Patterico's Pontifications

8/2/2005

When Race is “Relevant” at the Washington Post

Filed under: Crime,Media Bias,Political Correctness,Race — Patterico @ 6:59 am



Michelle Malkin alerts us to a doozy of an example of racial political correctness in the Washington Post. The paper ran a story about local killers at large, and repeated the police description of the killers — but removed their race. It wasn’t “relevant,” you see.

Meanwhile, wait ’till you see when the paper does consider race relevant. (You’ll have to read to the end.)

Here are the details:

A July 24 article by the paper’s ombudsman, Michael Getler, sets the stage:

The story, by reporters Allison Klein and Philip Rucker, reported that one of the robbers shot and killed Herminio Moscoso, a 26-year-old father of two, as he came to the aid of his younger brother, who had a gun put to his head by one of the four men who had surrounded him. About 15 minutes later, the men fatally shot William Everette Miller, a 46-year-old mechanic, as he tried to get away from the robbers at a gas station where he had gone to get cigarettes. After the two murders, the four men committed two more robberies that same morning.

The story reported that: “Police are looking for the gunmen, described as being in their late teens or early twenties, driving a newer-model tan or light-colored sedan.”

The news release put out by the Prince George’s County Police Department was more specific. It said: “The four suspects are described as black males, possibly late teens or early twenties. One of the suspects is about 5’7″, 22-25 years old, wearing a gray long sleeve T-shirt, and cornrow hairstyle. The suspect’s vehicle is described as a newer model tan or beige/light colored sedan.” The Post did not report the race of the suspects or the details that were available on one of them.

(All emphasis in this post is mine.) Getler doesn’t mention that the suspects may have been involved in a string of robberies beyond the four mentioned in the article. This is something I learned from reading another recent Washington Post article, which also omitted the race of the suspects:

County detectives are working with D.C. police, who are investigating 16 robberies and attempted holdups at gas stations in the District since June 1. Investigators believe those crimes are being committed by at least two groups of gunmen.

The robberies have occurred in Northeast and Southeast Washington, and several closely resemble the robberies and carjackings that occurred Monday in Prince George’s, police said.

That article says that many of the victims have been surprised:

Thirteen of the robberies in the District occurred between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., and many of the victims were on their way to work when the holdups occurred — a fact that worries police because motorists might not be paying attention to their surroundings at such hours, Burkett-Jones said.

As many as four assailants — two of whom were armed — have participated in some of the holdups.

The robbers “are dangerous; they are toting guns,” said Burkett-Jones, who added that the victims didn’t realize they were being robbed until the gunmen demanded cash. “It all catches them by surprise.”

Gee . . . I wonder if it contributes to the “surprise” that the victims don’t know who to watch out for?

Not surprisingly, some readers (who are also residents of the area) were a bit miffed at the Post. They wrote Getler and asked him why the full description of the suspects was not reported. Here’s what he said:

When I asked editors about this, they cited the paper’s guidelines on race and relevancy. The guidelines say: “In general, race and ethnic background should not be mentioned unless they are clearly relevant. They are obviously relevant in stories about civil rights issues, the problems or achievements of minority groups, cultural history and racial conflict. They are also relevant and should be used in crime stories when we have enough specific identifying information to publish a police description of a suspect who is being sought.”

Sounds like our case, right? Wrong, according to Post editors:

Metro editors said it was their “view that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of black men about 5’7″ with cornrows between ages 22-25 in Prince George’s and (nearby) D.C. That is not specific enough detail to avoid a mass of innocent black men being ‘suspects.’ “ Metro’s top editor, Robert McCartney, said, “This strikes me as a judgment call: How specific does the description need to be before we provide the identifying information?” Our experienced editors, he said, “thought this call was the right one, given Post Stylebook guidelines.”

So why did the paper print the fact that the gunmen were “driving a newer-model tan or light-colored sedan”?? Aren’t there hundreds or thousands of men driving new light-colored sedans? Aren’t they all going to become suspects now?

It turns out Post readers are a lot more sensible than Post editors. Getler reports:

Here’s what a reader in Prince George’s County said: “There are evidently four violent murderers of random civilians at large in the county in which I live.” He then cited The Post’s description of the suspects and added, “That is not true. The police are looking for people using a more specific description than that, one that includes race. The Post took that information out. I know The Post usually defends this practice by saying that ‘four white teenagers’ [or African American or Asian American or Latino teenagers] provides information that is no more useful than saying ‘two teenagers.’ Maybe. The police certainly disagree. I think I do, too. But once you’ve added the fact that the murderers are driving a ‘newer model tan or light-colored sedan,’ any additional descriptive factor at all becomes powerful, enough for investigators to do effective work with. It’s also useful information for those of us filling up our gas tanks at 7 a.m. near where the robbers/murderers prowl.

“The Post’s decision to strip useful identifying information out of its crime stories strikes me not only as empirically wrong but also paternalistic,” he said. “I suppose it would be ad hominem for me to add that those of us who live in the areas suffering waves of violent crime care more about this stuff than do senior editors.”

Now, here’s the kicker. We now know the impossibly high standard the Washington Post has set for the inclusion of race as a relevant factor in a story. Not reporting someone’s race could contribute to readers being killed, and it still may not be considered relevant enough. Which is why you’ll clutch your sides with bitter and ironic laughter when you read this passage from a recent Washington Post story about John Roberts:

Colleagues say Roberts, then a recent Harvard Law School graduate and clerk to Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, was an ideologically close fit with the other special assistants to Smith and his top appointees. The special assistants were mostly white males in their twenties who ate lunch almost daily with Smith in his private dining room and then worked late into the night to advance the administration’s views.

(Via Ankle Biting Pundits, via the same Malkin post.)

Now that’s relevant!

Those of us who read William McGowan’s excellent book Coloring the News are not going to be surprised by this. That book makes clear that the Post has perhaps the most politically correct newsroom in America when it comes to racial issues like this. That’s almost certainly why the description of the suspects’ skin color was removed from the story, but the description of their cars was left in. Drivers of light-colored sedans in the Post newsroom weren’t going to complain about the description of the car in the story, but the black staffers at the Post would have revolted if the story had reported the criminals’ skin color. I’ll bet you anything that the guidebook had nothing to do with it — it was racial politics in the newsroom that drove what was included in (and excluded from) the story.

This is not the first time this has happened at the Post, and it won’t be the last.

So, no, it’s not surprising. But it doesn’t make it any less distressing.

P.S. One last fact Getler failed to mention in his column: the day before he wrote it, one suspect in the string of violent robberies was arrested by D.C. police, based on a “tip from the community.” What do you want to bet that tip didn’t come from someone who learned about the suspect by reading the Washington Post?

6 Responses to “When Race is “Relevant” at the Washington Post”

  1. And we also know that robbers and murderers always use the same vehicle during every crime … so when four unknown colored persons approach from a blue vehicle, it can’t be the same guys.

    We can only hope that at some time, this type of PC BS comes back to bite those who adamantly subscribe to it.

    MOG (dc4967)

  2. The sad fact is that, if the perps had been white, the Post probably would have included that in their story. Because then, it would’ve been news.

    If the information’s not there, you can probably conclude race from the omission.

    Karl Maher (910b19)

  3. Counting on the Post for accurate reporting is like relying on Joe Biden to formulate an original opinion. You’re bound to be disappointed.

    directorblue (bb8032)

  4. At least they’re not looking for two white men in a white van.

    Veeshir (68e89d)

  5. The Post: selective inclusion of relevant material

    I guess Patterico is on to something… the Post doesn’t seem to be consistent about when they think facts are worth mentioning in an article and when they don’t…

    ThoughtsOnline (e37e4c)

  6. The post wants its readers to assume that criminals are black unless noted otherwise?

    AJ (8efe26)


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