I was in the breakfast room of a Washington, D.C. hotel two weeks ago preparing to attend the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference when the phone rang asking me to tune in to the daily “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC because the managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, was on explaining the magazine’s cover story, “The Tragedy of Detroit: How a Great City Fell and How It Can Rise Again.”
After attending some of the usual morning sessions/workshops at the CBC, I was still getting calls about the article in Time.
So when I got back to the city I read the story written by Daniel Okrent, a former public editor for the New York Times. In his preamble Okrent made it clear where he was shooting from by listing decade-old themes of racial entanglement, inept leadership and an automotive industry that ran amok as holding back Detroit’s progress.
There are some positive aspects to the piece and to his credit, Okrent’s article was the personal observation and journey of a man who left his city and returned briefly for a review. The thrust of his widely circulated article is that we live in a dead city and Okrent offered the prescription of a regional government as the panacea without explaining the complex facets attached to this notion of a “regional government.”
The only thing new in the piece is that the problems of Detroit through the eyes of Southeast Michigan have now been elevated to the national level. That has its merits and demerits depending on who is interviewed.
If Okrent’s article is supposed to be the opening greeting of Time Inc’s one-year stay in Detroit, I’m afraid it has succeeded in deepening the skepticism that average Detroiters have about mainstream media coverage of a major city.
The feeling has been that Detroit has always been under siege by the media and evidence of that is the sometimes blatantly and negatively driven articles. Sometimes Detroit’s issues reported in national media give an enormous pretense of a “dog eat dog” climate in Detroit.
The articles, which scare investors away from the city, fail to document the fact that every city has its own trials and tribulations and that the stories that come out of Detroit could be found anywhere.
WHEN I lived in Washington it was disheartening to see that even in the nation’s capital — the power center and nervous system of the world — there are countless homeless people, others living in abject poverty and the number among Washington’s Black population is even more staggering.
The same story could be told of New York even though it is the investment capital of the world.
But New York, Washington D.C. and other places considered pristine by the news media — of course, they are the power base of those magazines and newspapers — hardly ever come under harsh and biased reviews for racial entanglements, incompetent governance, hubris, etc. They are always promoted as prime examples of what cities like Detroit and others ought to strive to be.
I recalled reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about two years ago in which the writer, who is based here, concluded that things are so bad in Detroit no one would want to raise their children here. The sea of pessimism that is imposed on the future of this city does not help Detroit progress.
MISSING FROM Okrent’s piece is the fact that there is no real and honest dialogue about race and racism in this region and how that impedes progress.