In order for a democracy to survive it must have an informed electorate. That is why the freedom and health of the press is vital.
A Different Look at Local News Coverage
It has always drifted in the back of my mind what exactly happened to those communities that suffered under the rioting in the summer of 2020. Who were the business owners? Were they insured as many claimed? Have they rebuilt? With COVID wafting through the atmosphere, it has been difficult to answer those questions. We may not know the answers to those questions for years if we ever return to normal life.
But Kyle Rittenhouse brings those questions to the fore. His life was on the line, justice was on the line. It adds the burning question – what drew him to the riots that fateful night?
For my generation, the small business owner who became famous was a South Korean shopkeeper in south LA, protecting his store brandishing a handgun during the riots that followed the controversial court verdict where the policemen who beat Rodney King were found not guilty. While buildings burned throughout south LA, there was one man determined to not let that happen. In both cases, the LA riots and Kenosha, local law-enforcement dissolved, leaving the matter of protection to private citizens. What happened to that man? What happened to south LA and Koreatown? From the scattered reports I read, it was a disaster for local businesses. Fast forward to 2014, Ferguson, MO after the Michael Brown incident. The riots, the looting and burning destroyed locally-owned businesses. Where is Ferguson today? What happened to those small businesses?
Which leads to Kenosha. I first read of it in Fox News about a former New York Times reporter mentioning how her story on the actual effects of the riots in Kenosha was buried until after the election in 2020. Even though she had the report ready to go in August, it was delayed. It was finally printed on November 9th .1 The reporter was so disgusted with the deliberate withholding of information that she resigned. Folks, meet Nellie Bowles.
Nellie joins Bari Weiss on Substack, explaining her experience regarding the Kenosha riots and her treatment by The New York Times. In it she concludes,
“The part of Kenosha that people burned in the riots was the poor, multi-racial commercial district, full of small, under-insured cell phone shops and car lots. It was very sad to see and to hear from people who had suffered. Beyond the financial loss, small storefronts are quite meaningful to their owners and communities, which continuously baffles the Zoom-class. “
Another editor was forced to resign earlier this year for bringing up the same disturbing subject in Philadelphia. Who really pays for the riots? His conclusions were no different – the small business people who live and work in the neighborhoods. Were they insured? Will they come back?
What we are seeing here is a sad commentary on the state of journalism in our country. When journalists ask the hard questions, they are marginalized and forced out. Bari Weiss was not just a good reporter for The New York Times, she still is a great reporter. She has opened a portal on Substack called Common Sense with Bari Weiss and has steadily provided a train of reports on tough subjects, incorporating the knowledge and experience of gifted reporters. This is the new wave of innovation that just might save journalism.
The mainstream media is going through two crises. One is the evolution of the Internet that has virtually destroyed the financial base that has supported local news coverage. What remains for news sources are national and global enterprises that have, in many cases, been politicized. People do not trust the mainstream media. This is the second crisis – the loss of trust. And it is warranted.
Let me introduce another reporter who goes by an alias, “IM”. He also publishes on Substack and his report is also posted through Zero Hedge. He observes how the reporting of the COVID vaccine has been heavily tilted against Republicans. I observed the same (which is another story). In that report he clearly demonstrates how the COVID surge in largely Republican states last summer focused on the ideology of the governors and their lack of enthusiasm for mandates, masks and lockdowns. Yet in the past month the surge has now occurred in Democrat states. No mention is made of their party affiliation. In fact, the irony of the whole thing is that 1) some Democrat states were no more successful in advancing vaccinations than Republican states and 2) the vaccines appear to not be effective. The sad effect of politicized reporting has been that 1) people lose trust in the media as they obtain new information and 2) people react emotionally. They seem to overlook important patterns of information that emerge throughout the world such as the herd-immunity approach of Sweden or the colossal fail rate of vaccines in Israel, or the unexplained lack of COVID spread in parts of Africa or the peculiar success of India in curbing COVID without vaccines (none were available at the time). These things don’t propose answers – they beg questions. And we need good reporting to explore these questions.
In order for a democracy to survive it must have an informed electorate. That is why the freedom and health of the press is vital. A grand experiment commenced in 1776 when the Founding Fathers took a risk by trusting that the common man was rational enough to vote. They had 150 years of experience with democracy at the local level and through their colonial assemblies. The western world was watching because that organic expression of self-rule was not done anywhere else in the world (as they understood it). It is no accident that evolving alongside the political process was a thriving press and a robust distribution of pamphlets. As we return to 2021, we can only hope that the pioneers of Substack can lead to a rebirth of honest reporting and a local press.
As to that Korean storeowner, NPR interviewed him in 2012. As regards the neighborhoods affected by the 1992 riots, NPR has a report from 2017 which, more than anything, demonstrates the devastating impact of the looting and burning. Twenty five years after, they still did not have a grocery store in the neighborhood.
1 Originally posted in the New York Times. Since archived, the link points the Wayback Machine.
© Copyright 2021 to Eric Niewoehner