Sometimes it is difficult to tell the news section from the opinion section in our paper. Consider the Jan. 15 Los Angeles Times article reprinted in the Star Tribune with the headline “Trump vs. civil rights icon.” The article purports to cover an exchange between U.S. Rep. John Lewis and President-elect Trump. The issue is not simply what each said, but the way it was reported. The facts are these: On national television, Lewis accused Trump’s presidency of being illegitimate. Trump responded to the effect that Lewis should worry more about his own district, “which is in horrible shape,” then later added that Lewis should focus on the “burning and crime infested inner cities of the U.S.”
So how were these facts covered in the article? The first sentence tells all: “President-elect Donald Trump Saturday criticized as ‘all talk … no action’ Rep. John Lewis, who was repeatedly beaten and nearly lost his life in the long struggle for civil rights.” That’s right. Read it again. And again. Then ask yourself what the connection is between Lewis’s background and his exchange with Trump. And recall that it was Lewis who instigated the initial “attack” on Trump, not the other way around. This entire article was written to show Trump as “attacking” an African-American civil-rights veteran, as if it was by design. And Lewis’s accusation is neither questioned nor criticized in the article.
The article continues: “Trump also used racially freighted language when he said that Lewis’s Atlanta district was ‘crime infested.’ ” Racially freighted? Really? Trump did not say anything about race, class or social status. But the reporter wants readers to think he did. “Crime infested” has no implicit racial meaning; it is a statement that is either accurate or inaccurate. In fact, the majority of this article actually focuses on Lewis’s civil-rights background and current achievements. The article even includes a five-column-wide photograph of Lewis walking alone down the steps of Congress. Poor, suffering Lewis, picked on by boorish President-elect Trump, we are supposed to believe.
Now what does Lewis’s background have to do with this exchange of opinions, an exchange started by Lewis, not Trump? Does Lewis get a free pass to make unfounded accusations just because he is African-American and a civil-rights veteran? Did the reporter attempt to refute the accuracy of Trump’s remarks, for example? Instead, she wrote an opinion piece pretending to be a news story and resorted to race-baiting vocabulary to portray Lewis as a victim.
And most shameful of all, the Star Tribune printed this attack article in the wrong section. It should have known better.
George Atkins lives in Minneapolis.