Blade reporter responds to criticism over Wilson coverageWritten by Administrator | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Free Press received the following e-mail Jan. 19 from The Blade political writer Tom Troy:
Never, to my knowledge, has my reporting been analyzed at such length. Thanks for the attention. However, I think a lot of your conclusions and characterizations are wrong.
First, in regard to identifying Larry Sykes as an African-American, he states in the story that he feels personally insulted. Identifying his race helps explain why he feels personally insulted. It also shows the reader that he knows whereof he speaks.
Secondly, I don’t take personally that I am the object of Wilson’s “derision.” It’s part of the business we’re in. We at times disagree.
Thirdly, in response to how I “most likely” told my sources that the quote was directly referring to TPS students. Why would you assume that? In fact, I did not tell anyone that the quote made a direct characterization of TPS students as monkeys. To each person I called I explained Wilson’s set-up and read the exact quote. They didn’t need to be prompted. I checked back with Vasquez and he told me that nothing he learned subsequently made him think that Wilson’s comments had been misrepresented by The Blade.
Fourthly, How is this a crack in the story: “The first crack in The Blade’s mission to sink Wilson came from Bell, when Jennifer Sorgenfrei, public information officer for the City of Toledo, said, “[The mayor’s] statement was in direct response to the portion of audio he was provided by The Blade,” the first public indicator that this mess originated with the daily paper of record.” Did the mayor retract his remark? If so, I’m not aware of it.
Fifth, Brian Wilson is the one that threw out the monkey reference. He’s a professional. He knows what the word connotes when he’s talking about how to teach students in Toledo Public Schools. Anyway, it was a bad analogy. Monkeys don’t need to be taught to peel bananas. They do it instinctively, like swinging on vines. It’s not a parlor trick. Teaching dogs to walk on their hind legs or dolphins to balance a beach ball on their noses would be parlor tricks, and would have made Wilson’s point without the egregious offensiveness – or at least less offensively. But no, we have to go with monkeys.
Sixth, contrary to your column, the very first story that appeared in The Blade fully explained the context of Wilson’s remarks, including this paragraph: Following the “monkey” reference, Mr. Wilson explained that, “similarly, the children, just because you can teach them the answers to what are the capitals of the 50 states of America – that’s a fun exercise, but it does not teach them how to think, it doesn’t teach them how to be objective, it doesn’t teach them how to be entrepreneurs and individuals, and things of that order.”
Seventh, why does not putting quotes around “little monkeys” qualify as “more fact-based reporting”?
Eighth, regarding these two paragraphs: The unsigned editorial also includes this puzzler: “Comparing humans with lesser primates is, of course, a standard racial insult.” Really? Think about the stunning implications of that statement. There’s no outrage in it, just a ho-hum admission that “That’s just the way it is.”First, you know as a journalist that editorials are always unsigned. Second, we quoted respected African-Americans making this point. I refer you back to the story. Third, we gave examples from history of where mentioning primates in connection with African-Americans was offensive.
Finally, I am very proud of The Blade’s handling of this story and of my own part in it. We did not misquote Brian Wilson. We did not take his remarks out of context. We supplied readers with the exact context and we gave Mr. Wilson the opportunity to explain more fully his reference. We also gave station general manager and vice president Andy Stuart the opportunity to respond and he chose not to, and throughout the weekend we left him messages offering to report his reaction. I think it’s telling that when Andy Stuart finally commented he characterized Brian Wilson’s apology as more of an apology than it actually was. Here”s what Andy said: “He told his listeners that while he did not mean to offend anyone, and was not making a comparison to Toledo’s students, he recognizes that his use of this word was inappropriate and he apologized for that.” As you said in your column, Wilson said he was sorry if anyone was offended by his remarks — which isn’t the same thing as being sorry for making the remarks.