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How Should The Media Cover Donald Trump?

Donald Trump listens to the crowd cheer during a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. Given Trump's recent comments, media organizations have had to grapple with how to cover his campaign --€” and many have reached different conclusions.
Donald Trump listens to the crowd cheer during a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. Given Trump's recent comments, media organizations have had to grapple with how to cover his campaign --€” and many have reached different conclusions.

Donald Trump has earned headlines — and, in some circles, ire — for incendiary comments throughout his presidential campaign. Recently, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and a database to keep track of them — comments that other candidates in the GOP have denounced as intolerant and wrongheaded.

But some media commentators and news organizations have taken it a step further, stating that the man himself is racist and that his policies are fueled by racism.

Trump responded to these statements on CNN earlier this week, when interviewed by Don Lemon: "I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person," Trump said at the time.

Within media organizations, the decision of how to cover Trump has prompted significant discussion and debate — and, ultimately, several different conclusions.

To offer a window into these conversations, NPR's Michel Martin spoke with editors and decision-makers from legacy institutions and digital media: Susan Glasser of Politico, Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post and NPR's own news chief, Michael Oreskes.

Listen to an extended cut of the conversation below.


Interview Highlights

Susan Glasser.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Susan Glasser.

Susan Glasser, editor of Politico

"I think our role is to play referee, is to provide independent, critical thinking — but not critical news reporting on this. We have an opinion section," Glasser says. "Everybody has an opinion about Donald Trump. So our role isn't to do that. It's to provide original reporting."

She puts it simply: "If you want to call him a racist, you can call him a racist. But it's not our job to inform your use of adjectives."

Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of The Huffington Post

Ryan Grim.
Courtesy of Ryan Grim / Elizan Garcia
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Ryan Grim.

"We have a certain obligation," Grim says. "When we see a strain of hate- and fear-mongering rising to a certain level, the press does have an obligation to try to call that out and point out what it is that's happening."

Grim adds: "The idea that you would block all Muslims — including American citizens — from coming into the United States is not just absurd, it's not just unconstitutional. It's evil, and it's fascist. And it's OK to go ahead and say that, and in fact, media organizations ought to."

Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director of NPR

Michael Oreskes.
Chuck Zoeller / AP
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Michael Oreskes.

"I think our rules are really quite clear — and what they're based on is actually our bond with our audience, not the relationship to the candidates. I don't actually worry too much about fairness to Donald Trump, but I do worry a lot about the tone of our journalism," Oreskes says.

"Our job is to be open to as many different kinds of listeners and readers as we possibly can reach, and the more you sound like you're calling someone a name, the less people will listen to you."

The bottom line, Oreskes says: "Our moral role in society is to provide as much information to as many people as is possible."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.