As furor over Trump’s Baltimore tweets continues, CNN host asks how the press should cover them

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In this Tuesday, April 2, 2109 file photo, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, D-Md., leads a meeting to call for subpoenas after a career official in the White House security office says dozens of people in President Donald Trump's administration were granted security clearances despite "disqualifying issues" in their backgrounds. On Saturday, Trump denigrated Cummings' congressional district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” broadening a campaign against prominent critics of his administration that has exacerbated racial tensions. Trump lashed out in tweets against  the powerful House oversight committee chairman, claiming his Baltimore-area district is “considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.”

The furor over President Donald Trump’s Saturday-morning tweets about Baltimore and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings was the focus of the opening segment of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, with April Ryan, White House correspondent of American Urban Radio Networks, and me joining host Brian Stelter.

How should the press cover such racist and hateful tweets from the president? Stelter asked. Should they be ignored? Should the press fire back with the same kind of rhetoric as Trump?


While some analysts have advocated ignoring Trump in an effort to keep him from controlling the national conversation with his reckless social media attacks, Ryan said that’s not the answer for her.

“As a White House correspondent, I cover everything presidential, so I cannot ignore the tweets even though I want to,” Ryan said. “Everything he says on Twitter or through a press release through whatever press secretary he has today or tomorrow, you have to look at that as the official word of this nation.”


Ryan went on to criticize Trump for denigrating Baltimore without looking at its problems in a fuller historical and sociological sense. She also challenged Trump on what he has not done to help cities like Baltimore.

As I said in my Saturday column, I hate to let Trump control what I am going to write about with his tweets, but when he goes as vile and low as he did in attacking Cummings and Baltimore based on misinformation that he heard on “Fox & Friends,” you have to respond.

In answer to Stelter’s question of how you respond, I argued for firing back at him with facts to dispute his claims and consistently looking at his words and acts though a moral prism.

Many of us in the press shy away from talk of morality and moral behavior because we think it will make us seem biased in some way. But with an amoral president — and Trump certainly fills that bill — a moral framework is necessary to remind citizens of how craven some actions of this president truly are. Without that moral context, I fear his craven, cruel and hateful words and acts will become normalized.

We talked about the way The Baltimore Sun’s front page story in Sunday’s paper on the tweets presented the facts of Cummings’ 7th Congressional district versus the portion of the district on which Trump chose to focus using the disinformation from Fox News.

Mediaite focused on the morally loaded language I used to discuss Trump’s tweets in its review of the CNN segment.

Newsbusters expressed its surprise that “Zurawik even demanded that the liberal media start to preach their morality at voters.” I guess talking about morality would be problematic for a right-wing platform that bows to Trump.

I was honored to be judged “the most unhinged of the three” by Newsbusters.