If you want to read smart people writing stupid things, journalists writing about journalism is a sure bet. But sometimes they pretend to be writing about something else entirely.
In general, a news story answers the questions: who, what, when, where and how? A "thought piece" or "news analysis" adds the question: why? The thought piece has high ambitions: to help the reader understand his world. But it's hard to be a good teacher when the subject is something you've totally ignored for half a century.
Today the NYT tells us that the "Glare Of Video Is Shifting Public View Of Police". We know it's a thought piece from jump street because paragraph 1 lacks a human subject and barely has a verb (seriously, try to identify the verb). Who is this story about? What are those people doing?
They began as workaday interactions between the police and the public, often involving minor traffic stops in places like Cincinnati; North Charleston, S.C.; and Waller County, Tex. But they swiftly escalated into violent encounters. And all were captured on video.
"Tonight at 10: we report on all the interactions you need to know about!"
Eventually it becomes clear that technology is the who of the story. The what and why at the heart of this thought piece is "Why are we hearing about all these police murdering black people now, and is this fair to police?"
The answer--according to the New York Times--is that the public perception of growing violence toward black people is wrong.
Public views of the police have grown worse, yet experts say police use of force has probably been lower in the last few years than in generations.
But the real story is in paragraph 17, and it's in fucking parentheses:
(There is, however, no precise accounting of the number of people killed by police officers each year.)
As individual Americans, this is a problem. We rely on the Federal Government for almost all our information about the nation as a whole, whether it's the folks getting health insurance thanks to the ACA (16.4 million, so far) or the number killed (6,855) and wounded (52,352) in wars started by George W. Bush, these are facts compiled and published by employees of the Federal Governement.
But what happens when the government isn't keeping track?
Yes, ubiquitous camera-phones have exposed the public to police violence against black people in an unprecedented way. But, before this technology came along, was it simply impossible for anyone to notice that police were murdering innocent black people at a rate of about one per month?
Was it impossible for the New York Times to notice? Was it impossible for the New York Times to get the government to keep track of how often our police were murdering the people they were supposed to protect? Hmmmm.... just the other day I read this:
Two months after a New York Times investigation into rampant labor abuses at nail salons and the dangers posed by the chemicals manicurists work with, there have been major shifts in the industry on several fronts. A multiagency task force set up by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has inspected some 755 salons, issuing 1,799 violations, according to state officials. At a ceremony in the Bronx on Thursday morning, Mr. Cuomo signed into law a measurethat overhauls how the industry is licensed and how bad actors are punished.
How long has the New York Times done nothing to change the fact that "(There is, however, no precise accounting of the number of people killed by police officers each year.)"? They ran this paragraph from the AP when the data collection started:
Videos of police are revealing the true nature of how police treat black people in the United States. Maybe a few images can also help us understand why the New York Times has done nothing to solve the problem of no one keeping track of police murder of black people. Maybe a clue can be found in the faces of the NYT writers and photographers who have won a Pulitzer Prize.