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Episode Info:

Some podcasts I do are easy. There’s a problem and, hey look, here’s a great answer! Some are hard. There’s a problem and, well, there may not be a good answer. This is one of those.

When Donald Trump tweeted that four new Democratic members of Congress (commonly known as ‘the Squad’) should “go back” to the “corrupt” countries he said they are from, the media went into frenzy. When he said he didn’t worry if the comment was racist, because “many people agree with me,” it got worse. Trump’s racism — and his justification of it — dominated the news.

Under the “sunlight disinfects” model of media, that’s a good thing. But, as communications scholar Whitney Phillips argues, sunlight also does something else: it makes things grow. What if, by letting Trump focus the national conversation on his most vile comments at will, we’re nourishing the very ideas we’re trying to bleach?

Behind this conversation lurks some of the hardest questions in media. What makes something newsworthy? When do we let Trump set the agenda, and when don’t we? And is the theory under which we give the worst comments the most coverage true, or is it making us part of the problem?

Book Recommendations:

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer

Klu Klux by Elaine Parsons

White Racial Framing by Joe Feagin

Check out Whitney Phillips’ previous appearance on the show


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