New Yorker To Patterson: Drop Dead

February 13, 2014, 12:04 PM by  Bill McGraw

The New Yorker has answered Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's latest attempt to extricate himself from the mess he created with his comments about Detroit, his longtime hobgoblin, in the magazine's recent profile.

In his state of the county speech Wednesday night, Patterson took time from reciting an impressive list of initiatives and accomplishments to dredge up the furor that arose last month after he was quoted several times in one of the nation's most prestigious periodicals as denigrating the city in which he grew up.

In his speech, Patterson attacked the article's author, award-winning writer Paige Williams, calling her a "dilettante" and saying Williams "pulled the old bait-and-switch, selling me on one idea of writing a positive story about Oakland County’s success in creating jobs and stimulating new economic development and attracting capital investment, but instead fabricating a sensational and titillating story that she knew would attract the interest of her editors at the New Yorker and give her the national recognition that she so obviously craves."

Following the speech, the New Yorker replied through a spokesperson: 

"Paige Williams's heavily reported piece drew on extended interviews with Patterson in the fall of 2013. The notion that any of these quotes are fabricated, or presented out of context, is ludicrous."

One of Patterson's chief complaints has focused on his comment that compared Detroit to an Indian reservation, which angered both Detroiters and Native Americans. In his speech Wednesday, he charged Williams "drudged up old, stale and worn-out statements from decades ago and presented them as they if they were fresh quotes."

In reality, it was Patterson who reached back in time for one the many controversial comments he has made about Detroit going back to the 1970s.

This is how the exchange took place, according to the article:

When I asked him how Detroit might fix its financial problems, he said, "I made a prediction a long time ago, and it's come to pass. I said, 'What we're going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, an then throw in the blankets and corn.' "  

Said Patterson:

"To say that I was furious about the intentional false representations of my comments would be a gross understatement. I was sandbagged, pure and simple. But for a guy who’s been in the public arena for as long as I have, that’s a pretty hard thing to admit. I have nobody to blame but myself."

Patterson never has accused Williams of misquoting him in the article, which was headlined,"Drop Dead, Detroit!" And her article contains abundant information on Patterson's success in making Oakland County one of the nation's most economically viable and well managed communities.

Patterson on Wednesday also said, "Red flags should have popped up given the reputation of the New Yorker."

Yet, by any measure, the New Yorker is one of the most admired magazines in the English language. It has a global audience for its journalism, fiction, criticism and cartoons, which are famously supported by rigorous editing and fact-checking. Its articles have been frequent recipients of national awards in recent years.

Williams teaches narrative writing at Harvard and won won the National Magazine Award for feature writing in 2008, and was a finalist in 2009 (shared) and 2011. In addition to the New Yorker, she writes for the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York magazine, GQ, FT magazine, and The Oxford American. 

Patterson, 75 and still recovering from a serious auto accident, likely is in his final four years of a public career that started with his participation in the Pontiac anti-busing crusade of the early 1970s. With the New Yorker, he had a chance to secure his legacy as a master administrator and skillful politician before a worldwide audience. 

But he let the deep-seated demons he harbors about Detroit trump his good judgment. As he put it Wednesday night:

"I have nobody to blame but myself."

The New Yorker story exists behind the magazine's paywall and cannot be accessed by a link.

Disclosure: The author of this article was quoted in the New Yorker's profile of Patterson, noting Patterson's history of negative comments toward Detroit.

Previously on Deadline Detroit:

Patterson Rips New Yorker Writer, Opens Yearly Speech With A Cushingberry Joke

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