Times Concocted 'Darkest Africa'; A Former New York Times Stringer Alleges in His Book That the Paper's Editors Have a Documented History of Inserting Racial Stereotypes into Articles Covering Africa

Insight on the News, January 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

Times Concocted 'Darkest Africa'; A Former New York Times Stringer Alleges in His Book That the Paper's Editors Have a Documented History of Inserting Racial Stereotypes into Articles Covering Africa


Byline: Shayla Bennett, INSIGHT

The New York Times is under fire again for fabrications in its stories. This time the accusations come from former Times metro stringer Milton Allimadi in his book The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created a Racist Image of Africa, in which he charges the newspaper with using racial stereotypes and interjecting racially motivated fabrications into its coverage of Africa.

The allegations result from extensive research Allimadi performed for an academic thesis while a student at the Columbia School of Journalism. The book was released independently a month before the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal and almost a year before the Times' latest reinvestigation of the Pulitzer Prize awarded in 1932 to its correspondent Walter Duranty, who used his reports to cover up the famine Josef Stalin created in the Ukraine to starve the kulaks into submitting to collectivized agriculture [see "Duranty's Deception," July 22-Aug. 4].

In The Hearts of Darkness, Allimadi charges the late two-time Pulitzer Prize reporter Homer Bigart, famous as a Times war correspondent, with "concocting" pygmies to place into his reports from Ghana. Times editors also are alleged to have inserted "fabricated tribal scenarios" into Lloyd M. Garrison's articles on the Nigerian civil war, as well as "editorial insertions of stereotypes and fabrications" into Joseph Lelyveld's articles from South Africa during the 1980s. The book probes into the paper's archives and examines correspondence between reporters and editors assigned to coverage in Africa. Allimadi cites memos from the Times archives as evidence for his claims against the paper.

Editor of the weekly Black Star, founded with support from actor Bill Cosby, Allimadi is interested in the general racial consensus of various periods in U.S. history, especially those ranging from the 1800s to 1950s, a time when the United States either practiced slavery or enforced racial segregation. But he has looked most closely at the correspondence of the Times from the 1980s to the present a time when the United States was more than 120 years removed from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and more than 30 years from when Brown v. Board of Education overturned the 1896 separate-but-equal decision of Plessy v. Ferguson.

After Times senior editor William Borders reviewed it he told Insight he would "recommend [the book] to anyone interested in how the American press used to cover Africa." And Allimadi tells Insight that he has a letter signed by Borders and dated Sept. 29, admitting questionable language in the paper's reporting on Africa. Responding to the paper's indiscriminate use of the words tribe, tribesman and tribal, Borders wrote, "We should know better."

Allimadi reminds that, "People need to realize that past racist practices still condition and influence contemporary reporting." In his chapter "The New York Times as Apartheid's Apologists," Allimadi explains that when the media use the word "tribal" in references to Africa it has "the implication that they are irrational and have no logical or legitimate contributing factors" to explain their behavior. In fact, he tells Insight, while researching the newspaper's archives he came across a Times Style & Usage manual dated 1964 that recommended against using the term.

Kwamina Panford, chairman of African-American studies at Northeastern University in Boston, thinks that tribal explanations may just be laziness. He tells Insight that continual reference to Africans as tribal is an "easy way to describe conflict in the continent instead of doing a good job and reporting the details. …

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