We invite Coates to take The Challenge!

TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 2013

New York Times baldly misstates: Wow. In its current invention of The Other, there seems to be little the New York Times isn’t willing to say and do.

Yesterday, it was a columnist. Today, it is reporter Kim Severson, in the newspaper’s news report about Paula Deen, who is being invented.

As she starts her news report, Severson makes the highlighted claim you see below—but her claim is just blatantly wrong. So it always has gone when we invent The Other:
SEVERSON (6/25/13): Paula Deen’s troubles intensified on Monday as she scrambled to cope with allegations that she and people in her restaurants have been insensitive or worse to blacks, women and other groups.

Smithfield Foods, whose hams and other products Ms. Deen has endorsed since 2006, severed its relationship with her Monday. Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, has been the flagship in Ms. Deen’s collection of at least 17 licensing and endorsement partnerships.

At issue is Ms. Deen’s admission in a court deposition that she has used racial slurs and jokes that denigrate blacks.

“Smithfield condemns the use of offensive and discriminatory language and behavior of any kind,” Keira Lombardo, a Smithfield spokeswoman, said in a statement Monday. “Smithfield is determined to be an ethical food industry leader and it is important that our values and those of our spokespeople are properly aligned."
Those are Severson’s first four grafs. The highlighted statement strikes us as blatantly false.

Is there any way Severson doesn’t know that? Is there any possible way her editors don’t know?

Did Deen really admit in that deposition that she “has used racial slurs and jokes that denigrate blacks?”

Regarding the racial slurs, we’d call that statement grossly misleading. Like Severson, we don’t know how Deen actually talks. But in her deposition, she describes using a racial slur, the N-word, on one occasion, apparently in 1986.

She says she may have used the N-word on other occasions in repeating disputes between employees. At some length, she advances the claim that she, and others in the South, have rejected use of that word since the 1960s.

We don't know how Paula Deen talks—but that is all to which she “admits” in her deposition. Meanwhile, Severson quotes Smithfield as it “condemns the use of offensive and discriminatory language,” but she fails to note that Deen does the same in her deposition.

If we were country folk ourselves, we’d say she’s a-pickin’ and a-choosin’.

Regarding “jokes that denigrate blacks,” we’d have to say that Severson’s statement is just blatantly false.

Like Severson, we don’t know if Deen actually “uses” such jokes. But in her deposition, Deen explicitly says that she doesn’t tell racial jokes, although she wearily says at one point, “Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.”

For what it’s worth, it’s also true that the person who is suing Deen and her brother said, in her own deposition, that she has never heard Deen “make a racist remark.”

You’re allowed to know that if you live in the South. Not so if you read the Times.

We think Severson’s passage is quite amazing, even as the Times pleases its self-impressed readers by inventing The Other. For that reason, we are asking Ta-Nehisi Coates to take The Kim Severson Challenge!

For ourselves, we’re fans of Coates, although we thought there were some odd aspects to his post about Deen. In our view, it’s somewhat odd to write just eight paragraphs about someone, but to start like this:
COATES (6/24/13): Paula Deen was born in Southwest Georgia, a portion of our country known for its rabid resistance to the civil rights advancements of the mid-20th century. It was in Southwest Georgia that Martin Luther King joined the Albany Movement. It was in Southwest Georgia that Shirley and Charles Sherrod fought nonviolently for the voting rights that were theirs by law. It was in Southwest Georgia that Shirley Sherrod's cousin, Bobby Hall, was lynched. It was in Southwest Georgia that Shirley Sherrod's father was shot down by a white man. This man was never punished.

A few months ago I was interviewing a gentleman who'd migrated up from the South in the 1930s. When I asked him why he'd left, he said he was looking for "protection of the law." It is crucial that we remember that the South, for black people, was not just the home of "Colored Only" water-fountains, but was a kind of perpetual anarchic terrorist state. There was no law.
Do we normally form our judgments of people by describing the bad behavior, even the murderous behavior, of other people, long ago, in the area where they were born? Or is this the sort of thing we find ourselves doing when we’re inventing The Other?

Since Dr. King was mentioned there, does this seem like the way he said we should form judgments of people?

We also thought it was somewhat odd to see Deen flayed for a (highly edited) clip in which she is essentially praying for the day when racial prejudice is gone.

Granted, she seems extremely clueless in her interaction with the young black man she introduces as her “son by another father.” Beyond that, we wouldn't want to live in a world where every man we knew had a racial joke.

But the country is full of people who are, or seem to be, deeply clueless in various ways. Many of these clueless people work for the New York Times, where they are guaranteed immunity from criticism by other professionals.

People like Deen will be torn limb from limb. Folk at the Times get a pass.

Whatever! For those two reasons, and for one more, we invite Coates to take The Kim Severson Challenge.

Our third reason is this: Reading the comments to Coates’ piece, we saw quite a few commenters repeating facts not in evidence. Presumably, they had read bogus accounts of the Deen deposition, and they were repeating those bogus facts.

For all these reasons, we urge Coates to take The Severson Challenge. However odd Deen’s conduct may seem on that tape, that passage by Severson strikes us as stranger. Our challenge would be this:

Write a post in which readers are told about the way the New York Times functions.

Granted, this is a dangerous challenge. Coates is published by the Times. Trust us: This can end quite fast.

That said, Coates’ readers deserve to be told about the way this horrible newspaper functions. It has functioned this way for a very long time, as Frank Bruni reminds us this morning.

Bruni toys with his facts a bit too, though not as crazily as Severson. We remember his conduct in 1999 and 2000, when he was appointed to serve as Candidate Bush's puppy.

He toyed with facts all through that campaign, including the major facts he withheld. (They turned up later in his book.) Today, he's upset by Deen's imperfections.

In each case, he was and is accepting the drift of his guild.

So go ahead, Coates! Take the Severson Challenge! Your readers deserve to hear the truth about what Kim Severson said.

Severson is inventing The Other. This sort of thing rarely ends well. In this instance, the process of inventing The Other carries the unmistakable look of a blatant misstatement.

Is that sort of behavior OK? It has been for a long time!

Final point about guild courage: According to Bruni, Severson, the brave truth-teller, is the person who interviewed Deen on that tape that day. She said nothing about Deen's remarks in real time. She said nothing later on.

Today, with her guild on a tear, Severson seems to be lying. We would say she's inventing The Other, a process which rarely ends well.


  1. Umm, get your facts straight. While Coates has published in the Times as a guest columnist, he's normally published by the Atlantic, so I don't think he has any special responsibility for unearthing errors in the Times.

    1. Umm, you didn't correct any facts, Bill.

      While no one said or implied Coates has any "special responsibility," it would be a useful thing for him to do, and well within his operating field.

    2. IMHO "published by the Times" falsely implies he's a writer/columnist for the Times, particularly with the "dangerous" bit, which seems to imply if he criticized the Times he'd lose something. He's not a Times writer. That's a fact.

      If I misunderstood the intention, then I apologize.

    3. a lot of straws in your hands...

  2. Really important analyses and just how the New York Times is destroying truth in reporting on Ms. Deen.

  3. I am not a lawyer and don’t know the details of law when it comes to libel but what the Times, Salon and Huffington Post among others are doing seem libelous to me and clearly Paula Deen is being injured by it. In my job if I so blatently misrepresented facts I would be fired.

  4. It's horrifying. If downright falsehoods aren't being told about this woman, errors of omissions further distort the the facts.

    It's horrifying. I would never suggest that Deen is not complicit in hawking some of the most shallow bullshit mythology that is rife in our region, but she does seem to come by it honestly. She does seem to be a real live example of the sort of cognitive dissonance juggling act that is part and parcel of so many psyches here.

    That said, does this make Deen poster-child of white-privilege assumptions? Paula Deen? Because the narrative seems to be that even if Deen is not a racist, she's at least guilty of the an elitism based upon the effects of melanin in our culture.

    I suppose if you believe that the country is endemically racist, Paula Deen is easier to take down than Justice Scalia, as you symbol for all that is wrong in the world, but isn't she just too soft a target? Doesn't she come with some troubling contradictions-- a poor woman who worked hard and built a multi-million dollar business?

    Is this the best pariah fodder we can find? And should we mete out this sort public punishment for no greater sin than being a silly shallow southerner with limited education and a specious sense of history.

    I ask because frankly, I'm personally scared to death...

  5. “Smithfield is determined to be an ethical food industry leader and it is important that our values and those of our spokespeople are properly aligned."

    Smithfield claiming to be an ethical food industry leader is probably the biggest falsehood in the story;>

    1. You know, Deen rightly gets a lot of knocks for her cooking. The funniest and worst example that I have seen linked is a fried banana and ham casserole.

      However, it's my guess thatshe could avoided some of this if she had not been so naive about the gentry class in this country. If she had said "bon appetite" as she rendered duck fat and as she worked pound after pound of butter into puff pastry, as Julia Child did. Maybe then she would have been spared this current devastation.

      Southern cooking is largely dreck, with no snob appeal, and rightly so. If only Deen had claimed to be influenced by French and Cuban cuisine, and made some sort of pretentious appeal to busy careerists that would cause our elites to further admire their reflection in the mirror, perhaps she could have escaped.

      I suppose that's a tall wish for someone who didn't have the presence of mind to lie about never having used a racist appellation, but I can't help wondering.

    2. Quaker in a BasementJune 26, 2013 at 2:05 AM

      Southern cooking is largely dreck, with no snob appeal, and rightly so.

      Says you. Pass the biscuits.

    3. "Southern cooking is largely dreck, with no snob appeal".

      I'll take first rate Southern BBQ over any other cuisine.

    4. I agree entirely, but for the most part, southern cuisine is more a concept than anything else.

      It's not something we're actually eating, it's something that nearly always harks backs to the real stuff when mama or Billy Joe's Diner dished it up.

  6. "For ourselves, we’re fans of Coates ... "

    For God's sake, why? The man is tribal as tribal can be, as his coverage of the Zimmerman matter showed.

  7. After reading The Daily Howler, I emailed The New York Times asking for a correction. The reply is pasted in below. Note how the Senior Editor's evidence that Deen told racial jokes comprises segment in her deposition where she describes the content of a typical racial joke. How's that for some shoddy reasoning for you?

    Reply from NYT Senior Editor:

    Thanks for writing. I’m going through the deposition right now, and it seems to me that she admitted in multiple places to using racial jokes. For example, when asked about what/who her jokes targeted, she said:

    “That’s – that’s kind of hard. Most – most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target – I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know.”

    The Times, to my knowledge, hasn’t done a breakdown of Deen’s exact remarks, but other sites have. Here’s a Daily Beast article which mentions them:


    To me, there appears to be a fair amount of evidence indicating that our statement was correct. I don’t think a correction is necessary.


    Zach Johnk
    Assistant to the Senior Editor, Standards
    The New York Times