LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
There's something else that's making political news right now. It's on Twitter. It's coming from the White House. It's designed to be controversial and to get the media to talk about it and serve the president's political agenda. For us in the media, it's been a struggle to figure out how to cover what are unprecedented attacks on Americans by their own president. We're going to talk now about one response from The Baltimore Sun. Peter Jensen wrote the editorial, and he joins us now from Baltimore. Good morning.
PETER JENSEN: Good morning, Lulu. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm well. I'm going to read a bit from the editorial. You're answering attacks on Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings and on his district, which includes Baltimore. And you wrote, (reading) it's not hard to see what's going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president's side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don't to scream.
So it seems that you think this is all very much premeditated, and it's not just, as some have said, the president responding to Fox News.
JENSEN: Yes. Well, I think it clearly is - both things are going on at the same time. I think Fox News gives him the ammunition he needed, and he gave it probably about, you know, two seconds of thought to find an opportunity to slam Representative Cummings who, of course, has been critical of his border policy, and so he took it. And so 750,000 people woke up in the 7th District yesterday being told that they were the worst place in the country by the president of the United States.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you first read those tweets, what was your thought?
JENSEN: Well, I think it was more like blind anger, as anyone would probably if you have, you know, the highest elected person in the land telling you that the - an entire congressional district is rat-infested and miserable and a horrible place when, of course, that's not true. And you have to sort of question his judgment, as this is not hardly the first time he has done something like this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'll put it bluntly. Did you take the bait? I mean, it seems like these repeated attacks are designed to cause controversy and to cause the media to engage.
JENSEN: Well, I think you've really hit the nail on the head. That's the - that is the professional problem that we all have in covering this president. But if you have this carefully considered, you know, sort of - you know, this is some academic or intellectual argument, it's going to be - fall on deaf ears as well. So at some point, you know, you have to take the measure of the moment and decide where you're going to go.
And I think, you know, this particular tweet that - actually series of tweets and somewhat echoed again this morning - is just beyond the pale. I mean, it's just so obvious what's going on. It's just not excusable, so you just have to stand up for the people who don't have a voice in this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say take the measure of the moment, what is the moment, in your view?
JENSEN: I think it's, you know, a president of the United States deciding to debase himself in the office he holds, and it's attacking a member of Congress who happens to be African American, and it's, I guess, what we wrote, which is that it's - it has a political strategy, and it's a cheap shot.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The headline of the editorial called the president a rat, which played off his description of Baltimore as rat-infested. Do you think that's ceding the turf to him by using the kind of insult that he uses?
JENSEN: You know, again, that gave me pause as well, as well it should. I don't think I went to journalism school, as any of us might have gone to journalism school, getting lectured about someday, Peter, you will be describing the president as a rat. It was unimaginable at one point. But if you don't go somewhere near the sort of emotions of his arguments, yours will end up seeming, I think, awfully pale and wan compared to what he's saying. So I don't know - there's no perfect answer to this, but I think, at some point, you have to meet fire with fire.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Peter Jensen, an editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.