John Leo

Swerving around the "r" word is sometimes just plain hard work. In 1991, the Times described an ugly racial upheaval in Cincinnati as "sporadic protests and vandalism." This did not quite catch the flavor of bricks being heaved through windshields at the heads of motorists, a woman dragged from her car and beaten, and more than a hundred homes and shops set on fire. The Times mentioned that one police officer was "reported grazed" by a bullet. In fact, a sniper shot him in the stomach but the bullet deflected off his belt buckle, saving his life.

The Times doesn't always suppress "riots," but it much prefers to report on uprisings, melees, protests, and "clashes," the paper's preferred term for the horrendous Crown Heights events of 1991.

Last year a group of Hasids went berserk after police handcuffed a motorist sitting harmlessly in his double-parked car outside his family shop in Brooklyn. The crowd lit bonfires, threw garbage, smashed a car's windows, and torched a police car.

This raised the journalistic issue of whether white people were allowed to riot in the Times. Not this time. The Times story began: "A routine traffic stop of a 75-year-old Hasidic driver escalated into a protest last night …" Escalated into a protest? Sounds grim. Thank heavens it didn't explode into a disagreement.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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