Appearing on CNN, former anchor Soledad O’Brien appeared to criticize the network and other news outlets for normalizing white supremacy through their coverage of Donald Trump.
“Listen, I’ve seen on air white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates,” O’Brien said. “And they do a five-minute segment — the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that.”
O’Brien later clarified that she is not wading into the question of whether Trump is a racist. Rather, she said that Trump and the media coverage surrounding him are, intentionally or not, “softening the ground for people who are white supremacists, who are white nationalists, who would self-identify that way to feel comfortable with their views being brought into the national discourse to the point where they can do a five-minute segment happily on national television.”
It’s true there have been several interview segments on cable news this election cycle with self-identified white supremacists. In one CNN piece about self-identified white supremacists making robocalls for Trump, a reporter gave white supremacist Jared Taylor time to make the case for his beliefs. (Update: Taylor told me in an email that he prefers the terms “race realist” and “white advocate” to identify himself.)
There are other examples, too. Consider Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the US: A few years ago, nothing like it — a ban on an entire religious group — would break into the political mainstream. Today? It's an idea that pundits regularly discuss and pollsters routinely ask Americans about, all because Trump proposed it and the media heavily covered it. It's become a mainstream policy position.
One of the most dangerous things about Trump is mainstreaming ideas like this. pic.twitter.com/LRhcLehziB— Evan Hill (@evanchill) March 16, 2016
O’Brien put the cause of such normalization in “the contortions to try to make things seem equal all the time.” She cited the recent example of Trump calling Hillary Clinton “a bigot” — with seemingly no proof at all — and how it was covered by several media outlets, such as Politico, as the candidates “trad[ing] barbs.” That creates the impression that Trump having actual white supremacist supporters due to his stances on Latino immigrants, Muslims, and other people of color is somehow equal to Clinton being accused of bigotry with practically no evidence.
O’Brien also worried this could have long-term consequences for the media: “If there’s any lesson to be learned, it’s, ‘Wow, so over-the-top hateful speech brings a really interested, angry audience. This is genius. We should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We’re going to have to think about ways to really rile people up, make them angry, and divide them.’ Because that is something that I think cable news, frankly, and everybody can cover really well.”