Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Interviews With Two Racist White Women, page A12
Adam Nossiter interviewed two white women in today's Times who declined to be identified because they're racists.
In his page one post-mortem about the Southern voting bloc and its lack of influence over this year's election, Nossiter allowed two voters to express clearly racist attitudes without identifying them by name, or any other distinguishing factor other than color.
"Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border," Nossiter wrote. He went on:
"One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House."
The story goes on to quote several Southerners by name, occupation and location, per Times policy. While the anonymous references don't directly violate Times policy -- the quotes are paraphrased -- it does make you wonder why Nossiter didn't bother to explain the reason for the anonymity. Was the story enhanced by knowing that anonymous white women feel scared by the idea of a black President? Yes, but Nossiter owed us some context.
Among other things, New York Times policy clearly states:
"We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack. If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor. The vivid language of direct quotation confers an unfair advantage on a speaker or writer who hides behind the newspaper, and turns of phrase are valueless to a reader who cannot assess the source."
As for the story itself, it ably deconstructed the South's dimished role in presidential politics this year. But Nossiter failed to note the important truth that future politicians ignore the South at their peril. It remains a potent part of the American electoral process, and will likely rise again.