Weekend Roundup 10/25/2010

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
(2010). A Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times, Wilkerson spent about 20 years interviewing and archive-diving to put a human face on a massive population shift of African-Americans from south to north that – as the book makes plain – transformed the nation. Wilkerson tells the tale through three main characters, supplemented by recollections of others, including her own mother. Among the book’s conclusions is that southern blacks were to all intents and purposes immigrants in the north, even though they were born full-fledged citizens. The wealth of detail about the struggles and determination of ordinary people make the book irresistible and unforgettable. One point little known today – decades after slavery ended, untold numbers of black people, effectively held in bondage had to leave the south clandestinely.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


Are You Part of the New Elite?
The Washington Post, Oct. 24, 2010

Synopsis: Tea Party activists charge that a “new elite,” raised in affluent suburbs, educated in prestigious universities and marrying among themselves, is out of touch with mainstream America and ignorant of how “ordinary” folks live, argues conservative scholar Charles Murray. He buttresses his claim with a 10-question quiz. “Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary club? Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of ‘The Price is Right’? Can you identify a field of soybeans?” and so on.

Takeaway: Whether Murray's argument holds water or not, it’s a reminder that thought leaders inside the Beltway Bubble -- Congress, the national media and policy wonks among them – who ignore the views of “ordinary” Americans and see themselves as some sort of ruling class do so at their own peril.

Thomas J. Billitteri, Assistant Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


N.F.L.’s Crackdown Tests the Boundaries of Mayhem
Judy Battista, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Choosing Bearhugs Over Big Hit
William C. Rhoden, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

The N.F.L.’s Head Cases

Nate Jackson, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Should You Watch?
Michael Sokolove, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Synopsis: On “any given Sunday,” tens of millions of Americans are jammed into stadiums or glued to their TV sets watching professional football. Over the past few years, medical research and player activism have focused attention on the risks to player health and safety from the game, especially severe brain injuries from helmet-to-helmet hits. The issue gained wide public attention after a number of violent hits during the games of Oct. 17.

The New York Times’ coverage a week later included an overview by sports reporter Judy Battista that explored players’ and coaches’ reactions to the National Football League’s announcement that it would impose harsh discipline for prohibited hits to the head. Sports columnist William Rhoden approves, but former Denver Bronco tight end Nate Jackson (on the op-ed page) disagrees. Meanwhile, Michael Sokolove, a journalist-author who writes often about the culture and sociology of sports, asks the ultimate question: If injuries are inherent in pro football as played today, is it morally defensible to watch?

Takeaway: “The players understand the risks,” Jackson writes, “and the fans enjoy watching them take those risks.” Is he right?

For our report on player-safety and other issues, see “Professional Football,” Jan. 29, 2010.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


The Calling
Bill Donahue, Washington Post Magazine, Oct 24. 2010

Synopsis: If you're still a bit uncertain who the Tea Partiers are, and what they stand for, take a bus road trip to a Washington rally with a group of Tea Party members from Ohio. Embraced by the group as "a shaggy dog cousin from the Left Coast," reporter Bill Donahue transforms them from political buzz words to flesh-and-blood people -- Middle Americans to be sure.

Takeaway: The lives of these conservative Americans -- both personal and political -- rest on deeply held Christian beliefs.

Tom Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


What a Scientist Didn't Tell the New York Times on Honeybee Deaths
Katherine Eban, Fortune, Oct. 8, 2010

Synopsis: Early this month I -- and the writer of this Fortune article, apparently -- did a double take when a front-page New York Times headline declared that scientists had found the sole answer to the honeybee die-offs that have been occurring over the past few years. The die-offs jeopardize both the environment and farms’ food production, since so many plants, including food crops, depend on pollination by the bees. Previously, I had heard that the die-offs were a complicated phenomenon and that some human-made factors, such as pesticides, were probably involved. But the Times headline and front-page placement strongly suggested that a fungus and virus are now considered the prime suspects and that the mystery has largely been resolved. Turns out, though, according to Fortune, that the study's lead author has a longtime funding relationship with Bayer Crop Science, a company whose pesticides have come under suspicion as bee-death-related in some other research. The scientist involved apparently never disclosed this relationship to the Times reporter.

Takeaway: Beware of headlines that may overstate scientific findings and scientists who don’t make full disclosure of their funding sources.

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher