Too Easy? Too Tough? Voters Split on Media Handling of Trump

President Donald Trump talks to the press before walking across the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 7, 2019, to board Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then on to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, in the afternoon to praise first responders and console family members and survivors from two recent mass shootings. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(CN) – The American public is evenly split on whether the media treats President Donald Trump with rugged contempt or coddles him with low standards, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found 37% of respondents agreed the media is too tough on the president, the same percentage that feels the media is not tough enough on the leader who maintains a combative relationship with the Fourth Estate.

Only 14% of the public believe the press corps is in the Goldilocks zone in its coverage of the president, describing the coverage as just right.

The poll comes after a series of controversies centered on how major media outlets framed overarching narratives about the president’s rhetoric and whether it stirs violence and racial hostility.

On Aug. 3, a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and published a white supremacist manifesto with anti-immigration sentiments rhetorically similar to Trump’s language on the subject.

When some members of the media noted the similarity, the president’s supporters said Trump was being unfairly maligned and pointed to mass shootings that occurred during the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush without either president being apportioned blame.

But others believe the media is too tepid in criticizing the president, noting the El Paso gunmen and others – like the gunman who killed 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or Cesar Sayoc, who mailed pipe bombs to Trump critics – have not only incorporated Trump’s rhetoric but in some cases named the president as inspiration for their criminal acts.

Another recent controversy focused on how the media should cover Trump’s rhetoric, particularly whether outlets should call his language racist.

The president singled out four congresswomen – all women of color and some first-generation immigrants – and suggested they go back to their home countries to fix problems there before criticizing America’s.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump tweeted on July 14.

Debate broke out in media circles whether to label the tweet and other similar rhetoric by the president as racist, or whether to simply report what was said and allow readers to make up their own minds.

The American public shares a divided view on how to approach such issues, according to the poll.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said it’s the media main responsibility to point out a politician’s racist statements, while 21% said the media bears no responsibility. Another 43% opted for a more nuanced answer, saying the media should draw attention to racist statements but that doing so is not its main responsibility.

The poll was conducted Aug. 9 through Aug. 11 and surveyed 1,993 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2%.

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