Monday, December 22, 2008


Romanesko, whom I trust, links to the Weekly Standard, which I don't trust, in which appears a story about the travails of Detroit, the hook being Charlie LeDuff, the former NY Times phenom who came home to work at the Detroit News.

It's a feature story with all the vividness and point-of-view that make that genre both irresistible and elusive. Never take a feature story as your only point of reference. Triangulate. But the essence of a good feature story is its subjectivity, its invested emotion, its ability to make us see and hear, which is another way of describing its tunnel vision and tunnel listening, and we all know how focus on the fine print can obscure the big picture.

And we all know how the big picture can be a lie, for the world is pointillist, and we -- you, me, Rick Warren and Rahm Emmanuel -- are those points. So back to my thesis sentence: Triangulate.

The Weekly Standard's view of Detroit is bleak but sympathetic to the city's decent citizens, whatever larger political agenda uses that bleakness as a trampoline. And I know Detroit's situation is bleak, though my firsthand knowledge is out of date.

My wife is from Detroit Metro, and I worked one summer in the Ford River Rouge plant and one summer in the Great Lakes Steel plant, and I liked Detroit then, warts and all. But today: I know it's bad. We hear things. We keep in touch. The Weekly Standard story suggests the situation is appalling, and the fact the Weekly Standard salivates over stories about Democratic hellholes doesn't mean Democratic hellholes don't exist.

(All those Republican hellholes -- let us say Wall Street -- which differ from Detroit just to this extent: The ---holes pour down the hell on us, and laugh.)

Quite a story, though. I'll send it to my man Boileau for his reaction. One great paragraph describing a Detroit firehouse, which I could use in reporting class but probably won't even though it touches on the issues of accurate quotation and protecting sources.

I ask how this could be, where is their funding? "I'll tell you what happened to our funding," Nevin says, stomping over to pick up a newspaper with a picture of Kwame's mistress copping a plea. "Kwame Kilpatrick, who is a f--ing retard. There's 20 years of Coleman Young, who is a f--ing retard." He doesn't limit it to black Detroit politicians. He suggests that Congressman Sandy Levin, who represents most of Detroit's northeastern suburbs, "can suck my nuts." Nevin is furious. His friend is dead. He's tired of do-nothing politicians who cuddle up to firemen like kewpie dolls during election time, then underfund them and fail to demolish the thousands and thousands of structures that burn again and again. The surprise isn't that Walt's dead, it's that more of them aren't. (When I ask Nevin later if he wants to exhibit such candor, he reconsiders, "You'd better have Levin kiss my balls," he says, much more gingerly.)

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