Twitter Erupts Over NY Times' Profile of Michael Brown

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 07:37 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The New York Times ran into a firestorm of criticism in the Twitter-sphere Monday for a profile of slain Missouri teenager Michael Brown that described him as "no angel" for a past that included drug and alcohol use and an alleged shoplifting incident.

The National Journal reported that about 1,700 — and counting — tweets, running with the hashtags #ideservedit or #noangel, hammered the Times for suggesting Brown's own activities were to blame for his shooting death Aug. 9.

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Times reporter John Eligon, who penned the profile, didn't immediately respond to the Twitter storm; he was live-tweeting Brown's funeral:


Alison Mitchell, national editor for the Times, told The Washington Post that the "no angel" line grew out of the story's first paragraph, which described how Brown had told his father he'd glimpsed the image of an angel. 

"It comes out of the opening scene," Mitchell told Post blogger Erik Wemple.

Asked whether The Times would have used the term if the victim of the police shooting had been white, the editor replied, according to The Post:

"I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man, and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that's where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way," she said. "The story ... talks about both problems and promise."

Twitter users, nevertheless, were furious:


Brown's funeral and burial took place Monday, drawing thousands of mourners for the youth whose killing by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, set off days of protests and looting in the largely black St. Louis suburb.

The National Journal noted that the backlash recalled a similar Twitter storm at Brown's shooting under the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown – after an NBC News tweet showed an unsmiling Brown throwing a peace sign. Twitter users posted good and bad pictures of themselves in answer to the question: "If they gunned me down, which picture would they use?" the National Journal noted.


The growth of the hashtag helped bring national attention to Brown's death, the National Journal reported.

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