Birther II: The press finally calls out Trump's racist attacks

Necessary truth telling

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Escalating their bigoted attacks on vice presidential pick Kamala Harris, Trump and his media allies pushed the racist and false claim that the California senator, born to immigrant parents, isn't eligible to serve as second-in-command because she was not born in the United States.

The obvious lie echoes the race-based trope Trump championed for years about President Barack Obama. Back then, the press often stumbled when covering the story, routinely downplaying the conspiracy theory’s significance within the Republican Party, refusing to label it racist, and looking away from the ugly birth certificate chapter when Trump ran for the White House in 2016.

Given a second chance in 2020, the press has learned from its mistakes and is aggressively calling the claim what is it — racist trolling.

• "Trump Gives Credence to False, Racist Harris Theory" (Associated Press)

• "Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory About Kamala Harris" (New York Times)

• "Trump Promotes Another Birther Lie, This Time about Kamala Harris" (CNN)

Calling Trump's Birther II campaign a "racist" "lie" is what media progress looks. For years, the Beltway press has played pointless semantics game, struggling to find ways not to call Trump a racist and a liar. Identifying a this president as a racist makes news outlets nervous and they prefer to deflect in order to avoid offending Trump with the truth. Instead, we've been served word salads made up of empty phrases like "racially tinged,""vulgar,""racially charged,""disparaging,""expressed a preference for immigrants from Norway," "crass epithet,""derogatory," "crass denigrations," and "bluntly vulgar language."

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With the Birther II attacks on Harris, much of the press is abandoning those silly word games and is accurately describing what’s taking place.

From the AP:

Trump’s comments landed in a blizzard of other untrue, racist or sexist claims unleashed across social media and conservative websites after Biden picked Harris, the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman on a major party ticket.

It's telling that the wire service took the lead with aggressive Birther II coverage because last year, the AP updated its influential Stylebook and urged editors, producers, and reporters to walk away from hollow, mushy euphemisms. The AP was careful to suggest that journalists should still avoid calling out individuals as racists, noting, "It’s far harder to match the complexity of a person to a definition or label than it is a statement or action.” But when it comes to actions and comments, journalists should not shy away from the truth. And that’s what they’re doing with Birther II reporting.

There are still some problems with the coverage of the Harris attacks, namely journalists asking administration official if they "accept" that Harris is entitled to serve as vice president as an American born citizen. "Do you accept the fact, and it is a fact, that Sen. Kamala Harris is eligible to be vice president?" CNN's Jake Tapper asked Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday. CBS News' Anthony Mason did the same thing while interviewing Jared Kushner, asking him if the campaign accepted that Harris was "a qualified candidate," in the wake of Trump last week claiming, "I heard today she doesn't meet the requirements…Because she wasn't born in this country."

That "accept" framing legitimizes the concerns raised about Harris eligibility, which are entirely false. It's not up to Meadows or anyway else to accept what’s obvious and true, or to “accept” the Democratic ticket.

For the record, the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to all people born in the U.S., while Article II Section 1 of the Constitution says that to be eligible for the vice presidency and presidency a candidate must be natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35, and a resident of the United States for a minimum of 14 years. Harris was born in Oakland, California.

It's disturbing to think back on how badly the press botched the ongoing Birther story during the Obama years, the claim that the first Black American president was secretly a Kenya-born Muslim. During the Democrat's two terms, the press refused to come to terms with the Republican Party's deep Birther roots, and therefore didn't acknowledge the radical revolution unfolding on the far right.

It was the bizarre Birther campaign that catapulted Trump to Republican stardom in 2011. That year, he teamed up with Fox News and the two took the dormant issue and turned it into conservative "news," with Fox News hosting more than 50 Birther segments within a seven-week span. Yet while running for office, when Trump was asked during a Meet the Press interview if he still believed that Obama had faked his birth certificate, Trump responded unconvincingly, "Well, I don’t like talking about it anymore. Because, honestly, I have my own feelings."

He discussed the topic dozens of times on Fox News, but suddenly Trump didn't "like talking about it anymore"? Instead of drilling down on the racist campaign promoted by the candidate, the topic was politely dropped by the Meet the Press host.

Today, there's no excuse for the press to look away from Trump's racist campaign tactics.

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