Most of the time we can all feel righteously that we are misunderstood when a distant newspaper flies into—if not over—our hometown and in a day or two dispenses its conclusions. It has talked to the usual suspects, found what it came for, and turned us into whatever specimen an editor decided to find under the microscope.
But once in a while space and distance bring brutal clarity. America is coming to regard Chicago as its national killing grounds. The Sunday New York Times put our city on its front page with a headline, “A Weekend in Chicago,” a montage of photos, and a secondary head, “Three Days, 64 People Shot, Six of Them Dead.” The weekend was the week before, Friday evening through Memorial Day.
The story, reported and written by a team of 16 reporters headed by Monica Davey, moved inside the front section of the Times to take up four full, adless, richly illustrated pages. A friend who read the package online described it as “astonishing.”
“With far fewer residents,” the Times reported, “Chicago has more homicides than Los Angeles or New York.”
The Times story follows a story cowritten by Davey just before Memorial Day, “Pleading for Peace in Chicago Amid Fears of a Bloody Summer.” It follows by a day the Times story, “Chicago Releases Videos of Police Shootings,” and by two and a half weeks the Times story, “Chicago’s Murder Problem”—which focused on our guns, gangs, and segregation.
The Times is presenting Chicago to America as its Aleppo, its slaughterhouse. And it is certainly possible to read these stories on a cell phone in a Starbucks in the other Chicago, and dismiss them as the opportunism of an indifferent newspaper that doesn’t understand Chicago and doesn’t care what it says about it.
But what I like most about “A Weekend in Chicago” is its dispassion. Numbers don’t lie and a corpse is a corpse. The Times won’t wring its hands over our troubles. It sets them out and the nation can gawk.