Sontag from Olympus: In this morning’s New York Times, you get to review some information about Rick Perry’s record as governor.
Deborah Sontag did the report. Eventually, she told you this:
SONTAG (10/10/11): One of his early acts was to appoint the first black justice to the Texas Supreme Court. A few months later, flanked by the parents of a black man who had been dragged to death behind a pickup truck, he signed a hate crimes bill that Mr. Bush had blocked. Over his three terms as governor, he has nurtured relationships with black leaders, including the head of the Texas N.A.A.C.P., who extols the governor’s open-mindedness.“Even his fiercest critics in Texas say that racism is not on their short, or even long, list of Mr. Perry’s sins,” Sontag reports a bit later. She quotes Gary Bledsoe, head of the state NAACP, saying this about Perry and charges/insinuations of racism: “I cannot imagine that he would have that kind of bias. I’ve never seen any of that in him.”
Last week, on MSNBC, similar assessments were offered by Texas journalist Wayne Slater and by James Moore, the Texas progressive who has written an unflattering book about Perry. Moore was co-author of the earlier book, Bush’s Brain. He appeared on last Monday’s Last Word:
MOORE (10/3/11): Well, I want to say that Rick Perry’s not a racist. This guy has appointed more African-Americans in this state of any governor in our history, the first chief justice African-American in the state Supreme Court of Texas. But it doesn’t surprise me because they’re clunky and they clearly did not vet their own candidate effectively, Lawrence. They should have done their own research and find out what stories are out there that could have been harmful.We're always impressed by people who are able to tell us who is and who isn't a racist.
And then they have all this issue of history in west Texas of not that many African-Americans that grew up around a largely white population. He brings that with him in his candidacy.
What is Perry like on race? For ourselves, we have no idea. By several assessments, even his critics say that just isn’t his problem. But before you got to read that assessment today, you had to read the passage which follows.
In our view, this is a hideous version of journalism—but it’s very typical New York Times work. This is the start of Sontag’s report:
SONTAG: Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who often waxes nostalgic about his small-town roots, grew up in an almost all-white rural area where many referred to slingshots as “niggershooters.” One elderly black resident recalls being introduced by her boss at a party decades back as “my maid, Nigger Mae Lou,” while just four years ago, a black high school student found a noose in his locker.That was the start of Sontag’s report. For what it’s worth, her first factual statement strikes us as highly misleading. Did Perry grow up in an “almost all-white rural area?” Not exactly, although it apparently makes the tale better. According to the Washington Post, Haskell County was roughly seven percent black in 1950. At that time, the black population of the U.S. as a whole was just under ten percent.
In 1968, Mr. Perry left home for Texas A&M, a deeply conservative university whose yearbooks early in the century included Ku Klux Klan-robed students and a dairy group called the Kream and Kow Klub. The school, having just graduated its first two black undergraduates, was in the early throes of desegregation; at the end of Mr. Perry’s four years there, blacks still made up less than 1 percent of the student body.
“Almost all-white?” We’d call that a bit of a stretch. But journalism of this type is all about well-chosen stretches. Before Sontag gives us real news about Perry himself, we get to learn that Klan-robed students appeared in a yearbook around the turn of the last century, and that “many” people in Haskell County referred to slingshots by an offensive term when Perry was growing up there.
At the bagel joint we frequent, a friend told us that he has heard people in Baltimore refer to billy clubs in a similar way.
In our view, there’s a lot of silly shit in Sontag’s report. But if it’s silly stretches you like, plan to linger here:
SONTAG: Mr. Perry credits his Air Force experience in the mid 1970s, as a co-pilot and an aircraft commander, with exposing him to a more diverse world.Let’s count the qualifiers:
Still, Dale Scoggins, who served in his squadron, said that the experience might not have been quite as broadening as Mr. Perry says. Mr. Scoggins said that, although the enlisted ranks were integrated, he could not recall any nonwhite aircraft officers. And the travel kept them mostly tethered to American bases.
“I saw where he claimed he had an epiphany in his worldview,” said Mr. Scoggins, who is white, “but the idea that we immersed ourselves in local cultures is a reach.”
One person said the experience might not have been quite as broadening as Perry said! On a journalistic basis, that’s just sad. And no, Perry didn’t “claim he had an epiphany in his worldview.”
As she starts this morning’s report, Sontag writes from the heights of Olympus. After all that opening shit, she lets us know this: “By the time he inherited the governorship from George W. Bush in 2000, Mr. Perry appeared to have moved well beyond his racially sheltered background.”
We have no idea if that’s true. It's impressive to see that Sontag does. But by the logic of New York Times journalism, that “sheltered background” somehow included those college yearbooks from 1900. By the logic of New York Times journalism, horrible terrible people like Sontag get to write dumb-as-shit profiles like this.
As a general matter, we’d say Sontag comes from a sheltered background—and that things haven’t turned out real well.
Tomorrow: What the Post ombudsman said.