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Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

A New York Times article said Michael Brown was 'no angel' — Is that fair? (+photos)

Compiled by Chandra Johnson, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Wed, Aug. 27 5:20 a.m. MDT

 Michael Brown, Sr. wipes the top of the vault containing the casket of his son Michael Brown, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Normandy, Mo. Hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer on Aug. 9. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post Dispatch, Robert Cohen, Pool)

Michael Brown, Sr. wipes the top of the vault containing the casket of his son Michael Brown, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Normandy, Mo. Hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to Brown, who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer on Aug. 9. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post Dispatch, Robert Cohen, Pool)

(Robert Cohen, AP)

Eighteen-year-old slain Michael Brown, whose death has ignited violent protests and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, was "no angel," according to a profile in the New York Times — a comment that has caused renewed furor on Twitter.

Times writer John Eligon justified his comment about Brown, who was shot multiple times and killed after a scuffle with a police officer, amid details that Brown had been involved in shoplifting cigars, lived in "a community that had rough patches," and had dabbled in writing rap music.

As the Daily Dot reported, Twitter users erupted in angry response to the article.

"Brown trying drugs/alcohol, shoplifting or rapping (!) does not mean 'he was no angel.' It means he was a teenager," Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti tweeted.

The Times' Margaret Sullivan defended Eligon in a post Monday afternoon, though she did call Eligon's phrasing "ill-chosen."

Eligon told Sullivan that the phrase was his attempt to giver readers a multi-dimensional look into Brown's life beyond his death.

"(The story) is about as positive as you can get," Eligon told Sullivan.

But the criticism of Eligon wasn't confined to Twitter. Other media outlets have also spoken out against the Times' choice of words. Salon's Joanna Rothkopf called the article "outrageously skewed" and said the entire article illustrated an "unconscious bias."

"Because certain media outlets have aggressively spread certain details of Brown’s life, it seems that every news outlet needs to include details of Brown’s drug use and petty theft (which are normal teenage offenses) in order to remain 'objective,’ ” Rothkopf wrote. "In reality, the inclusion of these details represents the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable."

But could Eligon's word choice have been blown out of porportion? An isolated incident? Not really, argues Vanity Fair's Kia Makarechi.

Trying to put Eligon's words into context, Makarechi found other examples of when the Times applied the "no angel" term to others. She found that the Times used the term most often for hardened, historical criminals like Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, Larry Flint and the Columbine High School killers.

"A sample of the white folks the Times has called 'no angel' includes infamous mobsters, murderers, a pornographer and a Nazi," Makarechi wrote. "Black Americans described similarly by the paper include a basketball player, a singer, criminal suspects, and unarmed men killed by white people."

The final insult, Makarechi postured, was the contrast of the coverage of Brown's life with the life of the officer who is accused of shooting him, Darren Wilson.

"The headline of the Times piece on Wilson: 'Darren Wilson Was Low-Profile Officer With Unsettled Early Days.' Wilson left a 'muted, barely noticeable trail,' and was 'a well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person who seemed, if anything, to seek out a low profile,’ ” Makarechi wrote. "It seems the officer is lucky that he didn’t have a documented interest in rap music."

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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1. GaryO
Virginia Beach, VA,
Aug. 27, 2014

Oh come on! The kid was NO Angel . . . Not many of us are.

2. play by the rules
SOUTH JORDAN, UT,
Aug. 27, 2014

Yes it's fair. No one has spent a full story on the Police Officer and how his broken eye socket and the severity of the injury.

3. SCfan
clearfield, UT,
Aug. 27, 2014

My instincts tell me that this is pretty much the truth about Brown and Wilson. However, in our cowardly PC culture, Brown needs to be seen as the next MLK, and Officer Wilson needs to be seen as the local grand wizard of the KKK. No justice no peace?? Truth is there will be no justice as seen by the many unless Officer Wilson is given a fair trial then convicted. Anything less will be seen as whitewash. And, in truth none of us anywhere, except the ones handling and looking at all the evidence, really knows what happened. As I said at the beginning, I'm going by my instincts on this. At this point neither guilt or innocence can be truthfully determined. But that does not stop many in office (Govenor Nixon for instance) or the so called civil rights leaders, from already demanding conviction of Officer Wilson.

4. G-Day-M8
Where is Waldo, UT,
Aug. 27, 2014

it seems that every news outlet needs to include details of Brown’s drug use and petty theft (which are normal teenage offenses) in order to remain 'objective,’ ” Rothkopf wrote.

Really? Drug use and petty theft (strong arm robbery) are normal teenage offenses? Am I supposed to lower my expectation of society because of this tripe? Am I suddenly supposed believe that choice and accountability have been supplanted by the notion that robbery and drug use are the norm and therefore the baseline of conduct?

Can a writer not suggest that robbery and drug abuse are not angel like? What is the new definition of angelic behavior? Oh, that's right, I forget that secular humanism (only the strong are worthy of survival) is the new religion.

What is so wrong nowadays with the idea that the meek shall inherit the earth? Love one another? I am the way, the truth and the life?

5. ute alumni
SLC, UT,
Aug. 27, 2014

what college was he supposed to be at last Monday? I think that was probably another family/media brush stroke to paint the angel portrait.