On Sunday morning, Donald Trump took to Twitter to single out, in his words, "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world." If they're so frustrated with the U.S., then, he asked, "Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
While Trump didn't use any names, it's likely he's referring to a quartet of freshmen congresswomen who have been butting heads with Democratic party leadership recently: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Omar was born in Somalia, moved to the U.S. when she was 12, and became an American citizen in 2000, at the age of 17. The other three women were all born in America.
In March of this year, the Associated Press, the organization that establishes industry-wide journalistic standards, weighed in pretty clearly on the appropriate use of the word "racist": "Do not use racially charged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable."
Despite this, many news outlets are still struggling to find some way around using the word "racist."
The Wall Street Journal went with the headline, "Trump Targets Lawmakers in Racially Charged Tweets." NPR's All Things Considered wrote, "Florida Democrat Responds To Trump's Racially Charged Tweets Against Congresswomen." And CNN's Inside Politics ran a story under "Trump's racially charged tweets target Dem congresswomen." (CNN's first report on the story was blunter: "Trump tweets racist attacks at progressive Democratic congresswomen.")
But none seemed to work harder than the New York Times. The paper's initial story on the incident called it a "factually inaccurate claim" wrapped inside what Democrats called "a racist trope"—in an updated version, the racist trope is "widely accepted."
A follow-up analysis from the Times was even more laborious, headlined "Trump Fans the Flames of a Racial Fire." Trump woke up Sunday morning, according to the opening lines, and "saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it." The metaphor keeps going: "when it comes to race" Trump "plays with fire," right-wingers are "incendiary," etc. These tweets are the latest example of "Mr. Trump’s racially infused politics."
If one of the goals for journalism is clarity and precision, then nonsensical phrases like "racial fire" or innuendo like "racially charged" seem to undermine the cause. A single word—"racist"—would do.
Originally Appeared on GQ