Well, that didn’t take long.
After a firestorm of criticism today over their decision to run a profile of Michael Brown that called him “no angel” on the day of his funeral, the New York Times has (basically) apologized for the turn of phrase. Deeming it a “regrettable mistake,” public editor Margaret Sullivan posted a thoughtful discussion of the whole incident on her blog.
She got right to the point, pointing out the major criticisms of the article:
“Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: That choice of words was a regrettable mistake. In saying that the 18-year-old Michael Brown was ‘no angel’ in the fifth paragraph of Monday’s front-page profile, The Times seems to suggest that this was, altogether, a bad kid.
Some people take their protests further; they say that The Times is suggesting a truly repellent idea — that Mr. Brown deserved to die because he acted like many a normal teenager.”
She mentioned that the terming of the word “angel” was meant to contrast with the religious vision cited at the beginning of the original piece, but obviously missed the mark. Sullivan also said that the article’s author (John Eligon) actually objected to the way rapping was depicted:
“Mr. Eligon said he pressed his editors to make changes on parts of the article that dealt with rap. ‘Rapping is just rapping. It’s not indicative of someone’s character,’ he told me.”
She concluded her apology with a classic technique, acknowledging the Times’ culpability while also pointing out some of the things the article did well:
“In my view, the timing of the article (on the day of Mr. Brown’s funeral) was not ideal. Its pairing with a profile of Mr. Wilson seemed to inappropriately equate the two people. And ‘no angel’ was a blunder.
In general, though, I found Mr. Eligon’s reporting to be solid and thorough. I came away from the profile with a deeper sense of who Michael Brown was, and an even greater sense of sorrow at the circumstances of his death.”
While The Times will never be able to undo their decision to run the article, it’s at least good to know that they’re willing to own up to their mistake. What remains to be seen, though, is what (if any) impact this will have on how they report and edit future stories on Brown and Ferguson.