Nutter goes after Philadelphia Magazine over race article

Posted: March 17, 2013

Mayor Nutter issued a scathing letter Friday calling Philadelphia Magazine's controversial "Being White in Philly" cover story a "pathetic, uninformed essay," and asking the city Human Relations Commission to consider a rebuke of the magazine and the article's author.

Tom McGrath, the magazine's editor, fired back, accusing Nutter of "sophomoric statements" that suggested he is "more interested in scoring political points than having a serious conversation about race."

Rue Landau, the commission's executive director, replied to Nutter: "The commissioners and I share the concerns of the mayor regarding the racial insensitivity and perpetuation of harmful stereotypes portrayed in the Philadelphia Magazine piece."

Landau, whose comments were included in the mayor's news release about his letter, dated Wednesday, said the commission "will take up the mayor's charge and, as a matter of fact, we are already looking at intergroup relations in the city, particularly in changing communities."

The commission voted Friday to have its next public meeting April 18 in the Fairmount-Brewerytown area to address issues raised in the magazine piece.

On Monday, McGrath will moderate a panel discussion starting at 6:30 p.m. at the National Constitution Center about the issues raised in the story and the controversy it stirred.

In the first sentence of his four-page letter, Nutter came out swinging against not only the article, but also the magazine's reputation.

"This month Philadelphia Magazine has sunk to a new low even for a publication that has long pretended that its suburban readers were the only citizens civically engaged and socially active in the Philadelphia area," Nutter wrote.

He said either the author, Robert Huber, or the people quoted were "too cowardly to provide" real names.

Nutter accused Huber of ignoring positive anecdotes "to feed his own misguided perception" that African Americans are "lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, and largely criminal."

The mayor called the magazine cynical and hypocritical for providing an alternative cover with "an attractive woman of color" for hotel guests and other visitors.

In an e-mail, Huber responded: "The goal of my piece is to point out problems in race relations in Philadelphia, and to push for a better dialogue. So I think the mayor is right on point in asking for an inquiry into the state of race relations in Philadelphia."

Huber said "the mayor, like anyone, has a right to his reaction to the article. But I think his characterization of the article's thesis and tone and so forth is off the mark to the point of absurdity."

Nutter asked the commission to conduct an inquiry into racial issues and attitudes in the city, and to decide whether the magazine and the writer should be rebuked.

He also asked it to consider whether the article was the "reckless equivalent of 'shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater.' "

In a statement, McGrath said the mayor's suggestion of a rebuke was "rich with irony," after Nutter was shouted down during his budget address before City Council on Thursday.

"In short, the mayor loves the First Amendment - as long as he and the government can control what gets said," McGrath wrote.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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