Monday, October 03, 2005

The Guradian's odd notion of candor

The Guardian's Gary Younge tries to give us a lesson on American race relations today by taking a look at OJ Simpson on the 10th anniversary of his infamous acquittal. There is plenty in the article with which to take issue, but what struck me most was the egregious misrepresentation that Younge used to conclude his piece. Generalizing to a ridiculous extent, Younge says:
The enduring lesson of the OJ Simpson trial is that no matter how many times black and white Americans rally around the same flag, black Americans occupy a philosophical and material landscape that white Americans only become aware of in times of crisis and conflict.

When tens of thousands of mostly black Americans were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention centre, the then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency admitted as much. In a rare moment of candour, Michael Brown told one interviewer: "We are seeing people we didn't know exist"
Younge has taken Brown’s words totally out of context. Brown didn’t say anything like what he’s being presented as saying.

The quoted statement was made during an interview with Jim Lehrer. Brown had said that FEMA was getting relief to people inside New Orleans "as fast as we can", and Lehrer responded by citing numerous people who had "walked across the bridge and they got to the other end of the bridge and there was nobody there, nobody to help them." Lehrer then asked "So what does 'as soon as we can' mean at this stage of the game, Mr. Brown?"

Brown answered as follows:
Well, let me answer the question two ways: First, with regard to the evacuation of the Superdome and the convention center, we have had an ongoing supply food and water to there. They've had meals every day that they've been there. They had meals this morning.

We have five trailers moving into the Superdome this evening and to the convention center to provide both water and meals to those people, so they're getting regular amounts of food in the morning and evening in both of those places.

The second part of my answer, Jim, which, I think, again, the American people understand how fascinating and unusual this is -- is that we're seeing people that we didn't know exist that suddenly are showing up on bridges or showing up on overpasses or parts of the interstate that aren't inundated, and that now we're trying to get to them by Coast Guard helicopter to at least get them some immediate relief so we can start airlifting them out. [emphasis added]
Clearly Brown was not talking about a class of people normally hidden from the eyes of the country suddenly making their existence known. He was, instead, making a rather mundane differentiation between those victims who had gone to the Superdome and the convention center, whose presence the relief effort was aware of and who were being tended to, and those people that the relief effort was unaware of, who happened to be just showing up on bridges and overpasses.

Indeed, while Younge makes it appear that Brown was speaking about the "tens of thousands of mostly black Americans" who "were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention center," a look at what he actually said makes it plain that he was speaking precisely about the people who were not at the convention center.

How ironic that Younge needs to totally misrepresent Brown’s words in order to claim that he has given us a "rare moment candour" on race relations in the States - an alleged candor which, naturally, lends support to his own over-generalized view.


Blogger chip said...

You can beat yourself up over the sheer idiocy in journalism. Or you can cancel your subscription and get a hobby.

Apart from running more, I've found time to read more of these hiliarious takedowns of the MSM. Much more informative -- and entertaining -- than reading them directly.

4:33 AM  
Anonymous JohnM said...

This was a feature that the Guardian thought important enough to put on the front cover of the G2 section. In the light of the fact that many US newspapers are now admitting that they fell prey to hysteria over the extent of the post Katrina disaster, I thought that Younge's article was a pretty lame attempt to get some final mileage out of the racism angle. Whilst the US media is sobering up, the Guardian still has a fridge full of beer to get through.

An interesting thing that caught my eye was the discussion of OJs guilt. Gary notes that at the time of the trial 83% of blacks agreed with the innocent verdict. In contrast, today it is difficult to find many who would argue that Simpson was innocent.

There's an wonderful article here struggling to get out: to investigate the conflicting issues of colour solidarity versus justice. Whether OJ was guilty or not, is secondary. Why should black people feel that supporting OJ depended less on his guilt or innocence than on his colour?

Gary mentions the scene in the film Barbership, where the character of the old barber challenges some black shibboleths: including "OJ did it". I recommend this film to anyone who hasn't seen it. Without coming to any conclusions, the film shows a depth of self examination that is praiseworthy. In another important scene the young radical black learns that the white guy can actually cut black hair. It's a pity that Gary doesn't have the depth to reconsider his own attachment to identity politics.

Gary manages to credit 1990s Republican success to one factor: angry white males; angry about affirmative action ... But white anger went much deeper. In April 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a member of a rightwing anti-government militia, blew up the federal building in Oklahoma city, killing 168 people.

This is despicable. Many people, both black and white, oppose affirmative action for a variety of reasons but Gary conflates those opponents with the people who turn to terrorism. On the contrary, Gary is much closer to Timothy - they share a belief in an ongoing race war.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Well said. I agree fully. As I said, there was much in the article with which to take issue. The "angry white male" comment and the introduction of McVeigh as a symbol of what got R's elected was precisely one of the things I had in mind when I wrote that.


9:31 AM  

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