On shitholes and censorship

Illustration by Alan Gardner
Illustration by Alan Gardner

President Trump’s now infamous remark, questioning why America is accepting so many immigrants from “shithole countries,” has been making headlines since The Washington Post broke the news Jan. 11.

As news outlets jumped on the story, many readers expressed surprise and displeasure over several major publications’ decision not to censor Trump’s expletive. Some criticized news programs for failure to be family-friendly — while others cried “fake news” — insisting such a distasteful comment would never have come from the president’s mouth.

The problem with these critiques is they only find fault in those who reported on Trump’s crude comment. The fact that the President of the United States, who according to multiple officials who heard it first hand, spoke the crude language in the first place seems to be overlooked.

Naturally, the most important element of a reporter’s job is to report. Readers, viewers and listeners of the news should be offended when they learn about Trump’s vulgar statement, but manifesting this anger into resentment for the media is not only misguided, it’s exactly what Trump would want.

The New York Times sparked similar controversy last week by publishing a “definitive list” of instances in which Trump has done or said something undeniably racist. The compilation documents everything from Trump’s refusal to rent apartments to African Americans in the 70s to his most recent “shithole” remark.

News outlets have been dancing around the topic since Trump’s run for office. Fox, USA Today and MSNBC have all dodged directly referring to the President as a racist by using hollow terms like “racially charged.” The Times’ bold choice to explicitly call Trump’s actions racist was quickly condemned by readers who believe it wasn’t the publication’s place to declare motives behind Trump’s behavior.

One critique came from the National Review, who asserted that determining whether or not Trump’s actions are racist is impossible, as racism is up to interpretation and therefore not fact-based news. The author contradicted himself in the next sentence by stating that calling Trump a racist could be a “correct opinion,” and there is no such thing.

In actuality, the fact that Trump is a racist is pretty cut and dry. He repeatedly mocks, denounces and discriminates against non-white people based solely on their non-whiteness. For reputable news sources to lessen the significance of Trump’s actions by labeling them as “racially offensive,” instead of outright “racist,” is to do the public a disservice.

The duty of a journalist is to report the truth – the good truth, the bad truth and the deplorable truth. The media should not have to censor itself for the sake of readers who would rather remain ignorant than informed.

As long as the freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment, reporters have every right to cover relevant and newsworthy stories, no matter how negative or unsettling they may be. So, if seeing your news feed flooded with the word “shithole” bothers you, perhaps you should take it up with Trump.


Rachel Terrell, Contributing Writer

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