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Trump’s Disturbing Trend of Bullying Black Women

It is not controversial to state that Donald Trump is a bully. Dictionary.com defines a bully as a “blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers smaller and weaker people.” Donald Trump amply meets this description. Though no one is immune to being tormented by him, including members of his own cabinet, he and his administration seem to reserve a special level of venom for black women. Whether it’s black women journalists, elected officials, or even a gold star widow, Trump’s treatment of black women reveals a disturbing trend.

Trump’s feuds with other people, though unseemly, had almost always had at least a veneer of parity. Senator John McCain, though currently fighting terminal brain cancer, is a former Republican presidential nominee, and has served in the Senate for over 30 years. Trump’s feuds with Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina began when they were all presidential candidates during the 2016 election. The derisive nicknames and ad hominem attacks he launched at his political foes were unbecoming, to be sure, but at least they were launched at people who had chosen to enter presidential politics. There were times that he allowed the bar to sink even lower, like when he attacked the Khan family, whose son had died serving in the military in Iraq in 2004, but more often than not, his attacks were launched at people who were also wealthy and/or politically well-connected. Typically, when he attacked people who weren’t politicians, he attacked them as an entire group, as he had Mexicans and Muslims.

Then the inauguration happened, and all bets were off. No longer were his tweets and insults reserved for the wealthy and politically powerful or entire ethnic and religious groups. He and his administration set their sights on specific black women to single out for condescension and vituperation. Former press secretary Sean Spicer’s now infamous exchange with April Ryan serves as one of the earliest examples of the Trump administration trying to bully a black woman into silence. While trying to do her job as a White House correspondent, Spicer repeatedly interrupted her and told her to stop shaking her head when he was giving evasive or otherwise unsatisfactory answers. Then there was Jemele Hill, who called Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. She wasn’t the first journalist to have called Trump out for his sympathies towards white supremacy, or even the first black journalist to suggest it. Both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Charles Blow, who are black men, have either stated or implied it, but neither Donald Trump himself, nor anyone in his administration suggested that they be fired for their sentiments the way that Trump dispatched Sarah Huckabee Sanders to suggest for Jemele Hill.


Then the inauguration happened, and all bets were off. No longer were his tweets and insults reserved for the wealthy and politically powerful or entire ethnic and religious groups. He and his administration set their sights on specific black women to single out for condescension and vituperation.


 

Last Monday, in the wake of the Nigerien ambush attack that claimed the lives of four U.S. soldiers in early October, including Sgt. La David Johnson, Trump used the power and prestige of the American presidency to wage a war to impugn the integrity of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was in the car when he called Sgt. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, to offer his condolences. In a now infamous and corroborated account of the call (which occurred on speakerphone), Rep. Wilson took umbrage to the clumsy and disrespectful way in which Trump executed the call. Rep. Wilson declared that the president told the grieving Mrs. Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” These words, whether intentionally or unintentionally, conveyed the sentiment that the family shouldn’t be upset at Sgt. Johnson’s death because he knew the risks and accepted them anyway. Trump responded by taking to Twitter to accuse her of lying.

As the imbroglio ensued, the president then dispatched no less than a four-star marine general, in the form of White House chief of staff John Kelly, to get up and launch a mendacious smear campaign against the congresswoman. General Kelly abdicated any sense of moral authority he may have once felt he had the moment he set in motion a completely fallacious and ad hominem attack against Representative Wilson, repeatedly calling her an “empty barrel.” Though Trump had repeatedly denied Wilson’s characterization of the condolence call, General Kelly confirmed that it was he, in fact, who had inspired the president’s use of the phrase “he knew what he was signing up for.” Of course, this jibes with the congresswoman’s account of what was said, but Kelly used his opportunity to set the record straight as the time to smear the congresswoman. The general falsely claimed that Representative Wilson had taken the occasion of an FBI building ceremony to lavish praise on herself for having obtained the funding for the construction of the building. Video evidence surfaced within 24 hours revealing that Kelly’s characterization of Wilson’s behavior at the event was a complete falsehood.  Wilson never mentioned money. She never praised herself. She never claimed to have been instrumental in getting the funding. Still, the White House, and the president himself maintained their attacks.

When no less than Myeshia Johnson, the gold star widow at the center of the controversy, sat down for an interview yesterday on Good Morning America to give her version of events–a version of events that matches perfectly with the one Congresswoman Wilson described–the president then took swipes at her on Twitter. Let that sink in. The sitting president of the United States attacked the credibility of a gold star widow who had just buried her husband 48 hours ago. Mrs. Johnson said that Trump not only made the “he knew what he was getting into” comments, but he didn’t even know her husband’s name when he called her. There she was–beautiful, dignified, gracious, and poised–giving an explanation she owed no one, and Donald Trump felt that even she was fair game for his vile and odious attacks on Twitter.

 

The question remains as to why the president and his administration pick fights with and single out black women whom they know are less powerful than they are. The Trump administration hates all media, but it was only April Ryan they tried to strong-arm into not shaking her head, in a move that stunned even her journalism colleagues. Jemele Hill wasn’t the first journalist to suggest that Donald Trump was a white supremacist, but she was the first one that the administration called on to be fired for criticism of the president. Congresswoman Wilson was not only the congressional representative from the underserved community of South Florida, she was also a close family friend of the Johnsons who shared in their grief at La David Johnson’s passing, and was therefore uniquely qualified to speak about the family’s dismay. Congresswoman Wilson is certainly not the first elected official who has criticized Trump for his behavior. Yet, it was only Congresswoman Wilson for whom the president recruited the gravitas of his typically camera-shy four star general chief of staff to discredit for her accurate rendering of the disputed condolence phone call. And then we have Myeshia Johnson—a 24 year-old pregnant war widow and mother of two from Miami Gardens. Her husband rode the bike to his job at Walmart every day and laid down his life on the battlefield in Niger. If ever there existed anyone to whom a Commander-in-Chief should grant deference, it would be her, but Trump unaccustomed to the general decency with which most of us are familiar, was unable to offer even that. When asked if she had anything she would like to say to the president, Mrs. Johnson simply replied, “No. I don’t got nothing to say to him.” If only the president showed her level of restraint and grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Singled Out: Black Women Journalists in the Age of Trump

The general point that Donald Trump dislikes the media isn’t lost on anyone. Whether he’s caterwauling about “fake news” or tweeting that the media is the “enemy of the American people,” Trump’s contempt for the fourth estate has been well-documented. What is often lost in that shuffle is the way that black women journalists have been particularly targeted for marginalization or demotion in the age of Trump. Three black women journalists in particular have been casualties of Donald Trump’s caustic attitude towards the media. Tamron Hall, April Ryan, and Jemele Hill have all been directly or indirectly professionally impacted by his hostility towards the media.

Of the three women, Tamron Hall’s Trump-influenced career woes are probably the least obvious to the casual observer. A 10-year veteran of the Today Show, Hall parted ways with NBC in February of this year after the network hired former Fox personality Megyn Kelly to replace her in the 9 o’clock hour of the show. Kelly, though having spent more than a decade at Fox expressing very conservative views and delivering right-leaning political coverage, was shockingly remade into a feminist icon overnight in the wake of Donald Trump’s opprobrious response to her line of questioning during the first Republican presidential debate in August of 2015. Hall was offered millions of dollars to take a reduced role at NBC, but rebuffed that proposition and chose to partner with Harvey Weinstein on a new project. Unfortunately for Hall, this new partnership with Weinstein would be short-lived, due to revelations that Weinstein has serially abused women in Hollywood for decades. There are no indications that Hall had any knowledge of Weinstein’s misdeeds, but her career ironically, again suffered a setback due to another rich, powerful, well-connected, and sexually abusive white man.

Tamron Hall’s career decline during the political ascendance of Donald Trump is particularly ironic when compared to Megyn Kelly’s rise during the same time frame. NBC courted Kelly with the prime 9 a.m. slot on the Today Show, her own Sunday evening news program, and a contract worth $23 million a year to boot. With such a generous compensation package, one would assume that the woman who replaced Tamron Hall would be a ratings juggernaut. One would be wrong in that assumption. Kelly’s tenure at NBC so far has been beset with miscues and dismal ratings. There was her controversial and widely panned interview of right-wing conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones. Then there is her difficulty in booking celebrity guests for her show.  Finally, there are her generally poor ratings. Kelly’s ratings during the 9 a.m. hour of the Today Show are 24% lower than Tamron Hall’s ratings last year in the same hour of the show. Of course, this ratings slide will come as no surprise to any professional black woman who has ever lost her job to a white woman who was less talented, but “more relatable.” While Megyn Kelly reaps millions of dollars a year for underperforming expectations, propped up by NBC’s desire to cash in on her role in the 2016 presidential election, Tamron Hall finds herself bright, talented, and capable, yet underemployed.

photo credit: EURweb.com
Tamron Hall

April Ryan had been a journalist in the White House press corps for twenty years before she became a topic of the news herself in  February.  When she asked Trump if he planned on conferring with the Congressional Black Caucus, he asked her if they were friends of hers and then asked her to set the meeting up–as if just because she is black, she should be the presidential liaison to the CBC. During a now infamous exchange with erstwhile White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Ryan pressed him on the pervasive perception that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 election. Spicer’s response was sexist, racist, and condescending. Telling a grown ass black woman to stop shaking her head while you are clearly bullshitting her and the American people was a new (but not the last) low for the Trump administration. Ryan described that experience as becoming “roadkill.” She also found herself in the position that journalists always try to avoid–becoming part of the news story themselves. Lost in that exchange was Ryan’s serious and substantive inquiry about the Trump campaign and Russian collusion. As time has now revealed, those questions were well-founded, because there are concurrent Senate, Congressional, and a special counsel investigations into just that.

Ryan, like Megyn Kelly, was able to parlay her run-in with a member of the Trump inner circle into another gig. Though she kept her day job as the White House press corps journalist for National Urban Radio, she also became a CNN political contributor in April.  Unlike Megyn Kelly, however, Ryan did not displace anyone more talented to land her new job, nor did her new network back up a Brinks truck to compensate her for her efforts. Lastly, Ryan is not underperforming her compensation package with CNN. The irony and the justice in her run-in with Sean Spicer is that for all his proclamations that legitimate media outlets are fake news, after his firing, Spicer has been unable to land a job with any of the media outlets he spent the better part of six months trying to delegitimize.

photo credit: thegrio.com

When ESPN’s Jemele Hill used Twitter in September to opine that Donald Trump was a white supremacist who surrounded himself with other white supremacists, the Trump administration became apoplectic. From the lectern of the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders implied that the veteran sports journalist should be fired for it. Let’s sit with that for a second. The White House press secretary–a government official–singled a journalist, suggesting she be fired for criticizing the president of the United States. Though such an action is par for the course in repressive governments like Russia, Uzbekistan, and Cuba, the United States and by extension, the office of the president, hold themselves out as the arbiters of justice and moral rectitude–except when a black woman journalist exercises her 1st Amendment rights, apparently. Though Trump and his administration have been incredibly hostile to media in general, up to that point they had never singled out a reporter to be fired for criticizing the president. There is a first time for every new low in Trump’s America, and the administration reached it there.

Hill’s initial Twitter comments followed Donald Trump’s abysmal reaction to the deadly violence that erupted at a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.  ESPN responded by warning her about her comments on Twitter. As the NFL season began in September, and numerous players emulated Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, Donald Trump inserted himself into the fray, insisting that a player who would dare kneel in protest is a “son of a bitch” who should be dragged off the field. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joined many of his fellow NFL owners in kneeling with his team in a self-serving act of “solidarity” designed to protect his product. Only weeks later, Jones was singing a different tune, insisting that players who knelt would be benched. “The policy and my actions are going to be if you don’t honor and stand for the flag in a way that a lot of our fans feel that you should, if that’s not the case, then you won’t play,” he told a Dallas sports radio station. Hill responded by tweeting that if fans were upset by Jones’ stance, they could boycott Dallas Cowboys’ advertisers:

 

ESPN suspended Hill for two weeks after her October 8th tweets in a move that upset many African-Americans and 1st Amendment enthusiasts. Even though Hill was definitely not the first journalist to criticize this president, she was the first one to be sanctioned by her employer for her journalistic conduct stemming from a complaint from the White House. Hill will be back on the air at ESPN this Monday, and today issued a statement indicating that she had deserved her suspension. Whether this sentiment is reflects her actual attitude towards suspension or represents a chilling effect of a black woman journalist criticizing the government in the age of Trump, we may never know.

photo credit: citizenjour.com
Jemele Hill

The profession of journalism itself is under fire from the Trump administration, and with precious few black women in it, we can ill-afford to have their voices silenced as the fourth estate is attacked on all sides. Tamron Hall’s journalistic perspective was jettisoned for Megyn Kelly, who is currently struggling to attract new viewers and maintain old ones. April Ryan was demeaned and condescended to by a man who served as Trump’s chief propagandist, and the seriousness of the questions she was asking was obfuscated in the process. Jemele Hill called out Donald Trump’s platform of white supremacy and was ultimately sanctioned by her employer for doing so. Despite these threats to their livelihood, I suspect that journalists in general, and black women journalists in particular, will continue to be on the front lines to speak truth to power and hold the powers that be accountable for their actions.