The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘This is CNN Tonight. I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist.’

President Trump referred to African nations and Haiti as "shithole" countries on Jan. 11. Here’s how hosts on CNN and Fox News reacted. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

It’s not every day you hear a television news anchor unabashedly calling a public figure “racist.” Broadcast journalists tend to tread lightly when describing racism, using terms such as “racially charged” or “racially tinged.” After all, racism is often in the eye of the beholder.

But it’s not every day that the president of the United States calls Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole countries.” As The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reported Thursday, Trump derided protections for immigrants from these “shithole countries,” and suggested that instead, the United States should be bringing more people from countries such as Norway. (Trump hinted at a denial early Friday.)

When covering the president’s remarks, some CNN hosts made it clear that this time, they would not be holding back.

“This is CNN Tonight, I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist. A lot of us already knew that.”

Those were the first words spoken by the news anchor at the opening of his show. He went on to call Trump’s comments “disgusting” but not shocking. “They’re not even really surprising. Because this is who Donald Trump is.”

His colleague, CNN host Anderson Cooper, was equally straightforward earlier in the evening.

“Not racial. Not racially charged. Racist,” Cooper said. “Let’s not kid ourselves or dance around it. The sentiment the president expressed today is a racist sentiment.”

At the end of his program, Cooper appeared on the verge of tears as he spoke about his connection with Haiti, which he has visited numerous times. Cooper recalled being taught math in high school by a Haitian immigrant, Yves Volel, who ultimately returned to his country and was assassinated while running for president.

Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Haitian people, Cooper noted, came the day before the eighth anniversary of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced some 1.5 million.

“For days and weeks without help from their government or police, the people of Haiti dug through rubble with their bare and bloodied hands to save complete strangers, guided only by the cries of the wounded and the dying,” Cooper said. He recounted reporting on the tragedy in the weeks that followed, and coming across a 5-year-old boy who had been buried under concrete for more than seven days — surviving on rainwater.

“Let me be clear, the people of Haiti have been through more, withstood more, fought back against more injustice than our president ever has,” Cooper said. “I have never met a Haitian who isn’t strong. You have to be to survive in a place where the government has often abandoned its people. Where opportunities are few and where Mother Nature has punished the people far more than anyone should ever be punished.”

“Haitians slap your hand hard when they shake it,” Cooper said. “They look you in the eye, they do not blink. They stand tall. They have dignity. A dignity many in this White House could learn from. A dignity the president with all his money and power could learn from as well.”

Meanwhile, the sentiment on Fox News could not have been more different. Jesse Watters, host of Fox News’s “The Five,” defended the president’s comments, saying “this is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar.”

“If you’re at a bar, and you’re in Wisconsin, and you think they’re bringing in a bunch of Haiti people, or El Salvadorians, or people from Niger, this is how some people talk,” he said.

“Is it graceful? No,” he added. “Is it polite or delicate? Absolutely not. Is it a little offensive? Of course it is. But you know what? This doesn’t move the needle at all.”

“This is who Trump is,” Watters went on. “He doesn’t care, he shoots from the hip, and if he offends some people, fine. There are so many more offensive things that are happening in this world.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested in a tweet that if El Salvador isn’t a “shithole,” then its migrants don’t need extended protections.

On his show Thursday, Carlson defended the president and argued that he “said something that almost every single person in America actually agrees with.”

An “awful lot of immigrants” come to the United States from other countries “that aren’t very nice,” Carlson said. “Those places are dangerous, they’re dirty, they’re corrupt, and they’re poor and that’s the main reason those immigrants are trying to come here.”

“People are actually staying in this country right now legally because Haiti is so bad, we don’t think they should have to return,” Carlson said. “So if you say Norway is a better place to live and Haiti is kind of a hole, well anyone who’s been to those countries or has lived in them would agree.”

More from Morning Mix:

Prosecutor launches probe of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens following extramarital affair revelation

Fox drops Patty Hearst biopic, after she blasts the Jeffrey Toobin book it was based on

Trevor Noah: ‘As someone from South Shithole, I’m offended Mr. President’