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Does Trump Single Out Women And Minorities In Attacks On The Press Corps?

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 8:02 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump's feud with the media seemed to take some ominous turns this week. There was that testy exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta.

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JIM ACOSTA: Are you worried...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That's enough. That's enough.

ACOSTA: Mr. President.

TRUMP: That's enough.

ACOSTA: I was going to ask...

KELLY: That led to Acosta being barred from the White House. Then today another CNN reporter asked the president if he wanted his new acting attorney general to rein in Robert Mueller.

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TRUMP: What a stupid question that is - what a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.

KELLY: The reporter asking that question was Abby Phillip, a black woman - a fact I mention because the president then went on to attack another black woman reporter, April Ryan.

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TRUMP: And you talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing.

KELLY: She also had choice words this week for PBS's is Yamiche Alcindor, another black female reporter.

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YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists.

TRUMP: I don't know why you'd say that. That's such a racist question.

KELLY: So what's going on here? Gene Demby, co-host of NPR's Code Switch podcast, is in the studio with us. Hey, Gene.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Hey, there.

KELLY: What did you make of the president's exchanges with reporters this week?

DEMBY: I mean, it was interesting, right? If you look at the response to Yamiche Alcindor's question, she asked this very legitimate question about rising white nationalism and whether the president's decision to identify himself as a nationalist was somehow contributing to that. Trump used an old tactic though from people who are defensive about questions about race. They said that talking about racism is the real racism. It is not, listeners. And today was a little bit different. Abby Phillip asked the president about whether his acting attorney general would rein in the Russia investigation. Now, President Trump has obviously said that that investigation is a witch hunt...

KELLY: And suggested he would like his past attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to rein it in.

DEMBY: That was the focus of so much of the ire between the two of them. And so it seems like a legitimate question.

KELLY: OK. But as we just heard the president also attacked Jim Acosta who - whatever you think of him - he's not a black man.

DEMBY: He is not.

KELLY: So is it fair to say that the president is singling out black women?

DEMBY: I mean, it's really hard to say, right? The president has this antagonistic relationship with the press broadly. On the other hand, the context - this larger context matters.

KELLY: Right. The president uses racially charged language in all kinds of contexts, not just sparring with reporters.

DEMBY: Exactly. There's, you know, the fine people on both sides comment after Charlottesville. There was the way he went after NFL players who were protesting racial inequality in the criminal justice system. There's the Muslim ban and the language around that. And we do know that April Ryan, who is one of the most prominent members of the White House press corps, she certainly seems to think that he singles out women and people of color in the pressroom. Here's what she said to CNN.

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APRIL RYAN: You don't see this kind of exchange happening with white males in that room as much as you do with minorities - meaning African-American women, myself, or women.

KELLY: Gene Demby, when the president speaks to reporters at the White House, he's of course also speaking to a much wider audience. How does language like this play with his base?

DEMBY: Well, we know, from public opinion polls, that his base is especially skeptical of the news media. According to a Quinnipiac poll from late in the summer, about 51 percent of Republicans said that the news media is the enemy of the people. And we also know that from, you know, years of public opinion polling that Republicans are conservative on racial issues. They are more skeptical of sort of fixing inequality through the government and on affirmative action, on policing. And so you have these - in this case, you have three reporters, who are also women importantly, who sort of embody these two demographics. They are members of the news media, and they are also not white - very visibly not white in a press corps that is overwhelmingly white.

KELLY: Is that still true - White House press corps, overwhelmingly white?

DEMBY: Overwhelmingly so. And so in a lot of ways, they may be literal embodiments of the things that most animate some of Trump's base.

KELLY: NPR's Gene Demby, of our Code Switch podcast. Thank you, Gene.

DEMBY: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.