“It’s been an all-hands-on-deck week.”
That’s how Luke Broadwater described the past week at the Baltimore Sun. “We’ve just been trying to hit every angle hard,” the reporter said. “Residents’ reactions. Fact-checking. Political analysis.” And, of course, there was that unforgettable editorial by the opinion team likening President Trump to a rat.
This week we found out: How will a city’s newspaper respond when a US president trashes an entire American metro area? The Sun rose to the unusual challenge after Trump posted his first tweets assailing Congressman Elijah Cummings and Maryland’s seventh congressional district on Saturday, July 27. Trump kept the criticism of Cummings and Baltimore up all week long, making at least six false claims along the way, according to the paper.
“Like any story, we are scrutinizing every statement from our elected leaders and others to ensure their words are accurate when describing the facts and figures about the Baltimore region,” publisher and editor in chief Trif Alatzas said Friday. “And we have asked the people who live in this district what they believe is needed moving forward and ensured that their voices are heard during this debate. We’ve also provided a platform for residents to share their stories.”
Whenever a Trump controversy grows, some people (especially his supporters) seem to forget his first tweet. They’ll point to a clean-up tweet and say Trump is just trying to help. So it’s imperative to remember his first anti-Cummings tweet: The one that said “no human being would want to live” in his vibrant district of 700,000 plus people. This led freelance writer Edward Hoyt to write an op-ed for the Sun that began “Hi, I’m Edward. This weekend, I found out I’m sub-human.”
Trump, of course, claims the White House has been flooded with calls from people thanking him for highlighting Baltimore’s woes. But story after story has busted that myth and shown what residents really think.
One of the Sun’s many headlines about the dust-up said, “West Baltimore residents say Trump tweets do nothing to help solve difficult issues.”
“In some ways,” Broadwater told CNN Business, “President Trump has a point: The condition of the trash and blight in some neighborhoods in Baltimore is terrible, and wouldn’t be tolerated in wealthier, whiter parts of town. We cover the problems in Baltimore nonstop. But the difference between what the Trump is saying as opposed to other politicians who make similar observations is whether they actually try to help the city. People feel like Trump is just mocking them.”
The Sun’s newest editorial
The Sun’s first editorial about Trump’s attacks against Cummings was titled “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”
On Wednesday the opinion team followed up with “Rat droppings: Five dumb things Trump apologists have said about the president’s anti-Baltimore tirade.”
And on Friday, in response to Trump treating Baltimore’s homicide rate like a punchline at a political rally, the editors called his conduct “pitiful.”
They also included Trump’s “too bad!” tweet about a newly reported break-in at Cummings’ home, which occurred before any of Trump’s tweets. “This is the behavior of a jerk, a clod, a dolt, a schmuck,” the editorial board wrote. “Every American should watch that tape so they may be spared the delusion that Mr. Trump’s criticism of Baltimore comes from a constructive place. He is dancing on graves.”
Will Trump fans ever hear this fact-check?
While the opinion pages have stood up for the city, the news pages have tried to lay out all the facts that debunk Trump. I particularly liked this fact-check of Trump’s claim that “billions” have been “stolen” by Baltimore’s “corrupt” government. “One problem: City Hall doesn’t get anywhere near a single billion dollars, let alone the ‘billions’ Trump has repeatedly proclaimed,” the Sun noted.
“Trump made it seem like he gave some extraordinary amount of $ to Baltimore, & Elijah Cummings stole it,” Broadwater tweeted. “Turns out, it was just routine government spending for retirees’ Social Security, residents’ Medicare/Medicaid & military members’ health care, the same as every district gets…”
A brief “Trump bump”
Renee Mutchnik, the Sun’s director of marketing, said that in the first three days of the controversy, Saturday through Monday, the site’s pageviews tripled and the Sun sold 10 times as many digital subscriptions versus a typical three-day average.
Lest we forget…
All of this started when Trump got riled up by a Saturday morning segment on Fox News. A conservative commentator, described by Fox as a “Republican strategist,” showed videos of rundown rowhomes in west Baltimore and asserted that Cummings should focus on his own community instead of conditions at the border. So at its core this is really about Trump and his allies rejecting criticism and accountability. I’m still hearing speculation about Trump’s supposed “strategy,” but the truth is, he was reacting to something he saw on TV. Fox hosts have barely acknowledged the network’s role in this saga since last Saturday, but it’s a key part of the story.