The New York Times attempts to report!


Race in the national parks: Sometimes, the New York Times attempts to engage in reporting.

Sometimes, these attempts at reporting appear on the paper’s front page. That’s what happened yesterday via this front-page report about race and the national parks.

Kirk Johnson reported from La Push, Washington. This is the way he began:
JOHNSON (9/6/13): Thrusting out into the Pacific Ocean, Olympic National Park can feel like a lost world, with its ferny rain forests, violent surf and cloud-shrouded peaks.

But to the four women who hiked down to the sand one recent afternoon, there was an added element of strangeness: race.
As we’ve told you, the New York Times [HEART] race. As such, this “strangeness” in the national parks seemed to be right up their alley.

On the other hand, the New York Times isn’t real big on facts, statistics or information. This is how Johnson continued:
JOHNSON (continuing directly): “We’ve been here for two days, walking around, and I can’t think of any brown person that I’ve seen,” said Carol Cain, 42, a New Jersey resident of Dominican and Puerto Rican roots, who was zipped up tight in her hooded, dripping rain jacket.

The National Park Service knows all too well what Ms. Cain is talking about. In a soul-searching, head-scratching journey of its own, the agency that manages some of the most awe-inspiring public places is scrambling to rethink and redefine itself to the growing number of Americans who do not use the parks in the way that previous—mostly white—generations did.

Only about one in five visitors to a national park site is nonwhite, according to a 2011 University of Wyoming report commissioned by the Park Service, and only about 1 in 10 is Hispanic—a particularly lackluster embrace by the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.
Only twenty percent of visitors to the national parks are nonwhite, Johnson reported. Only ten percent are Hispanic, an embrace which is “particularly lackluster.”

But as Ed McMahon might have asked, How lackluster is it? At no point did Johnson supply the basic statistics that would let a Times reader say.

Forget about visitors to national parks. What percentage of the national population is nonwhite? Presumably, few Times readers can answer that question—and it didn’t occur to Johnson’s editor that this report ought to say.

What percentage of the national population is white/nonwhite/Hispanic? Since we ourselves didn’t know, we decided to check—and frankly, the embrace of the parks didn’t seem enormously “lackluster” once we took that side trip.

That said, the questions here can get a bit tricky, because more than half of Hispanics are white.

We know, we know! This distinction created a ton of confusion and snark during the past year's discussions of George Zimmerman. And in many areas, this distinction is ignored.

Education statistics typically divide the student population into white, black and Hispanic, for example. No further questions are asked.

That said, it’s amazing to see a report of this type which doesn’t even attempt to provide the relevant national statistics as a point of comparison. But that’s the nature of the New York Times! On the one hand, the paper loves its front-page reports about race. On the other hand, facts and information tend to bore its hired hands.

Is twenty percent a lot or a little? If that represents a lackluster embrace, just how lackluster is it? In the course of our search, we looked at this. Following that, we clicked to this.

After we had refreshed ourselves, the turn-out in the national parks didn’t seem gigantically shocking, depending on the kinds of statistic the national parks are using. But that isn’t the point of our post.

Our point involves the reflexive failure to include even the most basic facts in the New York Times, our greatest and smartest newspaper. Is twenty percent a lot or a little? It didn’t seem to occur to the Times that they ought to provide the kind of information that lets a reader say.

As a general matter, the Times [HEART] race. It just doesn’t care all that much about facts. It’s soft on information.

It isn’t just the Times: Inevitably, Salon offered a reaction to the Times report. So did the New Republic, in an earlier piece to which Salon linked.

Neither piece attempted to place the Times report in a wider statistical context.

Twenty percent of visitors to the national parks are nonwhite. But how does that compare to the percentage of the national population?

Neither piece attempted to say. If we want to be truthful about it, are the kids all right?


  1. Even if attendance were far lower than 20%, isn't it likely that national parks--all of which cost all attendees money for travel, food, and lodging--would pull its patrons from fairly well-funded demographics?

  2. Important criticism and beyond all excuse for the New York Times not to set the data in context.

  3. Great post, Bob. It's hard to fully plumb the stupidity of this article. Here are three more points

    1. The article begins in a park west of Seattle, Washington. I imagine that more of the visitors come from nearby I believe that this area has a lower percentage of blacks and Hispanics, so it's not surprising that most of the visitors are white.

    2. So what! What's the significance if, on average, blacks, Hispanics, and whites use our national parks at different rates? This average doesn't affect any particular family or individual. There's no law restricting the use of parks by ethnic group. Any family, white, black, Hispanic, or whatever, has the same opportunity to visit a national park if they want to.

    3. I think it promotes racism to focus on ethnic group, when ethnicity doesn't matter. It would be equally useful (that is, not useful at all) to see whether the parks are less used by actuaries, or by redheads, or by people with no middle name. People should be treated as individuals, not as pieces of an entity.

    P.S. I once spent a week in Olympic National Park. It rained most of the time. Maybe blacks and Hispanics prefer to hike in areas with better weather. :)

    1. I think politically there is value in trying to promote the National Park System to all Americans and if some groups haven't traditionally utilized the parks then it makes sense to figure out why and see if more can be done. These parks are great things for everybody. All kids should spend time in at least one or two of them. It should be part of a normal American education, whether you are poor or not. We all come from nature. The more people spend time in these parks or at least in some kind of wildlands, then the more likely they care about the environment.

  4. This is a clear-eyed view. What does the 20% mean, if accurate? Does the New York Times expect us to divine the meaning?

  5. IMHO The New York Times covers race in an unbalanced way. They much prefer to report news where the black person is a victim. E.g., if minorities made disproportionately greater use of national parks, I don't think that would have been a front page story. The Times likes the story, because minorities are being deprived of something (even though the decision to visit a national park is strictly one's individual choice.)

    Anyhow, slightly off topic, there's a tragic story today about a black man who announced, "I'm going to knock out the next white person who walks by." He then hit a 63-year old white man, who is brain dead and expected to die. I read this article in a British newspaper. See

    Even though the attack occurred in New York City, the New York Times currently has no report at all on it. (I verified that by putting the name of the assailant and the name of the victim into the Times' search engine.)

  6. OMB (Is 20 too high for folk who type with 10 digits?)

    Glad BOB can click on Wikipedia in his effort to prove how dumb the NY Times is. Too bad he couldn't click on the actual study referenced in the article. Then he could have done a piece on how dumb both the NY Times and the people who did the study are, since they are guilty of the same error of omission as the Times.

    BUT WAIT! (As said on TV) THERE'S MORE!

    BOB again picks the low hanging fruit target that forms his narrative of how the press reports studies badly by leaving out relevant numbers and points of comparison. This lets BOB demonstrate just how dumb he is as well.

    "Is twenty percent a lot or a little? It didn’t seem to occur to the Times that they ought to provide the kind of information that lets a reader say." So sez BOBster the master of missing numerology.

    But earlier he said, "the questions here can get a bit tricky, because more than half of Hispanics are white."

    Yes, very tricky BOB. How much more than half? 51%? 65%? 83%? Once again, right in the midst of a triumphant demonstration of foolish journalistic arts, BOB does exactly what he criticizes the half wits in the media for doing.

    Oh, and before the BOBfans jump in and tell me my point doesn't matter, rest assured such an assertion means that BOB's whole thread doesn't matter.

    BUT WAIT! Read on and Get 2 Comments for the price of 1

    Emperor B (GOTT)

    1. Your comments get more and more nonsensical as you go along. Word salad of the highest order.

  7. OMB (Just add shipping and handling)

    By going to the study itself BOB would discover that the NY Times made a giant factual error while fudging the data. And since BOB here accepts, embellishes, and then repeats the error as truth, he, like TNR and Salon whom he criticizes here, passes the error along Al Gore's initiated creation for some other chump to repeat and link back to BOB as the source.

    "Only twenty percent of visitors to the national parks are nonwhite, Johnson reported. Only ten percent are Hispanic, an embrace which is “particularly lackluster.”"

    So said BOB. Except the Times' Johnson didn't say that. He wrote "only about one in five" and "only about 1 in 10."

    "About" is a fudge word BOB. Since you like to "fudge" with words like "seems" and "suggests," you should recognize fudge whenever it is packed into a report like this. When the lovely word "only" gets added as a preface to "about," the fudge is slippery indeed.

    But there is a bigger piece of fruit you missed again, BOB, like you do every time you pull this stunt. The study does not report "only about one in five" or "20%" of the National Park visitors were non-white. It reports that about one in five, or 20% were non-white and Hispanic whites combined. Together these groups made up 30% of the respondents. In other words you are once again criticizing the lack of comparative data for data that is misreported in the first place. And, just as was the case in your BMW study, even the correct figures are misleading. The study does not report the race and ethnicity of National Park visitors. It reports the results of a telephone survey in which respondents were asked if they visited a National Park in the last two years. If you read the study, it is pretty apparent the respondents aren't exactly telling the pollsters the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And they undersampled non-Hipsnic whites. No matter. To use your lovely way with words, "but that isn’t the point of our post."

    The point of our post is that in your effort to further your narrative you bemoan the missing trees without realizing there is a phony forest in the first place. Why doesn't the poverty striken PeePaw of the blogosphere ever go to a real source? Doesn't he care about real social science?

    Emperor B (GOTT)

    1. So, Emperor B, what your saying is that the situation is EVEN WORSE than Bob reports. Wow. You've managed to discredit The Daily Howler's entire mission in one fell swoop. (Yeah, that was sacrcasm.)

    2. No, cacambo, but you have managed to demonstrate the mindset of BOB and his reader/fans.

      It has never been my purpose to discredit BOB's TDH mission. My purpose is to demonstrate that the standard to which BOB purports to hold others is on he often fails to meet in the very post in which he is leveling ine of his favorite critiques.

      But yes, I am saying BOB fails to recognize bigger flaws in the NYTimes piece in addition to misreporting them himself while utilizing the very tactic he deplores in his central thesis.

      And some of the people who worship him for doing they very thing I am doing to him get upset with me for trying to play BOB. It insults the chief and thus their tribe.

      Emperor B (GOTT)

    3. Wow. I suppose what goes around comes around EB GOTT. This is mind-blowingly meta. Or mandalbrotian. Or post-cambrian. Whatever.

      Perhaps in your imitation of BOB, you've taking on his most glaring character deficiencies. His arrogance, silly obsessions with marginalia, and dripping condescension appear in most of your posts as well. Dance with the devil, I suppose...

      As a loyal member of Bob's tribe for many years, I take everything my "chief" says with a pretty sizable salt lick. He's wrong about as often as he's right, in my humble opinion. And if I see that glass as half full, I must be a fanboy, in your estimation.

      Brass tacks: Bob provides a unique service which, as a regular reader, I'm free to enjoy or not as is my wont. Half of what he opines about rises from crotchety foibles and bitter self-regard - the other half is good stuff. In your efforts to shine a spotlight on BOB, you've taken on the aspects of ANNOYING BOB and left behind most of INSIGHTFUL BOB. And that's beginning to wear.

      In short, your stated purpose is a bore. Old news: Bob is a hypocrite. Anyone paying attention round these parts knew that whenever he'd let Bill Maher off the hook for behaving in ways far more appalling than the detested Maddow or Judy Blume (or whoever the fuck Times gossip columnist Bob despises this week).

      But this little piggy doesn't need a Gott-im-himmel or an emperor to find the pearls in the muck.


    4. Well put Sherrlock!

      Maybe tomorrow the Emperor can enlighten us about how Bob's a curmudgeon who occasionally likes to shoot fish in a barrel. Who knew?

      Here's the deal: the difference between Somerby and those he covers is that he is not a PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST getting paid by the friggin' NYT to get it right. He's a blogger working on his own dime and if he get's it right 50% of the time (and I think he does a little better than that) he's still way ahead of the curve.

    5. If, unlike a professional journalist, you're not working on deadline and thus can spend as many days as necessary to ascertain the facts, and if you're doing it for idealistic reasons and not to feed your family, then you should get it right virtually 100 percent of the time.

    6. Absolutely, LordHaveMercy. But I do think it is progress when even his fans can acknowledge the existence of an "annoying Bob" and admit that their emperor (not to be confused with Emperor) is, at best, half-clothed or half-naked, depending on which article of clothing he choose to wear that day.

      The sad thing is, by concentrating only on one small segment of a dying "mainstream media press corps" -- the NYT and MSNBC -- annoying Bob is causing insightful Bob to miss an entire revolution in the way news and opinion are being delivered today -- and that is social media.

      And there is no better example of him missing that boat than the whole Missouri rodeo clown tempest that began, not in the mainstream press corps, but one non-journalist with a cell phone and a Facebook account.

    7. LordHaveMercy and Anon 7:14. I always hesitate when the impulse strikes to misquote a Frenchman, but the perfect *is* an enemy of the good.

      I hope your comment about professionals working on deadlines was facetious, because, if not, you've set a bar impossible to meet and thus quite silly. By that rational, you've at one and the same time excused the shoddy work of today's top journalists (see my comment below about La Push) and yet asked absolute perfection of unpaid, no deadline Bob.

      I am not a recent fan of Bob's and yet find myself thoroughly able to tease out the crotchety bitter Bob from insightful Bob. And this isn't an acknowledgement or an admission - it's standard form for all of us who have discovered that ambiguity and, often, outright confusion are the usual state of affairs. As opposed to those of you who just toss the baby out with the bathwater.

      And just how, how can I tolerate this ongoing imperfection in "my emperor", who occasionally underdresses? I turn to Emerson's great aphorism: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

    8. You want to know one sure sign of a dying blog?

      It's when the author has become so predictable and boring that the majority of comments under his posts are about HIM. In other words, its far more entertaining for readers to discuss Somerby than it is the sjubjects he cares to take on. Which, these days, seems pretty much limited to the NYT and MSNBC.

    9. Ah, yes. The highly intellectual and analytical "if this blog is dying what the hell are you doing here?'" retort.

      Maybe I find great sport in reading stupid comments from moronic pseudo-intellectuals.

      Incidentally, if you don't think this blog has sunk about as low as it gets, go look up the Web traffic -- that is, if you know how to do it.

      But of course, it just CAN'T be true. After all, I'm here and you're here, so this blog must be perking along quite nicely.

    10. Anon 2:15. In other words, you're only here to lob insults and troll.


    11. WOW! You got me!

      Here's a thought for you though that might not be so comforting to a mind that likes to put ideas and the people who express them in neat little boxes.

      They don't always fit and aren't always so easy to dismiss.

      You know, there are people here who have read this blog practically since it began and see it now for what it has evolved into.

      For instance, the nation is now facing a run-up to some sort of serious military action in Syria with all sorts of consequences. The old TDH would have been filled with analysis of the "mainstream" press coverage of that so far.

      What do we get instead? Well, take a look for yourself.

    12. You seem quite comfortable putting ideas and the people who express them in neat little boxes.

    13. Sherrlock, given your damned clever application (in your comment Sept. 8 at 2:04 PM) of the word “mandelbrotian” to describe the self-similarity on a smaller scale between the critic (EB GOTT) and the criticized (Somerby), I'm shocked at the lack of nuance in your characterization of my comment—claiming I “excused the shoddy work of today's top journalists (see my comment below about La Push) and yet asked absolute perfection of unpaid, no deadline Bob”.

      I don't “excuse the shoddy work of today's top journalists”, I CONDONE the decidedly imperfect work of yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's journalists because I recognize its inevitability: with limited time (and resources) newspaper work always has been and always will be decidedly imperfect.

      Consider the lovely word “condone”! Does another language have its like? It perfectly expresses what I think is the appropriate attitude towards the many lapses of daily journalism—we're not happy about them, we certainly should point them out—and loudly, too—when we spot them, but we have to spare those who commit those lapses too harsh censure because ALL OF US have experienced the “esprit d'escalier” phenomenon (sorry for the pretentious French but there really is no English equivalent), where AFTER some angry or embarrassing or otherwise fraught confrontation with someone, where you know you've acquitted yourself rather poorly, AFTER you've left the scene of the confrontation and are on your way out (probably you're on the “escalier”--staircase) you suddenly think of the clever or devastatingly cutting remark you should have said and indeed would have said IF ONLY YOU HAD HAD THE EXTRA FEW SECONDS TO THINK OF IT!!

      Deadline journalists, figuratively speaking, never have “those extra few seconds”, people like Somerby always do. So my expectations, and my demands, differ accordingly.

    14. How can I respond to your fine post, LordHaveMercy, except to say in my defense that I come from a race of hammers - everything that stands proud of the board looks like a nail. Nuance is rarely praised or even aspired to, even amongst the smaller ball-peens.

      I'll concede that one of Bob's many faults lies in his utter lack of "esprit d'escalier" - although there's a kind of bullheaded, godawful nobility in his incapacity to admit error or misapprehension.

      Journalists (those actually under deadline) of my acquaintance generally demonstrate tenacity, intelligence, and ambition, but all too often a casual disregard for facts and sequential logic which, they would argue, is the inevitable result of time pressures.

      I understand but cannot condone that low and lazy bar of much of what passes for journalism. And to suggest that it's inevitable is tantamount to giving up, in my opinion. Given that abysmal state of affairs, I can appreciate the most perspicacious of Somerby's critiques, much as I'd read Pauline Kael who couldn't make a movie for the life of her (not to mention her simpering regard for Brian de Palma, which always seemed a bit loopy.)

    15. Sherrlock, you say, “Given that abysmal state of affairs [referring to your view of today's journalism as unacceptably prone to errors of fact and sequential logic], I can appreciate the most perspicacious of Somerby's critiques, much as I'd read Pauline Kael who couldn't make a movie for the life of her”. If I grasp your meaning correctly, you're saying that though Somerby himself can't DO journalism properly, just as Pauline Kael couldn't make a movie for the life of her, you can still profit from their work as CRITICS.

      I think you yourself are making a mistake in logic here. Bear with an absurdity for a moment—but what if Pauline Kael were working NOW, in a fully multi-media/internet environment, and instead of WRITING her reviews for the New Yorker, she STAGED them and broadcast them online—every review was subtly woven into a ten-minute multi-character drama,complete with subtexts, symbols, back-stories, all sorts of sturm und drang, avant-garde touches, bravura performances, and, knowing Pauline Kael's tastes, a little taboo-violating sex and violence. THEN if she “couldn't make a movie for the life of her” it would be highly relevant! And since you're very sharp I'm sure you already grasp my point: Somerby is in fact required to do very skillful journalism in order to properly critique journalism. In evaluating the work of journalists he has to gather facts, sort out plausible claims from incredible ones, analyze arguments for flaws, etc.—in short he has to be every bit a journalist!! And if he's as bad a one as his detractors claim, then we've got a problem even with his most “perspicacious” critiques.

    16. Your keen imagineering about a Pauline Kael film made me chuckle.

      But as you well know, LHM, Kael was, like our Bob, a bit of a shit in her vocation. Her reviews, while often brilliant, were just as often larded with her personal predilections (some of which you have ably described above), overegged with rather despicable aesthetics (would anyone prefer Peckinpah over Hitchcock today?), and noted for her refusal to EVER, EVER apologize to anyone, whether she was demonstrably in the right or not.

      Sound familiar?

      My simple point is that one cannot judge a Kael - or a Somerby - for their obvious weaknesses, it is their strengths that permit us to CONDONE their weaknesses.

      You have, perhaps, quite slyly indicated your weariness with Bob. And perhaps his tics and self-satisfaction have come to irritate you beyond any appreciation of his gifts. I can understand that.

      But, really, I have no more expectation of perfection from Bob than I have of Pauline, whose reviews I still read with pleasure, even if I violently disagree with them (I'll never forgive her crushing remark about Rohmer that sitting through his films was akin to watching paint dry).

  8. For those who know La Push and Second Beach - my family have been regular visitors there for almost 50 years - the NY Times article contains a glaring omission. La Push is on Quilleute tribal land and the parking lot for Second Beach is 100 yards across the road from tribal housing.

    The beach is used, as it has been for thousands of years, by the Quilleute people for fishing and mussel harvesting, a playground for its children, and a gathering spot for families. I was there last for a week in mid-August, and on a sunny day, there were significant numbers of Quilleute kids of all ages playing on the beach.

    But perhaps these are not the "brown" people the NY Times is looking for. Or maybe Native Americans are truly invisible, even in their own backyards.


  9. I regularly visit the national park and forest near my home in California. There are many Hispanic families using the parks there because it is close to areas where Hispanic families live. They far outnumber non-Hispanic white individuals using the parks. I have no difficulty believing that members of racial and ethnic minorities are using the parks in the same proportions as white non-minorities. I find the idea that Hispanic families do not use parks for cultural reasons to be ridiculous given that Mexico and other Latin American countries have wonderful subsidized parks that are widely used by poor and wealthier people. It is a priority to make such areas available. It is my impression that families there use parks much more than American families do, in general.

  10. I've been to many national parks almost everywhere except the far west coast and Alaska. And the very most minority presence I've ever seen is maybe 10%. Typically it's been 95% or more White...Often 100%. It's been such a noticeable fact that my wife and I often have pondered the sociological factors that might apply.

    1. One sociological factor is cost. A very austere, 2-person cabin with bath in Yosemite goes for $200 a night. Add the cost of travel and meals. That adds up to a trip that isn't easily affordable for many lower-middle class families.