Tuesday, July 03, 2007

INNOCENT: At The N&O Race Matters

"... these three individuals [David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann,] are innocent of these charges."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007

Many people, including some journalists, believe the Raleigh News & Observer’s editorial page and news reporting often show a racial bias that favors blacks over whites. They want the N&O to adopt a policy that favors neither race.

Those who criticize the N&O for racial favoritism note that when reporting crime stories the N&O often fails to include police descriptions of the suspect(s) or anything about the suspect(s) background.

At the N&O’s Editors’ Blog one of the paper’s deputy managing editors for news, Linda Williams, has just offered the N&O’s “explanation” for why that’s so. I responded to Williams on the thread of her post: “Suspect descriptions.”

Below is the key portion of Williams’ “explanation,” followed by my response.

Editor Williams told readers:

In recent days, local police departments have distributed "descriptions" of crime suspects that were not included in our reports on the crimes. Each assigned a racial label to the suspect, but were (sic) sketchy in details of the physical description.

Numerous readers have criticized the News & Observer for our policy against printing such descriptions. The policy is in place because such "descriptions" fail the tests of accuracy, completeness, usefulness, relevance and fairness.[. . .]
Dear Editor Williams:

You talk about police “descriptions” that “fail [the N&O’s] tests of accuracy, completeness, usefulness, relevance and fairness.”

Since when does the N&O use such tests?

Does the N&O really have a “policy against printing” the race of suspects based on “physical descriptions” that are “sketchy in details.”

Last March the N&O reported on a case involving 46 young men the police had named as suspects after a woman the N&O said was “the victim” reported she was brutally beaten, strangled, robbed and gang-raped by three men at a party the police and the N&O knew some of the 46 man hadn’t even attended.

In that case the Durham police didn’t even offer “sketchy in details” physical descriptions. The only physical descriptions the police provided for any of the 46 men was their race.

With the suspects’ race as the only physical descriptor the N&O had from the police; and without addressing for your readers the question of why the accusing woman and/or police were not providing at least “sketchy” descriptions of the three men alleged to have attacked “the victim,” the N&O reported on March 25, 2006 in a front-page story the race of all 46 men.

You then did criminal background checks on the men and the accuser.

On March 28 the N&O published on it front-page a story by reporter Benjamin Niolet detailing criminal charges against 15 of the man for such offenses as underage drinking and public urination: “15 players had prior charges” ($ req.)

But the N&O suppressed until April 7 any mention of the accuser’s far more serious criminal background that included stealing a car and assaulting a law enforcement officer.

When the N&O finally reported on “the victims’” criminal background in a story by reporter Samiha Khanna, it wasn’t on the N&O’s front-page.

The N&O buried its first mention of Crystal Mangum’s criminal record in the last three paragraphs of a page A14 story about the Durham City Manager’s explanation for the delay in searching the house where the alleged crimes took place: “Manager: Scanty info delayed search.” ($ req.)

Now, Editor Williams, I’m sure you’re thinking what everyone else reading this is thinking: “But in the case you’re talking about, JinC, the young men were all white males and Crystal Mangum is an African-American.”

You’re right. And that’s my point.

At the Raleigh News & Observer race matters.


Anonymous said...

John: You're fighting a losing battle against entrenched political correctness. It's just fine to accuse a white, a catholic, a redneck or any other non-protected specie. But Heaven forbid that you make any mention of crime in connection with black people. Rev. King's admonition to judge me by the quality of my character was notable forty years ago, but the Liberal thought police have turned Rev. King's ideas on their heads in the mad rush to keep everything all about race, gender, and class. Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels would be very proud. Me? I want to go some place where people are not classified by race or class--that means someplace other than the United States.

Anonymous said...

That means someplace not serviced by the N&O, HS or CNN.

JWM said...

To Anon @ 4:47,

It sure does look like I and others are fighting a losing battle, but fight we will.

And you're right about the non-protected people.

Can you imagine Duke, Durham, the N&O, the H-S, and the NYT remaining silent if on May 18, 2006 those shouting threats at Reade Seligmann were white and he was white?

Anon @ 5:29,

They're terrible but let's hope we can change things.

Thank you both for commenting.


Anonymous said...

I've never thought newspaper descriptions of criminal suspects were usually any good. I mean, how many people fall under the category "Thin, white male wearing jeans, 30ish?" What about "Thin black male wearing green hat, 20-30 years old"? In a town of any size those descriptions are useless.

On the other hand, if a newspaper is going to put in any description for suspects, then it should:

(1) Use every race or no race; or

(2) Use race only when there are enough other physical, clothing, facial and other descriptors to make identification possible (and therefore helpful to the community).

I disagree that John is fighting a losing battle. I think he is most certainly fighting a winning battle. Common sense will eventually win out in the marketplace of ideas. John will eventually be proved right. Thanks, John! Gregory