In a column last month on the sorry state of U.S. race relations, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist James Causey overshot just a touch. Under the headline “Donald Trump’s right: We do have a race problem,” Causey ticked off several bullet points demonstrating the gap between African Americans and whites in this country. One of them read like this: “In 1954, unemployment was zero for white men, and it was 4%” for black men.
That statistic was wrong, not to mention unsourced. A similar formulation could be found on the website YourBlackWorld.net. “For white men in 1954, unemployment was zero. For African-American men in 1954, it was about 4 percent.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate for whites in 1954 — the first year for “consistent unemployment data by race” — averaged 5 percent. Black unemployment in that year reached nearly 10 percent.
The bogus numbers proved fatal to Causey’s column, which became very scarce on the Internet. Links to the piece dead-ended. On Wednesday afternoon, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Causey and a spokesperson for the USA Today Network (which includes the Journal Sentinel) what had happened. Where was the column? Why was it so hard to find?
Back came a response attributable to George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “This column never appeared in print. The problems with unemployment figures were discovered before print publication and it was taken down from the website before ever appearing in print.”
The corrected version appears here, complete with this text at the top:
Correction: An earlier version of this column inaccurately reported that the unemployment rate for white men was 0% in 1954 and 4% for black men; in fact, the unemployment rate then was about 5% for white men and about 10% for nonwhite men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The column has been corrected with proper attribution to original sources of data. The original version was published online but not in the print edition of the Journal Sentinel.
From what this blog can gather, the sequence goes like this: Causey wrote a column with bogus statistics apparently derived from YourBlackWorld.net; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel heard about the problem; instead of correcting the column and perhaps running it in print, the newspaper simply bailed on it, removing it from its website; after the Erik Wemple Blog asked about the situation more than a month later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel restored the piece with a proper, prominent correction. Asked whether that scenario was accurate, a spokesperson said yes.
The good thing is that the Journal Sentinel complied with all the ethics of Web publishing — or at least those that were in place around 1998. By current standards, this all amounts to a fast one: When a piece of content has an error — especially a serious one — it should be noted prominently online, before someone asks about it.
Following the pull-down, Causey’s columns took a hiatus of several weeks, ending in a compelling first-person piece on Sunday about the Milwaukee neighborhood where violent protests erupted the day before following the police killing of an armed man. “I’ve lived near Sherman Blvd. and Capitol Drive for nearly four decades,” wrote Causey. “The majority of people living in the area are hard-working individuals who just want to keep their neighborhood and families safe. However, in recent years many have become thankful just to make it home at night because of the violence and recklessness of some of their neighbors.”
Asked why the column had taken a break, Stanley wrote, “Causey’s column has not appeared in the past month because he is on a special in-depth reporting project. He won’t be writing regularly until the project is completed, which we expect to be in early 2017. His column Sunday was something he did extra because he wanted and needed to weigh in on what was happening in his neighborhood.”