Ex-NY Times Editor: I'm Against 'Loaded Language' in Trump Stories

March 6th, 2016 5:10 PM

It's not every day that your hear a leader of the liberal media declare that they oppose "loaded language" in news stories, especially in The New York Times. On Wednesday's All Things Considered, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik explored how lefty sites like Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post openly declare Donald Trump is a liar, racist, and xenophobe. Former Times executive editor Jill Abramson claimed :

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 may have looked Abramson up after she wrote a column in the Guardian newspaper in which she proposed the usual strategy: don't use loaded terms upfront, but suffuse all of your coverage with your opinion the Republicans respond to bigotry and demagoguery:

There’s been lots of debate in the American press over whether news articles should describe Trump as a demagogue or racist. BuzzFeed, a digital behemoth that is relatively new to news, allows the terms to be used by reporters on their social media posts. Most of the older mainstream newspapers and broadcast outlets, steeped in a culture of “objectivity”, don’t use such loaded terms.

My own view is there is plenty of evidence that Trump is both. His statements about barring “the bad Muslims”, his constant complaints about illegal immigrants committing violent crimes and his hostility to Mexico are all racially and ethnically tinged. His elegies to lost American greatness and promises to restore it meet just about every criterion for demagoguery.

At least in this story, Folkenflik explored a conservative counterpoint, that loaded liberal language ends up working in Trump's favor. He interviewed Michelle Jaconi, who now works for the conservative social-media site 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.

The NPR reporter concluded the "question of bigotry lingers for Trump and for the media." Guess what else lingers? The news media's tendency to approach any voter who isn't liberal with condescension, and their tendency to reinforce political correctness. Asking top journalists like Abramson how they fix that metaphorical halitosis wasn't part of the story.