Bed-Stuy brownstones

[Note: Today’s essay is a guest column from Ron Howell, a Brooklyn guy and former colleague at the New York Daily News. He posted this in his own blog Brooklyn Ron and it’s re-posted here with permission.]

NY Times to Bed-Stuy: You’re Not Good Enough Yet for White People

Let’s concede something at the outset.The New York Times has the best foreign coverage among American newspapers. Yes, they colluded with George Bush to get us into Iraq, but they afterward covered the war with courage and skill.

The homefront is a different matter, and my frustration with the paper’s conduct here has lately been turning into anger. Its treatment of Bedford-Stuyvesant is the matter at hand.

Last month, Times reporter Michael Wilson entered the holy ground of Bed-Stuy (it is, indeed, a Mecca to me, the place where I was raised and that I still love) and he exited with a story that blasphemes the community and those who have long lived in it.

The article focused on an interracial group of young men (who met each other at Brooklyn College, another place that is specially dear to me) and together they rented an apartment “on the corner of Bainbridge Street and Howard Avenue.”

In summary, the article (headlined “Place Seemed Great, Till the Robbers Swarmed In”) recounted a robbery and horrific assault on the newcomers by young men, at least one of them armed. The new residents were beaten and naturally frightened out of their wits.

Police finally came to the scene and made arrests. This is the way an incident like this, which, if it occurred as reported, should end.

But here’s the irritating rub that is unfortunately so typical of the New York Times’s treatment of black and Latino communities in the city: Reporter Wilson made it clear that the only reason he was doing the story was that the victims included young whites.

The first quote in Wilson’s article, from one of the victims (a black victim but he was clearly referring to young interracial groups like theirs), is this: ‘’This is not the kind of neighborhood people like us move into.’’

Wilson seemed to agree with that assessment and in his writing appeared motivated by a desire to assure no others make the mistake these young guys did.

At the end of the piece, the victims ponder where they will live next, and they consider Bushwick. Yes, Bushwick. Residents of Bed-Stuy will get a kick out of that, that someone would leave their neighborhood to escape to – we say it again, almost incredulously – Bushwick.

Along these lines – geographical as well as metaphorical – one of the victims is reported in the story to be originally from Brownsville. Yes, Brownsville. On a personal note, in my family’s 114 years in Brooklyn, I know of only one relative who was murdered; and it was in Brownsville.

Because journalism has been the working side of my life for three and a half decades, the topic of newspapers often comes up in conversations; and around Bed-Stuy every time the Times is mentioned, the reaction is negative, mostly that the paper never cares about the place unless it’s about young whites.

Old homeowners get ticketed for sidewalk violations and double-parked cars continually (one Traffic Enforcement Agent shrugged and conceded to me that it happens more there than other neighborhoods); worse than that, folks sometimes get mugged or burglarized.

But rarely do even those latter occurrences warrant a mention in the “paper of record,” which boasts on its front page that it gives you “all the news that’s fit to print.”

Of course, you might have to pass a “brown paper bag test” before they deem you fit to be printed.

But hey, maybe you should give it a try. TheTimes tries to get readers and others to tell them everything that’s going on in the city. Reporter Wilson wrote his article for a column called “Crime Scene,” which invites you to send them messages so they can scoop the competition – at crimescene@nytimes.com.

Some black men around the country hold the Gray Lady (as the Times has been called) in absolute contempt, one such brother being writer Ishmael Reed, who complained in an online article that black men were routinely excluded from the Op-Ed page of the newspaper.

(Disclosure: Recently, I tried to push an article about the high mortality rate of black Ivy League graduates on the Times, and I finally gave up in disgust. It was an interesting and highly frustrating encounter, maybe to be detailed at another time.)

Expressing his feelings about the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Reed wrote (in his Dec. 2009 article on the Web site of Counter Punch) the following:

“I stopped reading the New York Times Magazine years ago weary of its parade of flesh-eating black cannibals, lazy and shiftless welfare mothers. (The Times’ coverage of Africa could be written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)”

Ouch. By the way, here’s a memory tweaker. Edgar Rice Burroughs was the creator of Tarzan. You should furthermore know, dear readers, that about a year after that Counter Punch article, Reed actually had a column on the Op-Ed page of The Times, where he complained about the negative images of blacks in the movie Precious.

Reed’s column was a victory for black men! But in the following months, black Op-Ed columnist Bob Herbert departed after years of writing progressive pieces about black people. I have no idea why he left. The silence has been deafening.

Both Reed and Herbert would find many like-hearted thinkers in Bedford Stuyvesant, yes, both black and white. Whites, apparently unbeknownst to reporter Wilson, have been moving into the community and falling in love with it and its marvelous brownstones and its marvelous people.

Presumably, few, if any, of those people are reporters for the New York Times; and if they are, they have little influence over its coverage.

[Note: Days after the above article, reporter Wilson did a follow-up, questioning one of the men arrested in the robbery/assaults. My and others’ suspicion is that Wilson was reacting to complaints — hopefully some of them  in-house — and he was under pressure to balance things. Let’s just say that the second article makes clear that certain points were, let’s say, missing from the first one. By way of discontent readers like me might feel, perhaps the attitude of the Times reporter and his line editors is like that of my colleagues at The New York Daily News, where I worked many years ago: Hey, if they can’t take a joke, fuck ’em.

Second article can be seen here. Remember, dear readers, one should always, always read between the lines, especially with the mainstream media, because transparency is not their forte.]

 

 

  1. Nina Lentini says:

    Hey, if they can’t take a joke, fuck ’em.

    Indeed!

  2. Madeline says:

    Yes — although a white woman raised in Bronx and Queens — I have often read the Times coverage of the “outer boroughs” with incredulity – as when they said a few years back in a weekend feature on the Bronx (and I paraphrase) that “on weekends everyone leaves the city,” and then they discovered this exotic land to the north, where folks actually stick around on weekends, hanging out at the beach and the block, etc . But now I understand: to the NYT, this is the “foreign coverage” that Howell lauds in his first graf. Unfortunately, this foreign country is in their backyard, and they should know better.

  3. josh says:

    i had read this article shortly after it came out and found it funny. bikesnobnyc’s take on it is pretty hilarious, its about halfway down this article: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2011/07/hard-times-is-preciousness-over.html

  4. paul says:

    his take is pretty funny and what i find especially humorous is the idea that, we tried bed-stuy, now let’s move to bushwick where it’s safer. someone does not know nyc nabes…..

  5. M. G. Stephens says:

    I grew up in Bed-Stuy, and have written about it in my writing, but have been out of of country for many years. I read Ishmael Reed on Facebook and really enjoy his point-of-view, which is always refreshing, intelligent, and sometimes very funny. The idea that mugged neophyte Bed-Stuyers move to Bushwick is hilarious, and so is your observation about the only family murder in Brownsville–priceless! My mother’s family go back to one of the earliest mixed-race families in Bed-Stuy – the Drews. If only I could live on one of those brownstoned streets now…if only…

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