There’s been some buzz around town about the New York Times piece written by local freelancer Michael Lindenberger. You can read it online, free, at this Toronto Star link. The story has attracted criticism (Velocity listed Lindenberger as one of “This Week’s Losers“) , calling the story “ignorant and inflammatory.”
I know Michael, and think he’s an excellent reporter. I respect his perspective on journalism, and have worked with him on a few projects for LEO. That said, I think his take on Louisville’s attitude about Ali is way off base. The story’s second graph is a quote from a bartender at a VFW post still bitter about Ali’s four decades old decision not to go to Vietnam. I don’t know how hard you have to look to find that kind of bitter old man, but I guess the VFW would be a good place to look. I simply question the judgment of basing a New York Times story on the opinion of such a person.
The writer chose to create a controversy where there arguably is none. Ali, who bought a home in eastern Jefferson County in January and plans to spend at least part of his time there, is as close to a cult hero as it comes in this town. I’ve been to a dozen events over the years in which the Champ has entered the room to the most reverential of receptions. That the Ali Center downtown has become a successful project is further testament to Ali’s popularity.
Which makes me question why, in reporting Ali’s anticipated return to his hometown, Lindenberger would choose to write a story that suggests that Louisville as a whole harbors a racist, resentful attitude in its treatment of Ali. If you surveyed the city, I’d be surprised if you found one person in a hundred with an unkind word to say about Ali, and most would be thrilled to welcome him home.
Lindenberger’s story suggests that a significant contingent of local citizens still resent Ali for his decision 40 years ago. He got an editor at the New York Times to believe him, and wrote a piece that reflects negatively on the city.