Writing for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates last night authored a brief, cogent analysis of Hillary Clinton’s statement that roughly half of Trump’s supporters can fairly fit into the category of racists, sexists, xenophobes and worse. He says that based on the objective polling of Trump supporters’ attitudes she’s spot on, if not understating, in that assessment. And he explains why the corporate media won’t admit it.
Political reporting, as it is now practiced, is a not built for a world where outright lying is one candidate’s distinguishing feature. And the problem is not limited to the lies the candidate tells, but encompasses the lies we tell ourselves about why the candidate exists in the first place.
Coates—who probably understands racism better than the vast majority of journalists in this country-- acknowledges that Clinton will be seen as breaching political decorum with a seemingly harsh or “politically incorrect” observation about the characteristics of Trump’s supporters, even as the Trump campaign, for all of its ginned up indignation and “outrage,” has yet to deny the truth of what she said. As Josh Marshall of TPM observed yesterday:
As far as I can tell, none of the Trump campaign pushback to Clinton's "basket of deplorables" comments have said anything about the people Clinton was talking about not being racist, not being misogynist or by whatever definition not being 'haters.' It's not referenced once.
And that in itself is telling. The Trump campaign (for once) appears to be far more interested in focusing on what would have been the “politically correct” thing for Hillary to say rather than the “truth” of what she said, because they know that the media, by and large, will twist itself into knots to try to avoid looking straight at the truth. Coates points out that there are two paths for the media here:
One way of reporting on Clinton’s statement is to weigh its political cost, ask what it means for her campaign, or attempt to predict how it might affect her performance among certain groups. This path is in line with the current imperatives of political reporting and, at least for the moment, seems to be the direction of coverage. But there is another line of reporting that could be pursued—Was Hillary Clinton being truthful or not?
He also points out that the truth here is not hard to come by:
We know, for instance, some nearly 60 percent of Trump’s supporters hold “unfavorable views” of Islam, and 76 percent support a ban on Muslims entering the United States. We know that some 40 percent of Trump’s supporters believe blacks are more violent, more criminal, lazier, and ruder than whites. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe the first black president in this country’s history is not American. These claim are not ancillary to Donald Trump’s candidacy, they are a driving force behind it.
It can be argued that determining the “truth” of what a candidate says may not be a reporter’s role, Coates acknowledges, but it seems to have been a role doggedly pursued by the media in investigating the largely contrived issue of the propriety of a private email server. So why isn’t it equally a priority here? Why don’t we see any coverage of the vile people at Trump rallies in anything but snippets that make it onto YouTube? Why are there so few attempts to explore and portray the actual attitudes and beliefs of Trump’s core base of violence-spewing and proudly racist support?
It’s because racism in this country is so pervasive among certain segments of the population that it is “both seen as a disqualifying and negligible feature in civic life,” according to Coates. In challenging the latter part of that claim, Hillary’s statement about Trump’s supporters “inadvertently” challenged the former. If racism is endemic and a relevant feature of Trump’s base of support isn’t that something that should fairly disqualify their candidate? Or is racism something to be ignored? The media must choose between the two paths, but of course they are loathe to do this:
[A] reporter or an outlet pointing out the evidenced racism of Trump’s supporters in response to a statement made by his rival risks being seen as having taken a side not just against Trump, not just against racism, but against his supporters too. Would it not be better, then, to simply change the subject to one where “both sides” can be rendered as credible? Real and serious questions about intractable problems are thus translated into one uncontroversial question: “Who will win?”
The media have coddled Trump’s rancid supporters for far too long in this campaign, habitually looking the other way in the face of virulent racism. If they have any pretensions at actually portraying the truth to the American people—rather than simply acting as stenographers—then they should take some responsibility for once and do it.