CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - A headline on all the major news networks Friday morning was President Donald Trump's comments using profanity to describe some third-world countries. The coverage in many ways struck me as one-sided and biased, but I think I recognized a simple way media outlets can improve that perception.
Most of the coverage I have seen, particularly from national networks, focused on the outrage surrounding the comment. Good Morning America had lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressing outrage, a tweet from a leader of one of the disparaged nations condemning the comment and then a political commentator describing it as appalling. For balance, there was a comment from the White House not defending the comment but not condoning it either. For journalists covering controversy, that follows a standard playbook: describe the offending incident, talk with who was offended, get reaction from the offender.
However, I’ve heard comments like what Mr. Trump said before. I could certainly hear my late grandfather saying something akin to what Mr. Trump said. I’m sure there are many other similar comments made at bars, kitchen tables and comedy clubs across the country. I’m not saying that makes Mr. Trump’s comment right or wrong - but it tells me there are more than a few people hearing Mr. Trump’s comment, hearing the outrage and thinking “we said the same thing at the bar last night, people are just being overly sensitive”. For those people, it would be easy to see the coverage of the outrage this morning as an attempt by the media and politicians to smear the President.
People offended by President Trump’s comments might quickly resort to attacking people who don’t understand the outrage as small minded, racist or simply wrong. If we do that as journalists, we are doing a disservice to a sizeable chunk of our audience and the national discourse. So how do we improve?
Rather than dismiss people who defend the President’s comments or dismiss them, we should make an extra effort to reach them. We might not change minds but we can at least turn the conversation from attacking to understanding.
That brings me to how KCRG-TV9 can do that for this particular story. In tonight’s coverage, you will hear specific language to explain WHY people are offended – not just the soundbite of their outrage.
Making the comments Mr. Trump did as a private citizen in a conversation with friends would not draw news coverage or even much outrage. The reason it becomes news is because the President made those comments. As President, that could impact international relations with those nations, have implications for immigration policy and have a political cost of support of voters who are from one of those nations. That is where much of the outrage comes from, and why the comments that might go unnoticed at a bar, are drawing national scrutiny.
Our job is to make sure we explain the why of the outrage – even to those who are not outraged. That is how we can build trust in our reporting and perhaps build a better political conversation in the process.
-Adam Carros, KCRG-TV9 News Director
This is part of our effort with the Trusting News Project. Read more at KCRG.com/trust and share your comments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.