The writer of a much-maligned New York Times article about Michael Brown admitted on Monday that he had made a mistake when he described the slain teenager as "no angel."
Those two words that John Eligon chose, along with a series of of descriptions about Brown's "dabbling" with drugs, alcohol and rap music, set off a scorching round of criticism for the way the paper had characterized Brown. The Times dug an even deeper hole for itself by writing a concurrent article about Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, in which Wilson was described as a "well-mannered, relatively soft-spoken, even bland person." Many said that the contrast seemed to fit a pattern in which black victims of crime are maligned in the media.
The controversy also served to overshadow the many positive anecdotes about Brown in Eligon's story.
Speaking to the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, Eligon, himself a black man, said he had erred:
“I understand the concerns, and I get it,” Mr. Eligon said. He agreed that “no angel” was not a good choice of words and explained that they were meant to play off the opening anecdote of the article in which Mr. Brown saw an angelic vision. That anecdote “is about as positive as you can get,” Mr. Eligon said, and noted that a better way to segue into the rest of the article might have been to use a phrase like “wasn’t perfect.”
“Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I would have changed that,” he said.
For her part, Sullivan said she thought the phrase was "a regrettable mistake." She also criticized the decision to run the piece on the day that Brown's funeral was taking place.
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