In New York Times, Blue Eyes ‘Wince and Cloud’ at the Terror of a ‘Gentle Loner’

30 November 2015 — FAIR

In New York Times, Blue Eyes ‘Wince and Cloud’ at the Terror of a ‘Gentle Loner’

Robert DearColorado terror suspect Robert Dear, described in New York Times stories as a “gentle loner” and as “imperfect but a good man.”

Many were taken aback to read the New York Times‘ summary of what its team of reporters gleaned from interviewing neighbors of the man arrested for murdering three people at a Colorado Springs women’s health clinic:

Acquaintances described Robert L. Dear Jr., who was arrested in a fatal rampage at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, as a gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.

It’s hard to say what was more incongruous: the description of someone who had reportedly admitted carrying out a deadly act of terror as a “gentle loner” or the presumption that phrase could be attached to someone who “occasionally unleashed violent acts” toward women and others.

Faced with a barrage of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere, the Times rewrote the lead of that story to make Dear less “gentle.” Now the same reporters reported that “neighbors said they barely knew him”—the same neighbors, presumably, to whom the earlier description was attributed.

But lest one think that this positive spin on the terror suspect was a slip of the word processor, the Times still has up a profile of Dear as seen by his ex-wife—written by Richard Faucett, one of the four reporters responsible for the “gentle loner” piece—which if anything provides an even more sympathetic portrait.

“The blue eyes of Pamela Ross, 54, wince and cloud when she thinks back on the years that she spent with her ex-husband, Robert L. Dear Jr.,” it begins. The description of the eyes’ pain and tears provides an invitation for the reader to identify with Ross’s former spouse, and through her with him; what the description of their color is doing here, other than signaling that we’re talking about white people, is anyone’s guess.

“He was good to the son they had together, now 25 years old, whom they raised in Walterboro, S.C.,” the piece reports in the second paragraph. It continues:

Mr. Dear could be angry at times, she said, sometimes angry with her. But he was the kind who usually followed a flash of anger with an apology.

And here’s that word again: “She recalled a big man, well-groomed, gentle and pleasant, but not much for chitchat.”

The tone of the piece is summed up in the original headline, which is preserved in the url: “Ex-Wife Recalls Colorado Gunman as Imperfect but a Good Man.”

Needless to say, the New York Times is not in the habit of going to the family members of people accused of committing terror in the name of Islam and reprinting their fond recollections. Nor is that the treatment given to African-American men accused of killing cops. In fact, African-Americans killed by cops are more likely to get the “he’s no angel” treatment from the cops.

The reporting on terrorist violence is intensely political—starting, of course, with which acts of terror are given the “terror” label in the first place. Some terrorism is presented as a violation of the normal order of things that demands an outraged, usually violent response. Other kinds of terrorism are offered with a sort of shrug to indicate that they aren’t to be taken too seriously—the sort of thing that is carried out by “gentle loners,” by men who are imperfect but good. Our blue eyes wince and cloud.


Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com, or write to public editor Margaret Sullivan: public@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes or @Sulliview). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

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