The troubles of covering Trump

I wrote for the news section of The Daily Campus for three years before coming to opinion my senior year. It’s impossible to count how many times I’ve defended my work, or that of the news staff as a whole. Reporting is a thankless job – your article just isn’t going to make everyone happy. But, to my dismay, a story published last week in my beloved paper is indefensible from a journalistic and moral standpoint.

“Swipe Left if you Like Trump,” which actually won The Daily Campus’s internal “article of the week” award, pushed a false narrative that media outlets, before, during and after the election have subscribed to: the victimization of white straight men.

No Democrats were quoted in the article to give voice to their own experiences, or to ask them how they would treat a Trump supporter. This would have given a sense of balance.

No people of color were quoted in the article, which would have given perspective as to the true terror Trump has struck in the hearts of many due to his policies, rallies, cabinet picks and rhetoric.

There is no mention of contextual research about widespread hate crimes directed at minorities following Trump’s election in the article. There is not even a nod to the ham-fisted hypocrisy and irony regarding safe spaces (and how conservatives feel about them when they don’t apply to them) in the article.

Most importantly, the article ignores the objective truth that white men voted overwhelmingly for Trump in this election, and white men won. It’s plain irresponsible reporting to grant a platform to something that simply isn’t true – in this case, the idea that Trump supporters are discriminated against, or deserve sympathy for being called names. If, as one student named Daniel Arpie quoted in the article said he was, Trump devotees on campus are called “racists” or “fascists,” it may not be politically correct, but it certainly isn’t newsworthy, and it is absolutely a natural reaction and a proper pushback toward people who voted for a man backed by neo-Nazi groups and the KKK, a man who played on racial hatred by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and promising to deport millions, a man perpetually engaged in racial dog whistling.

The “social cost” of liking Trump is not to be bemoaned. It is inevitable comeuppance.

In the piece, two Trump supporters describe this “social cost” at the University of Connecticut. Michael Grischuk, one of these men, went so far as to say that “I definitely felt less safe than I’ve ever felt on the UConn campus before at that rally.” He’s referring to the “Rally for the People” after Trump’s victory. I went to that rally. One Trump supporter showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat solely to provoke the students who had come together in the spirit of community and with an undercurrent of real fear of Trump’s election. There is no question that he was outnumbered, but for the entirety of the rally, students who disagreed with Trump acolytes in attendance only tried to speak with them.

Meanwhile, at a Nov. 15 meeting of the College Democrats, Grischuk, the same student who, in the article, complains that these liberals are oh-so-mean and won’t even consider matching with him on Tinder (seriously), showed up to the meeting with the purpose of pestering them, members say.

“Michael [Grischuk] basically came inside our meeting wearing a Make America Great Again hat. He said that he laughs at us and that we are crybabies for going to the protest,” Stevie Della-Giustina, the vice president of the UConn College Democrats, said.

Della-Giustina did clarify that he wasn’t sure if “crybabies” was the exact word Grischuk used.

“[Grischuk] critiqued us and insulted us for our opinions… He came into the meeting wanting to argue with other students,” Della-Giustina continued. “It is hypocritical for him to say he felt unsafe on this campus when he came into a club meeting to antagonize a group of students.”

Della-Giustina went as far as to say that Grischuk “definitely harassed us” and was “extremely aggressive in what he said.”

 

From Trump’s tweets about the theater being a “safe place” stowed away from political criticism to the students quoted in the article in question, it never fails to infuriate me and make me laugh when Republicans demand “safe spaces” after unilaterally denouncing the concept. If any College Democrats had been interviewed for the story, it would have been discovered that the self-proclaimed victim (Grischuk) is, in reality, the victimizer, someone who attends College Democrat meetings to reiterate the fact that Clinton lost, to ridicule them for protesting, to embarrass the College Republicans by referring to them as a “laughingstock,” according to Della-Giustina, and to generally make people not named Michael Grischuk feel like sh*t.

Farzana Zubair, a seventh-semester human development and family studies major and one of the student organizers behind the “Rally for the People,” spoke further on this inherent duplicity.

“Trump has actively used racist, xenophobic and sexist rhetoric—he continues a historical legacy of dehumanizing marginalized groups of people,” Zubair said. “By nature of being marginalized there’s some level of vulnerability—not only interpersonal violence, but state violence and structural violence. I don’t think these people really understand what it means to feel unsafe on this campus.”

 

Just look at the photo embedded above, and the tweet embedded below. Republicans love free speech as long as it benefits them. Rather than whining about the stigma attached to Trump’s constituents on college campuses, conservatives (and journalists) would do well to examine the motivations behind said stigma. Civility is great, but I can understand the difficulty some students have had with maintaining politeness when they are speaking to someone who doesn’t care that Trump is literally being “hailed” with Nazi salutes. Of course, that type of behavior doesn’t affect white men! And yet, apparently, being called a “cockroach,” as Grischuk said he was, does.

Let’s develop a framework for this white male fragility.

According to The Guardian, “The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has counted 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after the U.S. election…a phenomenon it partly blamed on the rhetoric of Donald Trump.” In certain terms, SPLC President Richard Cohen said this behavior was a “predictable result of the campaign [Trump] waged.” Some of these instances of discrimination have specifically raised Trump’s name. This information, as well as supplementary material, is necessary to any discussion where champions of Trump assert they have been “ostracized.” Gosh, I just can’t imagine a reason why they’ve been treated thusly!

The national media’s coverage of Trump was and remains problematic in a number of ways, but it is this regularizing of the President-elect that has been most prevalent of late. When I say “false narrative,” as I have earlier, I mean the LA Times publishing a story about white supremacists, and promoting it by tweeting, “Meet the new think tank in town: The ‘alt-right’ comes to Washington,” along with a snazzy picture of a dapper racist.

When I say false narrative, I mean the New York Times publishing a story with the headline: “Combative, Populist Steve Bannon,” instead of “Anti-Semitic, Dangerous Demagogue, Steve Bannon.” I mean headlines calling Trump’s Access Hollywood comments “lewd,” instead of “supportive of sexual assault.”

How is it that this type of analysis and the dishonest storylines it fosters can go unchecked, and can bleed into the mostly innocent Daily Campus? In Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN pundit who defended Trump’s lies, we can start to see a poisonous mentality.

"I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, 'No, it's true.’…Often when people that say facts are facts—they're not really facts,” Hughes said. “Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

This sort of thinking leads to the types of stories I’ve assessed and essentially creates another side for what would otherwise be a one-sided issue. Zubair questioned the execution of the “Swipe left” article in this respect.

“Do articles really need to be written with such a focus on a single side? I just feel like more responsible journalism would be more comprehensive,” Zubair said. “Also, I think the fact that this article was on the front page was egregious because it once again privileges the voices of those in power, of white men, of Trump supporters. We need to be active in our efforts to be anti-racist…change up the way articles are framed—stop trying to be sensationalist.

Minority communities have faced a deluge of bigotry as a result of Trump’s ascendancy. This bigotry has predominantly come from white men. When the marginalized and their allies challenge this ignorance, white people claim victimhood. That’s a convenient lie, and not the way this works. The media idealizes this “gotta hear both sides” mentality because (1) it builds a mystique of impartiality and (2) horse-race reporting attracts readers. But a journalist’s top priority is truth-telling. Perhaps this is an elitist belief, but journalism does not exist to allow people to speak their piece. In other words, report the news, don’t manufacture it.

While I know that earlier I said both sides should have been consulted to improve the article of interest, I am not contradicting myself in saying that there are some stories where the difference between right and wrong, and true and false, is black and white. In an ideal world, then, "Swipe left" wouldn't have been written at all, but since it was, I advocated for its improvement by pointing out its need to be more holistic. Put simply, if a false narrative is being pushed, it's pertinent to have an alternative point of view to puncture it.

I will steadfastly oppose the normalization of Trump and his brand of white nationalism in both my personal life and my chosen profession, whether it occurs in print, TV, news, opinion or right in front of my face.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.