Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in June. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)
Media critic

In an article about a move by House Republican leaders to strip Rep. Steve King of his committee assignments because of his racist remarks, NBC News published this sentence:

But Republicans seemed unmoved, with some pointing to his long history of inflammatory statements and associations with far right and racist figures.

Bolding added to highlight a term of mitigation. There are lots of “inflammatory statements” in the public square, especially with Donald Trump in the White House. “We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing,” Trump once said about U.S. trading partners. “Because you’d be in jail,” he told opponent Hillary Clinton in a debate.

Now those are inflammatory. As for King’s statements through the years, they’re inflammatory, too. And also racist, as this summary by . . . NBC News demonstrates:

In a tweet earlier this month, the Iowa Republican endorsed a candidate running for mayor in Toronto who has espoused white supremacist views and questioned if Canada is facing a “white genocide.”

King also prompted backlash last year after he said U.S. culture cannot be restored “with somebody else’s babies” and advocated for “an America that’s just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same.” And King has called Western civilization a “superior culture” and refused to delete a retweet of a far-right British immigration activist who has questioned the Holocaust and had blamed slavery on Jewish people. He displays a confederate flag on his desk in Washington, D.C.

More recently, King told the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” It was that sentiment that got him in trouble on Capitol Hill, with many Republicans denouncing his remarks. Fellow Iowan Sen. Joni Ernst (R) conveyed her disdain in a tweet: “I condemn Rep. Steve King’s comments on white supremacy; they are offensive and racist.” King himself has declared, in part, “I reject those labels and the evil ideology that they define.”

Public record notwithstanding, NBC News issued standards guidance steering staffers away from truth in reporting. “Be careful to avoid characterizing [King’s] remarks as racist,” reads the guidance, as reported by HuffPost’s Yashar Ali. “It is ok to attribute to others as in ‘what many are calling racist’ or something like that.” The guidance came from NBC News standards official Susan Sullivan, according to Ali.

An informed source told the Erik Wemple Blog that staffers at the network disputed the guidance in a Tuesday morning meeting. No need to attribute the racist content of the remarks to “others,” objected the staffers: The remarks are racist on their face. The standards folks relented, agreeing that it was fine to call the remarks racist, but that NBC News journalists “need to be careful” about calling King himself — or anyone, for that matter — a racist.

Such caution raises a logical question: What do you call someone who uses racist language over an extended period of time? A “person who regularly says racist things”? A “racism user”? A “racially charged guy”?

At the top of Tuesday’s 9 a.m. hour, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle was in no mood for the sort of euphemistic garbage that studied neutrality has instilled in mainstream media organizations. “And finally, there’s Iowa Republican Steve King, the veteran congressman whose long, long history of racist remarks finally proved to be too much for his own party,” she said.

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Eugene Robinson: Why are Republicans suddenly outraged over Steve King’s racism?

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