NPR is using the word “racist” to describe Pres. Donald Trump’s tweets about Democratic congresswomen, including Trump’s remark that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
NPR explained the decision in a news report for its Code Switch podcast. NPR has previously not used the word racist to describe Trump’s comments like “sh*thole countries,” because at the time, standards editor Mark Memmott argued “we don’t tell people what to think; we give them the information they need to decide what they think.”
NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara told iMediaEthics, “We are using the word racist on the air & online when editorially appropriate. I’d like to highlight that this Code Switch episode explained a discussion that was had within our newsroom. But the decision was made to use the word.”
Now, Memmott said in the Code Switch podcast, “we have come to the conclusion in the newsroom that what the president tweeted was racist language” about the “go back” tweets. Memmott explained the reason for the change is that it was an “old racist trope” targeting specific people. Further, he noted that NPR isn’t calling Trump a racist but that his comments were racist.
Memmott added the policy for the “racist” descriptor:
“We use it when it fits – that’s what I told CODE SWITCH in January 2018; that’s the way we still feel. In other words, we take each case on its own and talk over what’s happened, what’s been said, what’s been written, what’s been tweeted. It’s a heavy word. It’s not one that we use on very many occasions. We use it sparingly. In fact, this is one of the first times we’ve used it in this context.”
While NPR decided to use the word, NPR’s Vice President of Newsroom Diversity and Training, Keith Woods, disagreed with the decision, arguing in an NPR opinion piece that “we should not be in the business of moral labeling in the first place.”