Old Pro Journalists Debate the Redskins Slur and the New Journalism

Bill Mead and Mike Feinsilber are two veteran journalists.

Bill worked for United Press International in its Richmond, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington bureaus. He then moved  into magazine work as Washington correspondent for Money magazine and then as a writer and editor for the Washingtonian. He has authored six books on baseball history.

Mike spent a quarter century with United Press International in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Harrisburg, Newark, New York, Saigon, and Washington and about a quarter century with the Associated Press in Washington, with a spell as assistant bureau chief and a stint as writing coach. He was a deskman, reporter, and editor and he covered Congress and 18 political conventions.

Here is a complaint from Bill about a “disgracefully slanted” story by Dan Barry in Sunday’s New York Times and Mike’s reply:

Disgracefully slanted page one piece in NYT today about the WAPost poll regarding the Redskins name. It acknowledges the poll results but gratuitously inserts, in parens: (An interesting follow-up might be to spend a day or two at, say, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, walking up to random members of the Oglala Lakota community and calling them “redskin”—and recording how well that goes over.)

In other words, real Indians actually dislike the Redskins name? Dan Barry, the Times reporter, somehow knows how the South Dakota Indians feel? The poll results are invalid?

The piece also quotes at length a native American journalist in California: “These terms make it easier for people to think of us as Indians as not really Americans.” So I guess she’s a spokeswoman for the 10 percent. Or her opinion outweighs that of the 90 percent, none of whom are quoted.

Today’s WAPost piece is much better, recalling Obama’s suggestion a while ago that Dan Snyder change the team name and how that kicked off the controversy.

Hate to see a piece that tends to confirm the right-wing claim that NYT reporters and editors live in a lefty bubble, impervious to contrary facts.

Mike Feinsilber’s reply:

Well, Bill, the Times they are achangin’. Dan Barry went overboard, I agree (although he is a sports columnist, and that gives him some leeway, I guess, even if his piece wasn’t labeled a column or treated that way.) But I’ll take occasional journalistic overreach to the way you and I were taught to do it: “Jones asserted that the world was round but Smith averred it was flat.” 30, end of story. I like the license today’s journalists are given to call a spade a sturdy digging tool having a thick handle and heavy flat blade.

In Wednesday’s NYT, this graf appears:

Russian officials have responded to the accusations with both defiance and contrition. While often emphatically dismissing the claims as a Western conspiracy intended to discredit Russia, they have sometimes struck a more conciliatory tone, perhaps seeking to win the favor of sports officials in control of their country’s ability to compete in the coming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In our day, I think, we wouldn’t have been permitted to write the perhaps clause. Too speculative, too interpretive, no source cited, would have said the editor. I’m glad that guy’s been retired.

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