Hearts of Darkness
By Milton Allimadi
Concocted 'Darkest Africa'
By Shayla Bennett
has appointed himself unofficial ombudsman and takes the so-called
"newspaper of record" to task for what he deems to be a pattern
of distorted coverage of Africa
New York Times is under fire again for fabrications in its
stories. This time the accusations come from former Times metro
stringer Milton Allimadi
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.
allegations result from extensive research Allimadi
performed for an academic thesis while a student at the Columbia
School of Journalism.
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].
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
book probes into the paper's archives and examines correspondence
between reporters and editors assigned to coverage in
cites memos from the Times archives as evidence for his
claims against the paper.
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
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
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."
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.
to the paper's indiscriminate use of the words tribe, tribesman
and tribal, Borders wrote, "We should know better."
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
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.
Panford, chairman of African-American studies at Northeastern
University in Boston, thinks that tribal explanations may just be
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." He
says "tribal terms represent the incorrect exotic, dark and
disparaging view of Africa."
Allimadi's view, this becomes a cliché as "reporters
reference old articles from papers like the Times and books
like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness."
The Hearts of Darkness as his rebuttal to Conrad's Heart
of Darkness, which Allimadi refers to as "just a
collection of the most racist depictions of Africa." He says,
"My sense of frustration with the derogatory terms used to
describe Africans led me to choose this topic for my thesis. I
wanted to trace the origin of control that contemporary Western
course the Times is not the only establishment journal made
to suffer Allimadi's perp walk. But while Time, National
Geographic and Newsweek are all named among the
offenders, the Times remains the focal point, referenced in
Allimadi explains, "Since I had access to their archives it
allowed me to delve deeper into their reporting, plus the Times
is simply the main example because it is so predominant in
mainstream media. If they change their practices it may penetrate
down to other media - especially since so many see the Times as
the Times named Daniel Okrent to the position of public
editor, where he functions as the newspaper's ombudsman. Okrent
was appointed on Oct. 28 to address questions and comments of
readers about articles published in the paper.
on the other hand, has appointed himself an unofficial ombudsman
for the Times in the area of racism. As he puts it: "I
believe the New York Times owes its black readers an
apology for its ugly African coverage of the past and an apology
for the concoctions by editors to create and perpetuate the racist
imagery, such as the case with Lloyd Garrison, the West Africa
correspondent when the Times manufactured 'tribal' scenes and
inserted them into stories."
is unclear if Allimadi's claims will be addressed by the new Times
public editor. Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate
communications for the Times, says that, "As a matter of
public policy, we will not discuss what the public editor is
planning to write before he does so."
a statement to Insight, senior editor Borders says, "I
told Mr. Allimadi, most of the sections of the book dealing with
the New York Times report on practices of three or four
decades ago. Happily, we have improved our sophistication and
knowledge about Africa, improvements that are evident in our
coverage of the continent now."
Allimadi acknowledges that many of his complaints are based on
articles from earlier days, he says he does not see why his
complaints are any less worthy than those about the 1930s
reporting of Duranty. And he recognizes that the Times has
improved its coverage of Africa, crediting reporters such as Nori
Onishi, Somini Sengupta and Howard French.
called our coverage in our pages excellent, which pleased me very
much, given the obvious depth of his knowledge and interest,"
Allimadi still believes the paper has a long way to go.
he notes, "The Times has not published an apology for
the distorted African coverage even after I brought it to the
attention of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., [the Times'] publisher. That
means that the Times either does not care about its racist
depictions of Africa or that the apologies that accompanied the
Blair scandal were simply for PR purposes."