THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO COTTS
Cynthia Cotts's column on The American Prospect and me was a textbook case of how not to practice journalism ["Bob Kuttner's 'Prospect': How Not to Run a Liberal Magazine," Press Clips, January 1]. The friends of a Prospect employee who was fired are spreading all manner of nonsense, and Cotts unfortunately took this one-sided and self-serving account as gospel.
Indeed, Cotts telephoned to interview me and executive editor Harold Meyerson only a few hours before her final deadline, and told us she had already filed a draft of her story! Imagine filing the story first and doing key reporting later. Although I corrected a number of factual inaccuracies, including the true circumstances of the departures of two staffers, Cotts did not see fit to revise her story.
Cotts also wrongly asserted that several former Prospect employees moved on to other jobs because of conflicts with me. In fact, these were normal career progressions, and they are still good friends of mine. Her account could have been checked with them, and wasn't.
Every editor has had conflicts with writers, many of them the result of weak or tardy writing. Most writers I work with are very satisfied. I suggested to Cotts that to put the small number of complaints in context, she might contact any of the dozens of staffers and contributing writers who have had wonderful experiences working with uspeople of far greater distinction than those few prosecuting grudges. But Cotts said that unfortunately she had no time. (What exactly was the urgency?) So instead, she took the word of a disgruntled few. This is known in the trade as a hatchet job.
If this is how a press critic practices journalism, God help the profession. Early in my career, I worked at the Voice. It was always feisty, rarely sloppy. The Voice and its readers, not to mention its targets, deserve better.
Robert Kuttner, Co-Editor
The American Prospect
Cynthia Cotts replies: Despite his early stint at the Voice, Kuttner seems unaware that Press Clips has a tradition of rigorously opinionated reporting on timely media controversies. I would take him more seriously if he assumed responsibility for his managerial decisions, rather than droning on about my methodology. Contrary to Kuttner's claims, I called him to request comment before I began writing, and I acknowledged that some departures are natural progressions in writers' careers. If Kuttner truly believes my reporting contained inaccuracies or omissions, he should have used the Voice letters page to set the record straight. Instead, he continues to cast vague aspersions and to avoid the controversy that followed his decision to fire senior editor Ana Marie Cox.
PROFILES IN PREJUDICE
I really appreciated Chisun Lee's article " 'Let Us Not Be Suckers for Anybody': Why People of All Colors Should (Still) Resist Racial Profiling" [January 1]. I too have been subjected to random searches during my travel since September 11 because of my Arabic-sounding name and my olive skin.
During one airport search, every article of clothing in my handbag and every item in my purse were laid out for all to see and sent separately through the scanner. After almost 30 minutes of searching, I asked the security woman checking me why I had been singled out. She looked distressed and frustrated, then threw up her hands and told her supervisor that he could search me himself because she was not going to put me through it any longer. Just last week, my sister was also randomly searched because of her Arabic-sounding surname while traveling with her four-year-old son.
When I complain about being profiled this way, my European American friends ask me whether I don't want to feel safe on planes. I tell them that I don't just want to feel safe; I want to be safe. Airport security agents cannot tell who is a shoe bomber, a Una-bomber, or an Oklahoma City bomber by a passenger's surname or skin color. To focus on a whole class of people in this way is inefficient and ineffective.
Lake Oswego, Oregon
As a Muslim Canadian woman currently living in the U.S, I am appalled by the racial profiling going on post-September 11, and I appreciated Chisun Lee's article on the subject. I have avoided traveling to my hometown in Canada since September 11 due to fears that I will not be able to return to work here (I have a valid visa) because of the way I look (I wear a headscarf and long dress). But frankly, I'm not surprised that this is happening.
In Lee's article, activist Van Jones makes an interesting argument with which I have to disagree: that larger numbers of people being profiled (Muslims, Arabs, African Americans, and Latinos) will mean "a stronger front" against the practice. Sad to say, I've read at least one article in which an African American stated his support for racial profiling of Muslims and Arabs, despite the fact that he felt it was unfair. Of course, he does not represent all African Americans. However, I think many Americans of all shades are understandably scared enough since September 11 to support the most draconian measures, especially for Muslims and Arabs, who remain a largely maligned and stigmatized minority in America.
The real challenge is for Muslims and Arab Americans to fight for their rights. This is part of the American tradition that African Americans, Irish, Poles, Jews and other groups had to go through to establish their rightful place in this society. I doubt it will be any different for Muslims and Arabs.
The writer's full name has been withheld.
STEPCHILDREN OF THE CITY
Thanks for a long overdue article about the sad situation at Borough of Manhattan Community College ["A Tale of Two Schools," Lisa Marie Williams and Katie Worth, December 25]. I'm a BMCC adjunct instructor whose class started the fall semester in the beautiful classrooms of newly renovated Fiterman Hall [which was destroyed as a result of the World Trade Center collapse]. We finished in a poorly ventilated trailer on West Street across from the barge port where trucks dump the World Trade Center debris.
While Stuyvesant High School got tons of publicity, BMCC suffered in its shadow. Like many on campus, I experienced headaches and labored breathing from the bad air; I think the union collected over 200 health-related complaints. It's no wonder BMCC students feel like stepchildren of the city. Not one elected official visited this wounded campus until December. Many students saw the attack from close range; some ran for their lives. The school was closed for weeks, and we lost a building.
The idea of budget cuts under these circumstances is outrageous. As did my colleagues, I put on my false bravado and taught my class overenthusiastically, as if it were my patriotic duty, not just my job. I asked my students to write about 9-11, reminding them to save their journals. Faculty counseled shaken students, going beyond normal tasks. Everyone at BMCC should be recognized and rewarded for courage under fire. It's an understatement to say it adds insult to injury to cut our budget.
Thank you for having the guts to print the article about Stuyvesant High School and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Sadly, schools that are primarily minority populated have been passed up for funding in favor of "elite" schools for far too long.
I graduated from the excellent High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology (class of '97). Everything about HSTAT, including the fact that it has an ethnically diverse student body and some of the best teachers in New York, made it worth my choosing over the preferred Brooklyn schools, Midwood and Murrow. Yet, while I sat for four years in a school surrounded by scaffolds, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech were showered with monetary gifts. Recently, New York magazine included HSTAT in a feature on "Top Public High Schools" in New York. Isn't that nice?
Now, District 15 in Brooklyn is "saving" the notoriously low-performing John Jay High School. It will be converted into a grades 6-12 school. No doubt, this delights the Park Slope yuppies who always want more options for their kids and have seen John Jay as a blemish on good ol' Park Slope. In essence, this is the final stage of a Park Slope gentrification project 30-plus years in the making.
The colonization and hostile takeover of schools that can only dream to be Stuyvesant is not a solution. It will ultimately displace miseducated minority students who are already having a hard time adapting to more rigid testing standards. One question: Where will all of these minority students go when they have no schools left to attend?
Ryan McKenzie Connor
As a 1962 graduate of Stuyvesant High School and a former member of the school's alumni board, I would like to respond to Lisa Marie Williams and Katie Worth's article about the plight of Borough of Manhattan Community College in relation to the attention given to Stuyvesant High School following the World Trade Center tragedy. In pointing out the demographics of the two schools, Williams and Worth neglect to point out that about 50 percent of Stuyvesant's students are Asian American, many of them from poor families. To suggest that racism is the reason behind BMCC's situation is misguided.
SIGNATURES OF TERRORISM
Jason Vest's article on alleged Jewish "terrorism" ["Oy McVey," December 25] fails to make the distinction between acts of violence that are directed against soldiers or governments and acts of violence against noncombatant civilians. It is the latter behavior that is the defining signature of terrorism. The former, while bearing superficial similarity to modern terrorism, can be construed as armed struggle against an occupying army by an opposition that does not (yet) have the means for an open frontal assault.
If the Palestinians limited their targets to the Israeli military (particularly in the West Bank and Gaza) and Israeli government offices, even though I and many others would deplore it, there would be some logic and even justification (from their point of view). They would be struggling against what they see as an occupying force. But to target and attack civilians is abhorrent and utterly without redeeming ideological value.
Newark, New Jersey
Thank you for printing Jason Vest's wonderful exposé of Israeli hypocrisy on the subject of terrorism. After making a documentary in the Gaza Strip for three months at the start of 2001, I can attest that Israeli state terrorism against Palestinian civilians continues to this day, not to mention Israeli army attacks on journalists and aid workers, and numerous, well-documented violations of international law. It is correct to condemn terrorism, and Israel's ongoing state terrorism should not be excluded from condemnation.
I was disappointed to read Michael Feingold's reference to the non-Caucasian actors in Tony Kushner's play Homebody/Kabul as "Asian American" ["Disorientalism," January 1]. The actors, including my husband, are Iranian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Indian, and Bengali in origin. Why they weren't referred to as Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian is beyond me. Given the play's themes of East-West culture clash, racially based civil war, genocide, and the horrors resulting from racism and ignorance, it is stunning to me that such an error would be made in your newspaper.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Michael Feingold's review of Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul was brilliant. I cannot remember the last time that I went to the theater and subsequently read a review that I felt so honestly and accurately portrayed the theatrical event. As a student of theater who plans on dedicating the rest of his life to it, I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of Mr. Feingold's ability. It is my hope that he will still be reviewing by the time I get to New York.
Sandy Yang's "The Other Ghosts of Ground Zero" [January 1] was a great article. Yang's an excellent storyteller, and I enjoyed reading the piece. I learned so much. Thanks!
Frank Kogan's review of Shakira's album Laundry Service was very descriptive ["River Deep, Freckle High," January 1]. If I tried putting into words how I feel about Shakira's voice, I would fail horribly. Kogan pinpointed it exactly.
Do you think Michael Atkinson's review of Monster's Ball would have been any less complete without revealing a major plot point of the movie ["The Sorrow and the P. Diddy," January 1]? Just asking. What the hell was he thinking?
Michael J. Lott
Los Angeles, California
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