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The police chief’s new clothes

RealClearPolitics has posted an entertaining year-end column by Russ Smith lamenting the disappearance of the brief journalistic moratorium on nastiness that used to be the custom of the season: “Enough with the bitching.” According to Smith, the period between December 15 and January 5, like the rest of the year year, has now become one of “all bile, all the time, fair, unfair, balanced and not really fit to print.”
Smith doesn’t even get around to citing the treatment of Donald Rumsfeld by the press this month as an example, but it seems to me to fit his theme. At the Spectator Online Jed Babbin makes a powerful case that Rumsfeld has been the victim of a bilious and unfair attack this month: “Let the big dog run.”
Smith mentions in passing an incident involving Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter David Chanen that I had meant to discuss at the time it occurred in mid-December:

A Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter, David Chanen, was disciplined by his superiors for sending an email (written in haste, Chanen says) to the city’s black police inspector using the phrase “colored officers.” Police Chief Bill McManus article was quoted in the paper’s Dec. 17 as saying the email “displayed at a minimum a shocking insensitivity and racism.”
Maybe I’m a bit obstinate, but how is “colored officers” all that much different from the widely used alternative, “people of color”?

The Star Tribune story is still available online: “Star Tribune reporter disciplined over racial wording in e-mail.” There is a little bit more to the story than Smith discusses. Here’s the Star Tribune’s December 17 account:

A Star Tribune reporter was disciplined Thursday after he disclosed that he wrote an e-mail to a Minneapolis police official that contained racially insensitive language.
David Chanen, a police reporter, told editors that he used the term “colored officers” in an e-mail sent Wednesday to Minneapolis Police Inspector Donald Banham, who is black.
Star Tribune Managing Editor Scott Gillespie sent a letter Thursday to Minneapolis Police Chief Bill McManus saying that the newspaper “owes you and your department a deep and sincere apology” for the language used in the e-mail.
McManus said Thursday night that the newspaper’s apology “should be made to Minneapolis Police Department officers of color, not to me. Certainly, they are all offended by it. This isn’t the 1960s anymore.”
Gillespie and Chanen said the reporter had intended to use the term “officers of color,” but made an error in rushing to send the e-mail. Gillespie said he couldn’t comment on the details of the discipline because it was a personnel matter.
When a person who had heard about the e-mail called him, Chanen said he reviewed it and “was shocked to learn I had written language … that is terribly offensive. I was writing the e-mail in haste, but that’s no excuse, and I deeply apologize for what I did.”
Chanen said he wrote the e-mail because Banham had sent a letter to the newspaper criticizing Chanen’s Dec. 11 story about the replacement of Lt. Mike Carlson as head of the homicide unit by Lt. Lee Edwards. Carlson is white and Edwards is black.
Chanen said he wrote the e-mail to set up a meeting with Banham to discuss the inspector’s concerns.
In a letter to the editor Tuesday, McManus said the story was biased and left the impression that Edwards was chosen to head the homicide unit only because he is black.
Gillespie said in his letter to McManus that he wished the Dec. 11 story had included more information about the accomplishments of Edwards and another black officer, Sgt. Mike Davis, who was assigned to succeed Edwards as head of the department’s internal affairs unit. McManus said he commented on the story and the e-mail Wednesday night at a meeting of the Police Community Relations Council.
“I think these two incidents — first the article, and then the e-mail — displayed at a minimum a shocking insensitivity and racism, even if it was unintended,” he said Thursday.

Chanen’s offending story is also still available online: “Minneapolis police chief reassigns top cops.” The racism imputed to Chanen as a result of this story appears to derive from these paragraphs and to be based on Chanen’s reliance on the observations of black Minneapolis civil rights activist Ron Edwards:

[Lt. Carlson] will be replaced by Lt. Lee Edwards, who was in charge of the department’s internal affairs unit. While several community activists said they thought that Carlson did a good job, they understand the move is part of Chief Bill McManus’ commitment to further diversify top positions. Edwards and Sgt. Mike Davis, who will be taking over internal affairs, are black…
The personnel moves are consistent with what [Minneapolis Chief of Police] McManus said when he was hired: that he wanted to shape the department in his own image, said activist Ron Edwards (no relation to Lee Edwards). He said the new head of homicide is one of the best qualified officers of color in the department to run the unit.
McManus has promoted Inspectors Val Wurster and Don Banham and is planning to appoint Inspector Don Harris to deputy chief. All are black.
“I have no knocks against Mike Carlson,” Edwards said. “With budget restraints making it hard to hire new officers of color, Chief McManus has to work with the pool within the department.”

According to McManus, Lt. Edwards’s color was not his only qualification for the job. Based on McManus’s own words, however, Lt. Edwards’s color appears to have been the necessary condition of his promotion by McManus. Isn’t that news? Isn’t Chanen’s offense nothing more than the failure to sugarcoat McManus’s race-based appointments?
I did not mean to fall into the trap set by Smith’s column and contribute to the continuing circulation of all bile all the time. But shouldn’t someone be asking what’s happening here?

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