Detroit is a city with growing pains and I’ve yet to see anyone who denies that truth. At the same time, Detroit is also a city with evidentiary hope and promise which continue to inspire those who are working tirelessly in the city for the betterment of us all.
So when “Dateline NBC” announced that it would air a one-hour special on Detroit, “America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope,” about one of the most misunderstood cities in the nation, some of us held our breath and wanted to give the all-knowing reporter, Chris Hansen, the benefit of the doubt.
We expected Hansen — who has similar credentials to Time magazine reporter Daniel Okrent, who did a shoddy and lazy job of telling us how Detroit is backward without an incisive view of the city — to give us balanced reporting on the crisis facing this city because both hail from this area. Hansen, in interviews he conducted prior to the airing of the special on Sunday evening, especially his appearance on WDIV’s “FlashPoint,” appeared like a surgeon who understood the city’s ailment and was out to issue the required prescriptions. But that was not the case. Apparently his interview on “FlashPoint” was a sales pitch for thousands in the Motor City to watch the upcoming program. To our disappointment, Hansen repeated the same things that Okrent did when he also jetted in like a savior who wanted to deliver Detroit from its varied problems. Hansen’s reporting was devoid of any balanced picture of where the city is currently.
One is forced to wonder if there is a concerted effort by the media to bury Detroit alive despite the efforts being made by committed, hardworking men and women to change the current economic and political climate. Hansen talked about the city’s old train station standing in ruins for years as an example of how economically destabilized Detroit is. But he woefully failed to mention the Matty Maroun connection to that train station and why it is in its present condition.
Is it because Maroun is a powerful transportation mogul, almost an omnipotent White businessman who is untouchable by the media?
Is it because the reporter thinks that Detroiters cannot read between the lines of their very subjective and prejudicial reporting?
This type of omission is one reason there is a growing suspicion that the media is never up to any good when it comes to Detroit.
It is the same reason why a lot of people are no longer watching the news and reading the newspapers, choosing instead to tell their own stories through the blogsphere.
If the media, which is supposed to be that sacred fourth estate, is now a fifth column, then it is justified when people look to the Internet for information instead of the clearly filtered, biased news organs.
Hansen owed his viewers the responsibility of an accurate picture of the city. He mentioned the 1967 riot in passing (perhaps it was not that significant to him as far as Detroit’s political and economical evolution is concerned), a cunning way to dance around the issue of race.
At the center of Hansen’s reporting is Cordette Grantling, who has been raising abandoned children despite having a meager income. But the spirit that Grantling exemplifies is the same zest and dynamism maintained by those who have chosen not to leave Detroit despite the constant bashing by the media.
All Hansen had to do was find more people who personify Grantling’s spirit, but he instead went in search of the most extreme situations which can be found anywhere in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and any other city where there is a large underclass.
The portrayal of Detroit on “Dateline NBC” was primitive with its ever-present racial undertones taking the city to the dark ages, a stark reminder of how the media succeeded in blindfolding African Americans about Africa with its “Tarzan ape” image of another misunderstood continent.