If you’re asking “what were they thinking?” about the “no angel” paragraph, they THOUGHT they were advertising their non-aligned status. 1/2
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) August 25, 2014
They THOUGHT they were separating themselves from people who might be tempted to angel–ize Michael Brown. “You can do that, we cannot.” 2/2 — Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) August 25, 2014
Alison Mitchell, national editor for the New York Times, noted in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog that the “no angel” line derives from the lead paragraph of the piece, which narrates a moment in Brown’s life:
FERGUSON, Mo. — It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God.
“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.
UPDATE 4:55 p.m.: In an interview with New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, Eligon acknowledges some merit in the backlash.
“I understand the concerns, and I get it,” Mr. Eligon said. He agreed that “no angel” was not a good choice of words and explained that they were meant to play off the opening anecdote of the article in which Mr. Brown saw an angelic vision. That anecdote “is about as positive as you can get,” Mr. Eligon said, and noted that a better way to segue into the rest of the article might have been to use a phrase like “wasn’t perfect.”