LeDuff: Kwame and The Detroit Clickbait Cult

January 30, 2020, 11:10 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

Brian Dickerson

Imagine my amusement when I was told I'd been called out by name in the Detroit Free Press.

That's when you know you've made it around here -- when you get spit-balled by a decaying newspaper.

Brian Dickerson, whose writing is widely considered to be a sure-fire cure for insomnia, knighted me as “the clown prince of Detroit journalism” and Pete Karmanos as a “shill” for Kwame Kilpatrick and Donald Trump.

Dickerson was riffing from a five-day-old interview I had done with Karmanos on my podcast, "The No Bullshit News Hour," where the billionaire businessman said he was lobbying Trump to commute Kilpatrick's 28-year prison sentence for public corruption.

You know it's a slow news day when a reporter writes a report about another reporter's week-old report.

But that's the way it seems to be most days when you flip through the ever-thinning news pages of the Freep, available at select gas stations next to the toothpicks and gum. Too many media types have run out of energy and ideas. They lack the courage and conviction that they preach at journalism schools and boozy conventions. They rarely go to the streets. They bloviate. 

Charlie LeDuff

The public understands this, and so, the newspapers yellow on the rack.

And that's too bad for all of us. Because Detroit could use brass-knuckle journalism now more than ever. 

Lap Poodles

But instead of taking on power, editors of the mainstream newsrooms choose to lay down like a lap poodle. They shill for the Ilitch family and their great hockey arena rip-off until someone else – from out of town – goes first to criticize.

Then and only then, is it safe for the editorial pages to come out of hiding. Same with Gilbert. And Duggan. And the runaway crime. The Free Press has no reporter covering the police department in America's most dangerous city. It has only one City Hall reporter, who is both excellent and over-worked.

There are at least two dozen terrific reporters in town. I know many of them and speak with them regularly. They feel handcuffed: editors and news directors and general managers tell them not to rock the boat. Don't upset the advertisers or the political power.

Pete Karmanos is a big boy and I'm not going to defend him. I think Kilpatrick is a crook. But the point almost everyone talks about is whether 28 years is too long.

Big, Bad, Brash, Black?


Kwame Kilpatrick (Twitter photo)

Did Kilpatrick get a world record sentence because he's big, bad, brash, black? It's fair to ask.

Remember, Celia Washington, the former deputy chief of police, who just two years ago was convicted of accepting bribes in connection with towing contracts? She was given a measly 12 months in federal prison. So much for a new day in Detroit. Corruption is alive and well.

If Dickerson truly wants a piece of the Kwame story, he might then consider pursuing his own line of reporting. It would not take long or much effort. He'd just have to stand up and walk across his own newsroom.

He might clarify for us how the Free Press sat on Kilpatrick's text messages until after an $8 million settlement was reached between Kilpatrick and the whistleblowers Gary Brown and Harold Nelthrope. 

The paper was given the texts by the whistleblowers' lawyer “for safe keeping” and was still in possession of them when a confidentiality agreement was signed between the parties as a condition for the money to be released.

The Free Press published the story only after the money was transferred. Was the city allowed to be swindled for the sake of a good – albeit important – story? Did the Free Press know a confidentiality agreement was in the works? Did they make a deal? Do they care?

Saccharine outrage, click-baiting and cherry-picking week-old stories won't save the news business. Work ethic, courage and imagination will. Those never go out of style.

But what do I know? I'm a clown.

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