Because journalism has to be objective, the New York Times' Campbell Robertson intrepidly went to a white area of St. Louis to get white peoples' opinions of Ferguson, as they have been so egregiously missing from the boiling national debate about race relations in America since Michael Brown's death two weeks ago.
Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. "I feel for everyone involved," said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, "I think the protesters just need to go home."
Still, the events of the last two weeks have left many whites perplexed, not only as to how this police shooting could ignite a neighborhood like a tinderbox, but that there was a tinderbox at all.
"It was eye-opening to me," said Jim McLaughlin, the former mayor of Pasadena Hills, a small, majority-black city just south of Ferguson. That some longtime black friends of his were so pessimistic about the justice system came as a surprise.
"We interact together, we have a good time together, we integrate, but we never talk about these things," he said. "I think the perspective of a lot of white people is not really thinking that these feelings are sitting out there. And maybe in the black community they're not only thinking about them, they're wondering why we're not talking about them."
Now, there's indeed something to be said for this type of detached, wide-eyed reporting, for recording these statements at a particular moment in time and entering them into the annals of history. Thus, the publication of this article marks this date in history: Aug. 22, 2014: Some white Americans still clueless, racist. Sound the trumpets.
But compare Robertson's reporting with that of Julia Ioffe's at the New Republic a week ago (their two articles even have curiously similar ledes—the Starbucks in white Missouri suburbs must be really prominent). Ioffe essentially did the same thing Robertson did, but without the pretense that white people need a voice in the media when it comes to Ferguson. Here's Ioffe:
Here in Olivette, the people I spoke to showed little sympathy for Michael Brown, or the protesters.
"It's bullshit," said one woman, who declined to give her name. When I asked her to clarify what, specifically, was bullshit, she said, "All of it. I don't even know what they're fighting for."
"It's just a lot of misplaced anger," said one teenage boy, echoing his parents. He wasn't sure where the anger should be, just that there should be no anger at all, and definitely no stealing.
"Our opinion," said the talkative one in a group of six women in their sixties sitting outside the Starbucks, "is the media should just stay out of it because they're riling themselves up even more."
"The protesters like seeing themselves on TV," her friend added.
"The kid wasn't really innocent," chimed in a woman at the other end of the table (they all declined to give their names). "He was struggling with the cop, and he's got a rap sheet already, so he's not that innocent." (While the first point is in dispute, the second isn't: The police have said that Michael Brown had no criminal record.)
Ioffe's sources had the privilege of anonymity, but that doesn't make their testimony any less bracing.
And then we have the headlines of the two articles. Campbell's is headlined: "Among Whites, Protests Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity."
Ioffe's: "White St. Louis Has Some Awful Things to Say About Ferguson."
Which one do you think is more accurate?