On Monday night, the New York Times ran its initial front-page coverage of Donald Trump’s teleprompter-and-platitudes mumbling about the mass shootings he has done nothing to prevent, fueled by an ideology of racial hatred he has done everything to foster, under the laughable headline, “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.” An uproar ensued, the headline was changed in later editions, and the postmortems have already been written. The problem people had with the headline was not that it was not literally true—Trump did urge unity vs. racism!—but because framing the story as one in which Trump stands alongside the American people against racism is missing a little context about the difference between what Trump urges and what Trump does.
For example, since urging unity vs. racism, Trump has championed a former Google employee who was let go after proposing his co-workers donate money to notorious Holocaust-denier Chuck C. Johnson to track down the person who punched notorious white supremacist Richard Spencer. For another example, Wednesday night, he claimed El Paso native Beto O’Rourke had adopted his childhood nickname in an attempt to falsely claim Hispanic heritage:
Because of their unique place in the national media ecosystem, the Times’ framing matters more than most outlets, and Seth Meyers felt strongly enough about it that he dedicated a segment to it, suggesting the better and more accurate headline, “TELEPROMPTER URGES UNITY WHILE OLD MAN WATCHES.” Take a look:
A recurring theme of the Trump era is an all-pervasive sense that American institutions are failing to meet this moment, but it’s worth remembering that some American institutions are adapting to the world we’re living in. It shouldn’t be the job of a late night talk show to hold the New York Times accountable, or even make jokes about a bad headline they run unless that headline is an accidental double entendre. We might live long enough to see the day when late night talk hosts can lay down their swords and go back to forcing ordinary Americans to lose tic-tac-toe matches against chickens on national television—but until that day arrives, we’re all in it together.