Public Editor

Soft-pedaling Trump protest violence?

I am hearing increasingly from readers of The Kansas City Star who are clearly worried about a potential President Donald Trump.

One of the most consistent concerns I hear is language that some people may find loaded. What’s the line between a “rally” or a “protest,” for example? What makes one person an “activist?”

These are always great questions, even if we can’t always agree on a single answer with a language as elastic and ever-changing as English.

I received a particularly thoughtful email earlier today from a reader who make a point about coverage of violence at Trump campaign events. He uses a recent column by Steve Kraske that looked at how physical conflict at Trump speeches may play out through the political season, under the headline, “Protests like the one in Kansas City will dog Donald Trump for months.”

“The headline skews the substance of the article,” he wrote. “’Protests’ has a negative connotation politically now for most readers, so the headline, however accurate, leads one in directions to identify the protestors as the problem, not Trump’s inciting violence.”

He further objects to the word “raucous” in reference to the crowd’s behavior, as well as ending on Trump’s citing the “excitement” it causes.

These are real concerns. It is literally unprecedented for a presidential frontrunner to say he’d “like to punch (a protester) in the face.”

Does Trump’s well-documented string of lies, sexism, bigotry and other clearly anti-American behavior demand tougher journalism?

No. It requires exactly the kind of journalism all candidates should be subject to — and it’s why the press should learn from the reasonable criticism, internal and external, that it didn’t scrutinize Barack Obama as strongly as it should have.

That’s not to equate Obama and Trump, by any means. But it’s fair to say some journalism has seemed star-struck by him since his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.