Trump devotees since the election, the paper usually makes little mention of the dark cultural forces that may be propelling the president’s biggest fans. Instead, they’re simply presented as hard-working Americans in search of a new voice in Washington. The Times’ message remains undeniable: White working-class voters, and specifically men, are the voters who matter most.
That formula stands fast, even in the wake of Trump's openly racists taunts. "In Michigan, voters who supported the president in 2016 have largely overlooked his attacks against four freshman congresswomen," the Times reported this week, publishing the dog-bites-man revelation as page-one news. "In this overwhelmingly white district an hour north of Detroit, where his popularity remains high," the Times concluded that Trump's love-it-or-leave-it "message did not appear to be backfiring with the conservative voters he hopes to bring out in force in 2020." Totally amazing, right? Trump's racist tropes are not "backfiring" on his hard-right supporters. (Who on earth thought they would?) And just when you think the paper's white voter obsession couldn't get more absurd, the paper made sure to include a quote from a Trump supporter who was "leaving his home for a cocktail party at the yacht club."
But wait, didn’t the GOP just get pummeled in Michigan during the midterm elections, and wouldn't that suggest that Michigan voters have soured on the Republicans' divisive ways? Indeed the GOP did, with Democrats winning statewide races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, while also flipping two congressional seats. But the Times skates over that inconvenient fact as it stresses the wishes and desires of white Trump supporters in Michigan and their embrace of his (racist) "Send her back" chant.
By the way, this is common practice at the Times. This spring, the paper published a rosy look at Trump's electoral prospects in Wisconsin, complete with—you guessed it—lots of quotes from white Trump supporters. Omitted, however, was the fact that Trump's net approval in Wisconsin had dropped 19 points since he was inaugurated.
The Times and the media's utter devotion to Trump's base represents a completely new form of political journalism. Note that during Trump’s first 100 days, the Timespublished more than 130 articles in its news and opinion sections that mentioned “Trump supporters” or Trump voters, according to Nexis. By contrast, during Obama’s first 100 days in office, the Times published just seven articles in the news and opinion sections that mentioned “Obama supporters” or Obama voters. Back then, what did the Beltway press think was exceedingly important as Obama’s first 100 days approached? The president’s most fevered critics in the Tea Party, of course. And that press obsession stretched on for years and greatly exaggerated the movement’s importance.
The irony today is that Times columnist Charles Blow recently lamented the timidity that still lingers in terms of clearly labeling Trump a racist. "When did we arrive at the point where applying the words racist and racism was more radioactive than actually doing and saying racist things and demonstrating oneself to be a racist?" Blow recently asked, in an excellent column headlined, "Denying Racism Supports It." The paradox is that the Times newsroom remains among the worst offenders on this front, as it timidly dodges telling the truth about Trump.
When Trump first tweeted out his clearly racist taunts against the Democratic congresswomen, the Times didn't label them as such. Instead, the paper hid behindDemocrats, reporting that they thought the attacks were "racist." Later, the Times conceded that Trump's attacks were "widely viewed as racist"—just not by the newspaper itself.
That institutional squeamishness remains rampant. In a recent analysis of Trump's race-baiting attacks, the Times insisted he was tapping into "white anxiety" and "racial anxieties." Then with this week's article on Michigan voters and how they're fine with Trump's racist rhetoric, the paper opted for lazy euphemisms in order to avoid hard truth-telling. "As Mr. Trump signaled his intent last week to rely on nationalism and identity politics" the Time reported, later stressing the "racial divisiveness" of Trump's attacks. Using terms like "white anxiety," "racial anxieties," "identity politics," and "racial divisiveness" is what reporters do when they're trying not to offend Trump's bigoted supporters.
By refusing to call out Trump's racism, the newspaper's giving the invective a pass—and that's dangerous.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.