Trust, faith and The Hartford Courant


Trust and faith are funny things sometimes.
    This occurred to me while vacationing last week at a large resort in the Bahamas.  As I as preparing to take a dip, I thought about how much I trusted my fellow swimmers not to pee in the pool.   And I had faith that they didn't.
    But I know some of them did.
    It's like that with The Hartford Courant.  As the only daily newspaper in many of the city's communities, I trust its editorial commentary to be even-handed and carefully- assembled.  And I open its pages with faith that it is.
    But I know it isn't.
    Take, for example, the Courant's handling of the reaction to a story it reprinted from the Chicago Tribune summarizing a sociological study.  It reported the findings of a couple of eggheads who ran some statistics and concluded that crime is down today because 20 years ago legalized abortion allowed more poor, uneducated, teenage minority mothers to terminate their pregnancies.
    To anyone who has ever looked at the backgrounds of prison inmates or juvenile delinquents (oops, I mean students at alternative learning centers), the notion that fewer poor, uneducated, teen minority mothers translates into fewer criminals is not shocking.
    The study did not condone abortion or advocate some sort of sterilization so that the downward crime trend continues topics which would be the legitimate focus of some debate so you might think there wouldn't be much genuine controversy about it.
    Or you might unless you worked for the Courant.  In the days immediately following the article's publication, the Courant must have felt an overwhelming need to apologize for the story. It  ran opinion pieces by columnists Amy Pagnozzi, Vivian Martin and several letters from readers, including UConn professor Noel Cazenove (claim to fame: taught a class entitled "White Racism"),  all of which spouted off about things like eugenics, Hitler and genocide.
    The Courant also passed on running one of its regular syndicated columnists, Ellen Goodman, presumably because she wrote that the study "has the whiff of common sense."
    Like a skunk has a "whiff" of a bad smell.  You would think that Goodman's Pulitzer Prize would give her enough clout (not that I would know) to keep the Courant's political correctness posse from hogtying  off her voice, but you would be wrong.
    Perhaps feeling a little guilty after its one-night stand with one-sidedness, the Courant then ran a piece from its reader representative Elissa Papirno purporting to explain the circumstances which led to the uneven coverage given this story.  I've read it a couple of times and as soon as I figure out what it says, I'll be sure and let you know.
    The Courant's behavior in this episode was the equivalent of publishing Christopher Columbus' diary statements that the world is indeed round and then printing ten countervailing letters from members of the Flat Earth Society.  Or running a piece from Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel about his time spent in a concentration camp and then giving equal coverage to letters from skinheads and neo-Nazis who claim the Holocaust never took place.
    A few years ago when I lived in Hartford,  I would pen an occasional piece for the Courant's op ed page.  I submitted one about the reasons none of my white friends would even consider buying a home in Hartford.   One of the concerns I heard voiced was a a desire to avoid a school system overburdened by a student population which is over one-half Hispanic.
    The commentary editor sent my piece back to me marked up with her comments.  One of them questioned where I got the percentages of minority students.  "I thought Hartford's school system was predominately African-American, no?" she wrote.
    I sent her back a clipping from . . . .The Hartford Courant . . . .from a few months earlier which had a headline to the effect that the number of Hispanic students in Hartford had just gone over 50 percent, establishing them as the largest group in the school system.
    After some more back and forth with that piece, it was rejected.  My byline hasn't appeared in that paper since.
    Now, I don't know enough about the craft of editing to say if she is a good editor or not.  To me, a good editor is one who keeps his or her paws off my paragraphs.But it has always troubled me that the person charged by the Courant to manage its commentary was unfamiliar with something so fundamental as the racial composition of Hartford's schools.
    I still read that paper every day.  And I still swim in pools.  Like I said, trust and faith are funny things sometimes.

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September 7, 1999