The New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, said that Times reporter John Eligon’s description of Michael Brown as “no angel” in a profile of the Ferguson, Mo. teen was a “blunder.”
“That choice of words was a regrettable mistake. In saying that the 18-year-old Michael Brown was ‘no angel’ in the fifth paragraph of Monday’s front-page profile, The Times seems to suggest that this was, altogether, a bad kid,” she wrote on Monday.
The Times got a lot of heat for the phrase, and Elignon defended the line and his profile of Brown in an interview with TPM on Monday.
Elignon lamented to TPM that those criticizing the phrase did not take the rest of the profile into account.
“I guess I will say I totally understand where people are coming from. But I think my problem is, I’m curious with a lot of the criticism if those people have even read the entire story because the opening anecdote involved Michael seeing an angel,” he said. “I caution against cherry-picking one line or one paragraph because I would say largely everything before and after that is mostly positive about his life.”
But when speaking to Sullivan, Elignon said that the “no angel” description “wasn’t perfect.”
“Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I would have changed that,” he said.
In her blog post, Sullivan added that the Times should not have published the article on the same day as Michael Brown’s funeral, and she said that pairing it with a positive profile of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, “seemed to inappropriately equate the two people.”
She concluded however, by praising the profile as a whole.
“In general, though, I found Mr. Eligon’s reporting to be solid and thorough,” she wrote. “I came away from the profile with a deeper sense of who Michael Brown was, and an even greater sense of sorrow at the circumstances of his death.”