”On Nov. 5, the Times Free Press published a front-page story about the arrests of 32 men charged with gun and drug crimes after a four-year local and federal investigation. Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called the suspects the ‘worst of the worst’ in Chattanooga’s criminals,” Alison Gerber, editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Tennessee, wrote to readers on Sunday.
“We heard no reaction from readers. Not a peep.
“On Nov. 17, the newspaper published a second front-page story about the suspects and their criminal histories. This time, we were barraged with feedback. Some of the words used to describe the report: irresponsible, distasteful, racist.
“The difference? The second story included the mugshots of all 32 suspects. And the photos highlighted something: All 32 suspects are black men.
“See their faces all in one grouping and you can’t ignore that. You can’t just shrug it off.
“It was an in-your-face presentation, and some readers thought it was a mistake, that we should not have published the mugshots at all. Even some in the newsroom disagreed with the decision to run them — or thought we should have placed them on an inside page where they wouldn’t be as noticeable and would be seen by fewer people.
”Many argued with the choice to refer to the men as the ‘worst of the worst,’ even though those words were chosen by Dodd, a man who’s been in law enforcement for a quarter of a century.
“The combination of those two things — the photos of 32 faces and the label ‘worst of the worst’ — prompted a visceral reaction.