Pittsburgh political pundit Salena Zito downplays Trump’s racist remarks because of 'polarization' | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Pittsburgh political pundit Salena Zito downplays Trump’s racist remarks because of 'polarization' 

click to enlarge Salena Zito at a talk at Duquesne University in 2018 - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
  • CP photo: Ryan Deto
  • Salena Zito at a talk at Duquesne University in 2018
Former Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Salena Zito catapulted in the media world following the election of President Donald Trump. She was christened the “Trump-voter whisperer” by some, since many of her stories written before the 2016 election showcased how many people in Rust Belt areas were supporting Trump, even if those areas had historically backed Democrats.

Since then, Zito has worked as a political pundit for CNN, and as a columnist at the conservative Washington Examiner. But since her rise, she has garnered criticism, including instances of misrepresenting people as Democratic voters, even though they were linked to Republican Party organizations, and labeling wealthy doctors and nonprofit heads as “blue-collar.”

Yesterday, Zito went on CNN to discuss a series of racist tweets Trump made where he hinted that four progressive Democrats, U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”


When asked how these comments will sit with voters, especially Trump supporters, Zito said she wished she would have “just stayed in the church instead of hearing all of that.” She added that the "unfortunate thing is we are so polarized right now that even if you are a Trump supporter and you don’t like what he says, you’re either — you may not even say anything at all.”

“[Trump supporters] may not even see it as racist because they will take that line where it says that you can go back and fix it and then come back,” said Zito. “We are just so polarized.”

When the CNN host comments on how three of the four U.S. Reps. where born in the U.S. and Omar is a U.S. citizen, Zito said “we are so polarized I don’t know if this moves anything."

“I am not saying that it's right or wrong, I am just saying that is where we are today,” said Zito.

This isn’t the first time Zito has dodged or downplayed the roles of race and racism in our politics.

As Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out in 2018, Zito’s recent book only brings up racism twice in its more than 300 pages, despite the fact that Trump consistently used racist rhetoric as a rallying cry to his base. The Great Revolt, written by Zito and Brad Todd, is about the “populist coalition” reshaping American politics, but it mostly looks at Trump supporters. Lord wrote:

“Other than one Trump voter’s argument that Mr. Obama exacerbated racism, and a claim that ‘race-tinged subjects were rarely cited by Trump voters interviewed for this book,’ there’s scant further mention of racial attitudes. As for anti-immigrant sentiment, ‘building a wall’ is dismissed as Trump Nation’s distant fourth-highest priority.”

Sarah Jones, then of the New Republic, went even further, writing that Zito and Todd’s “version of Trump’s story — one where racism barely merits a mention — is glaringly incomplete.” Jones wrote in 2018:

“Without this necessary racial context, portraits of Trump voters become glamour shots. If Zito ever asks her sources pointed questions about Trump’s racism or misogyny, it’s not evident from the text. Instead, her subjects pontificate at length, seemingly without challenge or direction, and missed opportunities mount as the book progresses.”

Back when she was a columnist for the Tribune-Review, Zito also downplayed racism’s role in America’s politics, even when criticism was lodged at President Barack Obama from the Tea Party, which had protesters tell the U.S.-born Obama to “go back to Kenya” and signs that read “Obama nominees, Monkey See, Monkey Spend.”

Even so, Zito wrote in 2009 that claims of racism within the Tea Party movement from President Jimmy Carter and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd were problematic.

“Here is the problem with that: Pull out the race card and the conversation ends,” wrote Zito. “It does the president no good when anyone who disagrees with him is accused of racism; it simply builds a resentment that he did not foster.”

After blaming polarization in her CNN segment, Zito goes on to complain that the “really frustrating thing” is the state of immigration legislation “on both sides.”

“Washington can’t even have an effective way of discussing it because you look at the protests, you look at the possible ICE deportations and no one is talking meaningfully about how we fix this,” said Zito. “We do need to have more people immigrate into our country, our workforce demands it ...”

Democrats in the U.S. House recently passed the Dream Act which would grant a path to citizenship to DACA-recipients and TPS-holders if they follow a set of rules. The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has refused to bring that bill to the floor. When the GOP held all three chambers of federal government from 2017-2018, they failed to pass any comprehensive immigration bills. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill that was supported by Obama, but the GOP-controlled U.S. House didn’t bring the bill to the floor.
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