Media Wrestles With Race and COVID as Campaigning Returns – Vanity Fair

It might feel tempting to describe Donald Trumps rally on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a return to normalcy for the 2020 campaigna resumption of traditional election-year activities, a revival of the presidents favored platform amid a sea of red hats, and a return to the trail for reporters who have been sidelined for the last three months. But this weekends convergence of Trumps most loyal supporters and national media also laid bare the utter strangeness of the moment, a time when a global pandemic is coinciding with both a presidential race and a historic civil rights movement.

For ABC News reporter Rachel Scott, who arrived in Tulsa on Wednesday, the assignment meant boarding an airplane for the first time in 100 days. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought about a radical lifestyle change for journalists like Scott who, before March, essentially lived out of a suitcase. I think its natural to have some anxiety before getting on a plane thats going to possibly be packed closely together, traveling with passengers for a few hours in the air in the middle of a pandemic, Scott told me. She spent about 20 minutes disinfecting her seating area before the Southwest flight embarked from Washington, D.C., to Oklahoma City; from where she then drove 90 minutes northeast to Tulsa. (Best to avoid a connecting flight, she reasoned.)

The next several days would go down as one of the most personally affecting reporting experiences of her career. She spent time in the Greenwood District of the city, the area formerly known as Black Wall Street, and spoke to descendants of the race massacre that occurred there nearly a century ago. When she crossed the railroad tracks to venture over to downtown Tulsa, where the rally was held, Scott encountered Trump supporters who began camping out days before the event. Some of them had Confederate flags on display. As reporters, we have assignments that are going to have an impact on us personally, and this was one of those stories, Scott said.

The day of the rally brought more reminders of the current contextfrom volunteers dispensing hand sanitizers to reporters getting their temperatures taken as they filed inside the venue. Scott has attended virtually every Trump rally this election cycle for ABC, but Saturday marked the first time she didnt actually cover it from inside the venue, a precautionary measure against coronavirus spread. Im used to being inside the arena, talking to the presidents supporters, leaning on the gates of the press pen and hearing their stories, Scott said. Im used to hearing the campaign music and being ready to go live as the campaign rally is unfolding, and just being surrounded in that moment. This rally was definitely different.

Still, the rally was accompanied by a number of familiar Trump-era motifs. There were the presidents usual stem-winders, and cameos from familial campaign surrogates Eric Trump and Lara Trump. And, like old times, the event was even followed by a back-and-forth over the crowd size. Outside the arena, Scott crossed paths with Trump supporters who she has met at previous rallies, the MAGA roadies who follow the president from one stop to the next. Those encounters, like most Scott has had at Trump rallies, were respectful. Other interactions, she said, spotlighted the racial divide that exists in this country. Before the rally began on Saturday night, Scott interviewed a Trump supporter who argued vigorously that people arent discriminated against on the basis of their skin color. Ten minutes later, Scott and her producer, both of whom are Black, began walking toward their hotel for a brief respite. Suddenly, a pickup truck pulled up next to them. The driver rolled down the window and proceeded to shout a racial epithet in their direction. Comments like that, Scott told me the next morning from Tulsa, are unfortunately not unusual at some of the presidents campaign events.

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Media Wrestles With Race and COVID as Campaigning Returns - Vanity Fair

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