Words matter

Who, exactly, is the media protecting when it refuses to accurately quote President Trump?

The alleged Leader of the Free World sunk to a new low (maybe) when he declared at a White House meeting with congressional leaders:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

Which raises the follow-up question: why did the media sugar quote the comment? Who are they sheltering? The public or Trump?

Broadcasters are famously banned by the Federal Communications Commission from using the “seven dirty words.” The Supreme Court narrowly upheld that edict in a 1978 ruling aimed only at the case before it.

But it should be noted cable news outlets, not to mention print and web publications, don’t come under FCC rules.

In theory, ABC, CBS and NBC could face FCC sanctions if a viewer were to file a complaint over reports about Trump’s language. And it would be interesting, in this increasingly autocratic environment, whether the Trump majority on the commission would take action against broadcasters accurately reporting the president’s words.

But historically there is wide latitude in reporting bona fide news events. And comments uttered in the White House, the People’s House, at an event that had been open to media coverage, certainly qualifies.

Photo collage by New York Daily News

So what gives?

This is hardly the first outrage, language or otherwise, to emanate from this White House. Trump certainly made headlines when he referred to football players as “sons of bitches.” And let’s not forget the Access Hollywood tape where the reality show host is caught on a hot mic talking about grabbing women by the pussy.

Some news organizations treated readers as adults, even if the words reach people of all ages:

“When the president says it, we’ll use it verbatim,” says [Washington] Post Executive Editor Marty Baron. “That’s our policy. We discussed it, quickly, but there was no debate.”

Context is also important. In his remarks, Trump lamented that the US did not admit more immigrants from Norway, rather than Haiti and African countries. This came after his administration ended Temporary Protected Status for immigrants fleeing natural disaster or violence in their homelands, including El Salvador and yes, Haiti.

There likely has never been a more blatant example of presidential racism from a man who has made a career of more subtle expressions.

The comments certainly don’t jibe with Trump’s professed desire to “Make America Great Again.” Reaction has poured in from countries around the world and will only add to the unease civilized nations feel in dealing with a nuclear-armed superpower.

Perhaps that was the point. White House staffers are quoted (anonymously for the most part) saying the comments will play well with Trump’s vaunted base (a term that takes on even more of a double entendre. On the record, but only in writing, spokesman Raj Shah offered:

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”

Perhaps even more distressing that the White House reaction was the virtual Silence of the Lambs, i.e., Republican congressional “leaders.”

Ultimately, the timidity of the media to fully and accurately quote the President of the United States does more harm than the potential damage inflicted on sensitive ears from the crude remarks.

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