Special Reports

Media's representation of Tacoma has an upside

Readers were angry, disheartened and bemused by Tuesday's column describing an article about Tacoma that appeared over the weekend in The New York Times.

The piece, "Gunfire at Night in a Military Town," by Seattle writer Charles T. Mudede, declared that no one should be surprised that John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, accused in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings, had Tacoma connections.

"The woods around Tacoma have never been and may never be tamed," wrote Mudede, who sometimes teaches creative writing at Pacific Lutheran University. "Their darkness may have given killers a sense of the power of the invisible." Tacoma has "the feel of an unmanaged outpost" that has "managed to preserve many of its frontier tendencies."

"The guy must have watched too many episodes of 'Here Come the Brides,'" Mark Thomas wrote.

Ana Sierra Jonsson, a five-year Tacoma resident, said she is "both amused and confused by the Seattle media's seeming vendetta against this town. Nonetheless, I've done more than my part to introduce numerous Seattleites to Tacoma. And guess what? They're amazed by what they see in Tacoma. Apparently many of us down here know how to read and write, have darn good table manners and don't pack a pistol, for starters."

Jean Kaufold told of a visit from a Seattle friend who had never been to Tacoma.

"We just recently moved back from Seattle to the North End and you can imagine her jaw dropping down when she saw all the historic four-square and Craftsman houses that would easily cost 500k in Seattle," Kaufold wrote.

Mudede's reference to our "dark woods" struck many as funny.

"Perhaps we should take the hit as a gift and smile serenely at would-be settlers frightened off by our 'dark woods,' leaving the real Tacoma for the real Tacomans to enjoy," wrote Karen Martinac.

And this from Ken Miller: "One word. Clearcut."

Some readers sent along letters they'd written to the editor of The New York Times.

"The whole country is outraged by these horrendous crimes and needs to pull together, not cast blame and use cities or the U.S. Army as scapegoats," wrote Shirley Fickert's 11th grade history class at Stadium High School. "Maybe we need to examine our capacity for compassion and respect. Mr. Mudede surely needs a dose of both."

After rebutting many of Mudede's claims (that Tacoma is a "military town," that it is more transitory than other cities and that its diversity is a product of the military), University of Washington Tacoma urban studies professor Brian Coffey wrote this: "The long and short of it is that Mr. Mudede knows very little about Tacoma. Nevertheless, I found his piece useful. I teach a course ... called "Images of the City," and I read Mudede's work to my students in order to illustrate how the media can create inaccurate perceptions of urban places. His words were met with gales of laughter."

Patrick O'Neil termed Mudede's article "a confusing tangle of half-facts and tired stereotypes.

"This is no place I recognize. The Tacoma I know is a blue-collar, ethnically diverse city in the process of making a slow economic and cultural transformation."

And Christopher Hord had advice for The New York Times.

"Perhaps the editors ... would be well-advised, when analyzing an unfamiliar region, to follow a basic journalistic precept and approach the source directly, instead of turning 40 miles north."

Finally, "WC" saw the silver lining.

"Maybe they will stay out of Tacoma ... us sniper-breeding mongrels need peace, too. Maybe all the negative attention will reduce traffic."

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657