PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Donald Trump ignored the stunning question at a White House appearance on Friday — “Mr. President, are you a racist?” — but there’s no getting around that more people in the media are willing to use that label.
The president’s reference to African “shithole” countries and reported resistance to more immigration from Haiti felt like a tipping point in the number of people willing to call Trump a racist, rather than say his words or actions exhibited racism.
Calling someone a bigot is not a step to be taken lightly, but now “the arguments for being reticent seem absurd,” wrote John Cassidy of The New Yorker. “The obvious truth can no longer be avoided or sugarcoated: we have a racist in the Oval Office.”
An emotional Sunny Hostin on “The View” Friday, noting that her husband’s family is from Haiti, said she’s always resisted labeling Trump because she couldn’t look into his heart. “I can say now, Donald Trump is a racist,” she said. “I hate saying that, but I can say that now.”
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MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called him “an openly racist president.” In using the same label, CNN’s Don Lemon asked, “How many examples do you need of this?” CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta said that “it’s a disturbing pattern because it seems to come back to one truth here and that is that this president deep down may just be a racist.”
“Guys, I don’t know how to break this to you,” Trevor Noah said at the opening of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” ”But I think the president might be a racist.”
Before he was president, Trump once called civil rights activist Al Sharpton to complain that he called him a racist and Sharpton said he corrected him — he was speaking about his actions and not him. The distinction is important to Sharpton. But Trump’s long effort into questioning former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate convinced Sharpton that there might be a deep-seated problem.
“You don’t want to just call people names that you can’t back up,” he said in an interview. “You don’t want to call a guy a thief. But if he keeps stealing things, he’s a thief.”
The Associated Press might quote someone calling another a racist, “but would not make the accusation on our own absent incontestable proof,” said John Daniszewski, the AP’s vice president for standards. A group might be labeled racist if it proclaims racial superiority.
Words or actions could be characterized as racist, but the AP would have to show in its reporting that they are overtly based on race, he said.
Not all who were offended by what Trump said took the step to call him a racist. CNN’s Anderson Cooper said the words were clearly racist, but he stopped there. Trump’s former election opponent, Hillary Clinton, tweeted opposition to the president’s “ignorant, racist views.”
Historian Ibram X. Kendi, author of “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History or Racist Ideas in America,” said he notices a reluctance to use the term. He believes it stems from people considering it a fixed identity, when that’s not necessarily the case. He’d have no more trouble calling someone a racist as noting that it’s a rainy day.
“A racist is not who a person is,” he said. “A racist is what a person is saying or doing.”
No one at the Trump-friendly Fox News Channel has called Trump a racist. But he has gotten some blow-back there. Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Trump’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” said that “the president made a mistake in making those comments, no question.”
Conservatives expressed concern more about the weapon Trump had given to his opponents than it what he said. Former Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly wrote that the “Trump-loathing media” is dancing in the streets over his words. Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, said the term “racist” is as fashionable now to use as people who put “hashtag resistance” on Twitter.
“It’s too much for an objective journalist to call the president a racist,” Graham said. “Journalists can, and probably will, note that ‘critics say’ his remarks have a racist connotation.”
Some of Graham’s ideological opposites, however, are well beyond him. Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted, for example, that journalists “from now on, when referring to Trump, must use the word ‘racist’ as a factual description of him.”
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell wondered where some of his colleagues had been.
“To every news anchor and commentator who discovered yesterday that Trump is a racist, please explain why you didn’t say that six years ago he was lying about the Obama birth certificate,” O’Donnell tweeted. “I called him a racist and pathological liar then. You kept booking him for more interviews.”
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.