Nuts to Nutter
Philly’s mayor has gone off the rails with an attack on race-related free speech.

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter


Kevin D. Williamson

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter looked kinda sorta okay there for a while. As Rich Lowry noted, he was refreshingly candid on the subject of the city’s riots, and of course it is easy to look relatively good in the wake of a guy like John Street. But then he was faced with an act of journalism, and he went bonkers.

Philadelphia magazine is not exactly The Economist; it is best known for things like publishing rankings of the city’s top dentists. But it recently published a nice piece of reporting by Robert Huber on the subject of “Being White in Philly.” If you know Philadelphia, you will find the picture the piece paints amusing, if unsurprising: White liberals go about studiously not noticing the relationship between race and crime in the city while working to ensure that their children do not end up in majority-black schools; old-timers remark on not having been north of Girard Avenue since 1942; foreigners, who are not equipped with the guilt-powered standard-issue American conversational filter on the subject of race say things that will make you intensely uncomfortable; and whites living on or near the borders between white Philadelphia and black Philadelphia negotiate life carefully. It is pretty standard mildly controversial commentary, and Mr. Huber concludes that our inability to speak openly and honestly about race means that whites are “dishonest by default.”

Mayor Nutter responded by issuing an angry — childishly so, to be honest — denunciation of the magazine and the article, and then called for an official investigation of the magazine by the city’s official thought police, the Human Relations Commission, which is only too happy to oblige. Needless to say, in the United States no citizen or publication should be subject to sanction for writing things that the mayor of Philadelphia does not want to hear. The city has no business investigating journalists — none.

Philadelphia is a strange place. You could spend a long weekend there and never notice that the city has a serious crime problem. Center City, as the core business district is known, feels much safer at night than does, for example, San Francisco. Most of the crime and disorder are packed into a handful of largely black neighborhoods that your average visitor would have little or no reason to come near. (The main exception to that is the section of north Philadelphia surrounding Temple University, the students of which provide lucrative targets for the local criminal element.) But for Philadelphians of modest means, living in one of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods often means living on the border of one of its down-and-out neighborhoods. Middle-class whites are manifestly uncomfortable with the black underclass, and uncomfortable with their discomfort, too. And they are not uniformly welcomed with open arms when they start rehabbing row houses in formerly nonwhite areas.

Which is to say, Philadelphia magazine has a real story to tell, and it told it. The magazine’s politics are mostly of the familiar Ed Rendell–worshiping variety; we are not talking about hate speech, but old-fashioned respectable journalism. Philadelphia could use some. A few years ago, the Philadelphia Daily News published a piece about fugitives wanted for murder with the headline “Fugitives Among Us” over this cover:

The local grievance industry went into insanity mode over the fact that all of the fugitives pictured on the cover were nonwhite. But the fact was, at the time of the story, there were no white fugitives wanted for murder in Philadelphia. The cover simply related the facts of the case. But that is a crime in some minds, and, to their eternal discredit, the editors of the Daily News apologized for the cover in the face of boycotts and protests.

Philadelphia magazine is now in for the same treatment. As I know from my own experience, it is not easy to run a publication in Philadelphia, and it is very difficult to tell the truth to people who do not wish to hear it. It is also vital. And when Philadelphia’s epically worthless ruling cabal comes down on the head of a magazine, it must be doing something right beyond recommending a top-shelf teeth-whitening provider.

 Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent. His newest book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome, will be published in May. 


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