New York Times Writer Apologizes for Michael Brown Description
New York Times writer John Eligon has apologized for his description of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot multiple times by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer although the teen allegedly had his hands up in surrender.
Eligon, who is African-American, penned a news article for the Times on Sunday in which he described Brown as “no angel.”
His description of Brown immediately caused an uproar on social media.
Eligon apologized for using the phrase “no angel,” but his apology did not seem to extend much further than that.
“I understand the concerns, and I get it,” he said in an interview with Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan.
Eligon said that “no angel” was not the best phrase to use, but also insisted that the article was “about as positive as you can get.”
Eligon said that if he wishes he had used a phrase like “wasn’t perfect” as opposed to “no angel” and added “hindsight is 20/20.”
Eligon added that posting the article on the day of Brown’s funeral was a poor decision.
To be clear, the outrage was not just about the use of the phrase “no angel,” but rather that the article seemed to focus heavily on Brown’s disciplinary issues, while in other articles written by the Times, white suspects and convicted criminals are rarely cast in such poor light.
The article was yet another example of the media’s tendency to criminalize Black victims, while showcasing white suspects positively.
Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, posted several articles on Twitter that revealed the shocking difference.
While the Times article about Brown described him as “no angel” and a troublemaker, the serial killer, Unabomber, was described as a “shaggy-bearded eccentric” who lived a “simple, back-to-nature life” and hated technology.
The Unabomber, whose real name is Theodore John Kaczynski, killed three people and injured 23 others between 1978 until he was captured in 1996.
McElwee also compared Brown’s description to that of another teen, Eric Harris, one of the 1999 Columbine High School shooters.
Harris’ description by the Times highlighted that he was “good with computers,” and discussed files that “provided a glimpse at a teenager who seemed less angry and morbid than in the other postings attributed to him.” Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 23 people.
Even John Wayne Gacy of Chicago, also known as the Killer Clown, was described as being a “prosperous” business owner in a Times article that detailed Gacy’s final meal request of “fried chicken, french fries, a cola and fresh strawberries.”
Gacy was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of at least 33 teenage boys and young men during his killing spree, which lasted from 1972 to 1978.
These cases of media framing presented the public with Gacy as the prosperous business owner who loves fried chicken; the Unabomber as the nature-loving eccentric; Harris as the misunderstood teen who was great with computers; and Brown, the trouble-making teenager who talked back to his parents and was up to no good.
Other criticisms of Eligon’s article pointed to the use of the phrase “no angel,” when the description of Brown’s life appeared to be that of the average American teenager.
“Brown’s ‘no angel’ because most teens aren’t smoking and drinking,” one user tweeted with a thumbs up emoji.
“Very noble of NYT to depict Mike Brown as ‘no angel’ as if EVERY OTHER NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER doesn’t ‘dabble’ in the same things. Jesus, ” another tweet read.
Other tweets compared the Brown’s profile to those of the late actor Robin Williams or former president George W. Bush, and questioned why the Times didn’t write disparagingly about their drug use and run-ins with the law.