Journalists Struggle To Describe Trump's Racially Charged Rhetoric As more critics point to an undercurrent of bigotry in some of Donald Trump's statements, journalists grapple with how to characterize what he says — and what he means.
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Journalists Struggle To Describe Trump's Racially Charged Rhetoric

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Journalists Struggle To Describe Trump's Racially Charged Rhetoric

Journalists Struggle To Describe Trump's Racially Charged Rhetoric

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A growing number of critics say that Donald Trump has relied on rhetoric with an undercurrent of racism to help him win his front-runner status. Among those voices are prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney, who tweeted that Trump was coddling bigotry. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports journalists are wrestling with the challenge of defining for the public what Trump is saying and what it means.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: When Donald Trump says something that's blatantly untrue, the media knows how to call him out, as CBS's Nancy Cordes did here.

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NANCY CORDES: Trump is also under fire for tweeting out a statistic he saw showing that most whites who are murdered were killed by blacks. Actually, the opposite is true.

FOLKENFLIK: It's simple enough. He's just wrong. When Trump advocates that all Muslims be barred from entering the U.S. because of the deadly intentions of Muslim terrorists, it's harder for journalists to know how to deal with it. The Huffington Post which initially assigned stories on Trump to the entertainment section, now attaches an editor's note to every article about him. The note calls him a, quote, "serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully." But others resist the urge, no doubt informed by a tradition that reporters are not supposed to take sides.

JILL ABRAMSON: I am not one, especially in news stories, to advocate using loaded language.

FOLKENFLIK: Jill Abramson is the former executive editor of The New York Times.

ABRAMSON: Certainly labeling a candidate a racist or a demagogue - those are loaded terms.

FOLKENFLIK: Abramson says reporters need to convey how Trump echoes earlier waves of racism and demagoguery in American politics. Instead of labels, Abramson advocates that reporters pursue context, unrelenting context.

ABRAMSON: When he says something that is clearly bigoted or racially tinged, it's important to press the Trump campaign on what evidence he bases the sometimes outrageous things he has said.

FOLKENFLIK: For example, he was the nation's most prominent birther, questioning President Obama's citizenship. In announcing his campaign, Trump said Mexico is sending drugs and crime and rapists across the border to this country. Trump endorsed the internment of all Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II. And the Trump campaign seems to flirt with extremist groups, in one instance granting full press credentials to the white supremacist radio talk show host James Edwards. Michelle Jaconi is a former senior news executive at CNN who is now executive editor of the conservative social media site the Independent Journal.

MICHELLE JACONI: Like, look at how he responds to criticism. He says, I'm comfortable being associated with controversial quotes, right? Shock is part of his MO.

FOLKENFLIK: Jaconi says Trump is a master of using political language as code to an audience that the news media often approaches with condescension.

JACONI: And he's stripped that apart just to say, are you more sick of media and voices and pundits labeling me, and aren't you refreshed to hear somebody just calling it like it is? And are you more sick of political correctness or bad language?

FOLKENFLIK: Therefore, Jaconi says distrust runs so deep that journalists who call Trump a racist or a demagogue are easily dismissed. Trump disavowed support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke last week, but on Sunday, CNN's Jake Tapper raised the question once more.

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JAKE TAPPER: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists, so I don't know. I mean...

FOLKENFLIK: After the show, Trump again disavowed Duke, yet the liberal HBO satirist John Oliver, who explicitly says he's no journalist, used what traditional journalists might consider a loaded term.

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JOHN OLIVER: With an answer like that, you are either racist or you are pretending to be, and at some point there is no difference there.

FOLKENFLIK: Even last night, as Trump basked in his Super Tuesday wins, a reporter pressed him on hate groups. The question of bigotry lingers for Trump and for the media. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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