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PART II! WHITHER THE WEB? McGowan’s book is rife with spin. So why did one mullah approve it?

TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2002

WHO’S COLORING NOW? On December 3, 1996, a nasty incident took place at the Marcus Garvey School in Washington, D.C. As a jury would later determine, a Washington Times reporter, Susan Ferrechio, was assaulted by Mary Anigbo, the Garvey principal. Anigbo shouted racial insults. For more detail, see yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER.

William McGowan’s book, Coloring the News, describes press coverage of the Garvey incident. The book was recently vouched for by the web’s Andrew Sullivan (see yesterday’s HOWLER). In the book, McGowan derides the Washington Post’s coverage of the Garvey event:

MCGOWAN (page 39): [T]he reaction of the Washington Post, a virtual synonym for fearless and independent reporting since Watergate days, was oddly hesitant. There was no acknowledgment of how the paper had dropped the ball by not holding the school’s mission and leadership up to closer scrutiny. Although an incident like this would certainly have gotten banner coverage had the racial roles been reversed and a black reporter assaulted by a racist white school principal, the Post initially played the Garvey story on the inside pages, making very little effort to determine what actually happened, and treating the conflicting accounts of the incident as if they were of equal weight. The paper also made frequent and conspicuous use of the term “alleged”—as in “the alleged assault”—which in context deflected Ferrechio’s credibility as a victim and as a reporter. In fact, in the first week after the confrontation at the school…the Post gave prominent space to black political activists like former NAACP president Benjamin Chavis and Nation of Islam activist Malik Shabazz who rallied to her side, blaming the white media and threatening racial violence.
That is McGowan’s nugget statement. His presentation is riddled with problems.

Let’s start with the obvious. McGowan’s complaint about the word “alleged” is, in a word, bizarre. A Washington jury would later find that Anigbo assaulted Ferrechio. But Post reporters hadn’t seen the assault, and Anigbo gave a different account of what had occurred. Was the Post supposed to mind-read the facts? In this complaint, McGowan shows the cockeyed judgment he brings to many parts of his book. For the record, the Post made it clear, in a December 6 editorial, that it found Anigbo’s story implausible. A wide range of Post op-ed writers rolled their eyes at Anigbo’s account.

Meanwhile, was the Post “initially” slow to page one? McGowan’s complaint is a bit unclear; in fact, the Post almost never ran this story on its front page, treating it as a local story in its “Metro” section. But on Day Three (December 6), the Post ran two full stories on its Metro front page, and the story never left Metro’s front after that. Since the Post had virtually no information on Day One, this was hardly a startling lag time.

Should this story have been front page? That is a matter of judgment. But it’s easy to judge McGowan’s account of the coverage of those “black political activists.” In the first week, McGowan says, the Post gave these Anigbo supporters “prominent space” as they “blam[ed] the white media and threaten[ed] racial violence.” In fact, the activist supporters were mentioned exactly once, in the Post’s report on a public meeting. Here’s how the story, by Hamil Harris, began:

HARRIS (12/7/96): (pgh 1) A number of D.C. community activists rallied around the African American principal of a city charter school yesterday and portrayed her confrontation with a white reporter this week in starkly racial terms, contending that the incident has precipitated “a series of civil rights violations.”

(2) Several activists with a history of employing racially charged rhetoric—including the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, and Malik Zulu Shabazz, head of a Nation of Islam offshoot called Unity Nation—appeared yesterday with principal Mary A.T. Anigbo at the Marcus Garvey Charter School. They defended Anigbo’s role in altercations at the school Tuesday—one with a reporter from the Washington Times and another with several D.C. police officers who accompanied the reporter back to the school.

In fact, this report was striking for the overt way it challenged the racial good faith of Anigbo’s supporters. In paragraph 3, Harris quoted a bit of Chavis’ “increasingly harsh rhetoric.” When he returned to Anigbo’s supporters, he openly humped them again:
HARRIS: (11) Chavis described the [Marcus Garvey] incident as part of national struggle. “When we try to do something for ourselves, educate ourselves, lift ourselves up, there are people who take exception to that,” Chavis said. “I hope people will not use one incident to take away the value of this educational institution.”

(12) Wilson and Shabazz on several occasions have drawn fire for statements or actions that critics called racist. Several years ago Wilson led a boycott of an Asian merchant who operated a store in predominantly black Southeast Washington, and Shabazz has appeared at several rallies during which antisemitic statements were made. Wilson’s church is large and growing, but neither Wilson nor Shabazz has drawn widespread support in recent political organizing efforts.

Should the Post have ignored this meeting? Again, the notion is simply absurd; the Washington Times covered it, too. But even in this news report, the Post was overtly critical of Anigbo’s supporters. And this report is the only example of the “prominent space” the Post gave these activists. McGowan’s account is absurdly misleading. Indeed, it borders on outright deception.

Why did the “usual suspects” slam Coloring the News (see yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER)? Perhaps because of work like this, in which McGowan gives a skewed account of the Post’s basic coverage. And remember, McGowan’s treatment of the Garvey incident is the first case study in his book. As we’ll see tomorrow, his treatment of the Garvey coverage gets more puzzling, not less.

McGowan’s account is strangely skewed. Maybe that’s why the “usual suspects” said the book was full of “half-truths, spin and inaccuracies.” But why in the world did Andrew Sullivan dismiss these critics so quickly and rudely? Could it be another case of instinctive deference to conservative mullahs? Could it be that a Blogistan sultan reflexively colored the news?

MORE NOTES FROM DEEPEST BLOGISTAN: What should the culture of Blogistan be? Often, its sultans judge on faith alone. Last Thursday, for example, Sullivan fatwahed:

SULLIVAN (7/25/02):
KRUGMAN EXTRA! Here’s a direct factual rebuttal of his recent column smearing the president for his role in the University of Texas Investment Management Co. (Utimco). It speaks for itself.
Here’s the background: Paul Krugman had made some allegations about UTIMCO’s management. The rebuttal came from an interested party, William Cunningham. Does anyone think that Sullivan knows who’s right and who’s wrong in this complex matter? The chances of that are vanishingly small. Despite that, Sullivan 1) asserted that Cunningham’s piece was “factual;” 2) accused Krugman of having lodged a “smear;” and 3), in a bit of consummate clowning, said that Cunningham’s column “speaks for itself.” That is the way the world’s mullahs judge. Welcome to the wild tribal regions which embarrass our dear, troubled Blogistan.

LIFE IN THESE UNITED STATES: Krugman pens a fascinating piece in today’s New York Times. At one point, he visits Tennessee:

KRUGMAN: The fact is that in recent years many states have been run like banana republics. Responsibility gave way to political opportunism, and in some cases to mob rule. When Tennessee considered a tax increase last year, legislators were intimidated by a riot stirred up by radio talk-show hosts. Only when lack of cash forced the governor to lay off half the work force did the state, which has the second-lowest per capita taxes in the country, face up to reality.

The only reason Tennessee doesn’t look like Argentina right now is that it isn’t a sovereign nation; since the federal budget was in good shape until recently, there’s a safety net.

Let’s hear it for those hapless Tennessee voters! Of course, they’re more commonly known, in press corps parlance, as “the people who know Al Gore best.”