Can you believe what you read in the Times?

FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2023

Did Carolyn Bryant confess?: Carolyn Bryant played a role in one of the most heinous racial murders of the last American century.

Yesterday afternoon, online, the New York Times reported her recent death. We were a bit surprised by the way Margalit Fox's report started.

In this morning's print edition, Fox's report has been substantially changed. That said, here's the start of the original New York Times report.

Here's the report we read yesterday afternoon, as it still appears at the Buffalo News (and elsewhere) attributed to the Times.  

Yesterday's original New York Times report:

Yesterday's online report by Margalit Fox started off like this:

FOX (4/27/23): Only two people knew exactly what happened during the minute they were alone together in the general store in Money, Miss., on Aug. 24, 1955. One, Emmett Till, a Black teenager visiting from Chicago, died four days later, at 14, in a brutal murder that stands out even in America's long history of racial injustice.

The other was Carolyn Bryant. She was the 21-year-old white proprietress of the store where, according to her testimony in the September 1955 trial of her husband and his half-brother for the murder, Till made a sexually suggestive remark to her, grabbed her roughly by the waist and let loose a wolf whistle.

Now Bryant, more recently known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, has died at 88. The Calcasieu Parish coroner's office confirmed the death of Bryant on Tuesday in Westlake, Louisiana.

The truth of what happened that August day may now never be clear. More than half a century after the murder, she admitted that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Till's conduct sound more threatening than it actually was—serving, in the words of the historian to whom she made the admission, as "the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie."

"She said with respect to the physical assault on her, or anything menacing or sexual, that that part isn't true," the historian, Timothy B. Tyson, told "CBS This Morning" in 2017.

But in an unpublished memoir that surfaced last year, Bryant stood by her earlier description of events, though she said she had tried to discourage her husband from harming Till.

That's how yesterday's report began. In that report, Bryant "admitted that she had perjured herself on the witness stand." She had done so while speaking to historian Timothy Tyson.

Bryant had admitted that she perjured herself. Later in yesterday's report, Fox reinforced that claim:

FOX: In 2008, Carolyn Bryant admitted that she had fabricated the most inflammatory parts of her testimony—the assertions that Till had grabbed her roughly around the waist and had uttered a sexual obscenity—at the behest of defense lawyers and her husband's family.

"You tell these stories for so long that they seem true," she told Tyson, a senior research scholar at Duke University, that year. "But that part is not true."

That interview became the foundation of Tyson's nonfiction book, "The Blood of Emmett Till" (2017). Its disclosure of Bryant's fabrication made headlines around the world.

That's the way the story was told in the original Times report. Yesterday afternoon, we were surprised by that account It seemed to us that the actual truth of the matter had been less clearcut than that.

This morning's revised New York Times report:

Yesterday afternoon, we were surprised by that original Times report.

This morning, Margalit Fox's report was featured on the front page of the hard-copy Times—but Fox's account of the matter at hand was substantially different now. 

As of this morning, as of right now, the New York Times report says this, starting in paragraph 4:

FOX (4/28/23): With Mrs. Bryant’s death, the truth of what happened that August day may now never be clear. More than half a century after the murder, Timothy B. Tyson, a Duke University historian who interviewed her, wrote that she had admitted to him that she had perjured herself on the witness stand to make Emmett’s conduct sound more threatening than it actually was—serving, in Dr. Tyson’s words, as “the mouthpiece of a monstrous lie.” 

“She said with respect to the physical assault on her, or anything menacing or sexual, that that part isn’t true,” Dr. Tyson told “CBS This Morning” in 2017.

The publication of his book on the case, “The Blood of Emmett Till” (2017), prompted the Justice Department to reopen an investigation, in which it subpoenaed Dr. Tyson’s research materials. The federal authorities said Mrs. Bryant denied ever having changed her story, and they questioned Dr. Tyson’s claims, saying a tape recording of an interview that he had conducted with her, which he had provided to investigators, did not contain any sort of recantation. They closed the case in 2021 without bringing charges.

In an unpublished memoir that surfaced last year, Mrs. Bryant stood by her earlier description of events, though she said she had tried to discourage her husband from harming Emmett.

In the original Times report, we're explicitly told that Bryant admitted that she perjured herself. In the revised New York Times report, we're told that the Justice Department had questioned Tyson's account, noting that his tape recording didn't contain any such statement by Bryant.

Strange! In the original Times report, Bryant had confessed to perjury, full stop. Her confession of perjury was treated as an established fact.

Today's revised report is quite different. In today's report, an historian claimed that she made a confession, but the Justice Department seemed to have cast a great deal of doubt upon that claim.

Yesterday's report said one thing. Today's report said something different—or at least, so it seemed at first! 

At first, it seemed like Margalit Fox had changed her account of this matter. But if you read deeper down in today's report, it seems that Fox has returned to her original story:

FOX: In 2008, after maintaining her long silence, Mrs. Bryant sought out Dr. Tyson: She had read and liked his 2004 book, “Blood Done Sign My Name,” a nonfiction account of the murder of a young Black man by whites in North Carolina in 1970. She wanted, she told him, to explain her side of the story.

Interviewed by Dr. Tyson at her home in Raleigh, Mrs. Bryant admitted that she had lied on the stand.

“About her testimony that Till had grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities,” Dr. Tyson wrote in 2017, “she now told me, ‘That part’s not true.’”

As for the rest of what transpired that night, the precise narrative had, with the passage of time, become unclear even to her.

“I want to tell you,” she told Dr. Tyson in their 2008 interview. “Honestly, I just don’t remember. It was 50 years ago.”

Just like that, we were back to the original account! Ignore what the Justice Department said! Once again, we're being told that Bryant "admitted that she had lied on the stand."

If you don't like the weather, just wait a while! So they sometimes say in New England.

It can work that way at the New York Times. If you don't like some account of the facts, just hang in there! Keep reading!

Stating the obvious, none of this makes Till's murder less vicious. In some ways, that's the problem with this strange performance by the New York Times.

None of this makes Till's murder less vicious. It does make the New York Times possibly seem a bit disrespectful, possibly just a bit strange.

Everybody makes mistakes. Also, news orgs sometimes perform.

For the original version: As noted above, you can still see the original version of Fox's report at the Buffalo News.


  1. The second amendment is evil.

  2. A few years back a reporter politely challenged President Trump on his claim that he had been the President who had done the most for black people. He mentioned the voting rights act from Johnson.
    “Yeah,” smirked Trump.
    What did THAT get you?”
    No one noted this comment. Bob did not note
    this comment.
    If this unclear point in the Till case
    makes his murder no less vicious, does
    it deserve this emphasis from Bob?
    Why, rather than noting it with a Paragraph
    or two, does Bob give it so much space?
    I wonder………

  3. Republicans should support statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

  4. First Mao. Now the anonymices.

    This is getting eerie.

    1. Eerie ain’t just a lake.

    2. But Huron is just a lake, right?

    3. Now you’re on to something.

    4. There are no circumstances that justify what happened to Till. Why does it matter that an old lady changed her story several times?

      It perhaps does matter that Fox prefers the story that is least favorable to Till, and apparently so does Somerby. But this is another example of how racists work. And no, it wasn't the NY Times that got anything wrong. It was an old woman who couldn't remember what happened but apparently could be persuaded to say whatever she thought her interviewer-of-the-moment wanted to hear. Given the subsequent changes to her story, I can easily picture her husband telling her what to say about Till's behavior.

    5. Perhaps Mao is the one behind the other trolling and Somerby is finally effectively moderating his blog comments?

    6. Moderate this.

  5. I can believe the NY Times. I just cannot believe Carolyn Bryant, which was also the problem back when Till was killed.

  6. Somerby is focused on blaming journalists for their differeing reports. He doesn't consider that the source of the variation is Bryant herself.

  7. Steve M's view of RFK:

    I'm not worried that Kennedy will somehow be elected president and begin prosecuting everyone who's ever said a vaccine was safe and effective. I'm worried that the Biden campaign's strategy will be to ignore Kennedy on the assumption that he can't even win enough votes to be an embarrassment to the president -- and then he will win enough votes to do just that, largely from people who don't know the depths of his lunacy and would be horrified if they did know, and the media will decide that liberal advocates of vaccine mandates and other public health measures really did go too far and really did oversell the vaccines because of elitist arrogance.

    I'm not saying that a lot of resources should be devoted to rebutting this -- just enough to discredit Kennedy, and to remind people that Steve Bannon loves him, Roger Stone loves him, and he and Tucker Carlson are a mutual admiration society.

  8. This kind of blame the victim behavior is fundamental to everyday life of right wingers, we can see this in action with Steven Crowder’s abusive behavior towards his pregnant wife.

    Till’s murderers were in fact guilty, (like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse, etc) yet a jury found them not guilty, thus giving cover to the kind of racist rhetoric employed by Somerby.

    Till’s mother had the courage and integrity to forego her emotional security to serve a public good by having the funeral be open casket, shocking a portion of the nation into waking up about the perniciousness of racism in our society.

    Meanwhile Somerby cowardly hides behind excessive literalism, coyness, and blaming the victim in an attempt to further his empty goals of manufacturing ignorance and maintaining racial oppression.

    Were Till alive today, he would likely appreciate not being horribly tortured and killed, but would likely question the value of his existence with the mass incarceration of Blacks, and the 15 cents in his pocket versus the dollar in Somerby’s pocket, likely received from the same minders that Trump has.

    1. Zimmerman was not guilty.

    2. Zimmerman murdered Martin, Zimmerman was found not guilty just like Till’s murderers, and just like those, Zimmerman was in fact guilty.

    3. Zimmerman was defending himself.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. David, how can I disagree with your comment if you delete it before I see it?

  11. Pokedoku is the best Pokémon puzzle game I've ever played. I highly recommend it to all Pokémon fans.