Dateline NBC‘s Spotlight on Detroit Sparks Controversy

By Alissa Krinsky 

It was one week ago that Chris Hansen‘s Dateline NBC special on Detroit aired. Over the last several days, “America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope” has been blasted by critics in the Motor City as a negative and lopsided portrayal of Detroit’s state of affairs.

Local media are reporting that the criticism has escalated to such a point that Hansen and unnamed NBC representatives have agreed to meet tomorrow with The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO), who called the program “a gross and unbalanced misrepresentation” in a letter to Hansen.

According to The Detroit News, Sheffield will be accompanied by Vickie Thomas, president of the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and Michigan Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson.

Some background:
• “America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope” originally had been praised in a NY Times review. Neil Genlinger wrote that Hansen, a Detroit-area native, “gives the grim details of the city’s current situation…But he juxtaposes those ugly facts with vignettes about people who are trying to stem the tide.” While describing many of Detroit’s problems, the program also highlighted positive local efforts such as the advent of urban farms and a nonprofit tutoring program for Detroit students.

• Criticism of the show includes an email to the program — which Dateline posted on its website — from the communications director for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (who was interviewed for the program): “In all fairness, it would be great for Chris [Hansen] to return and tell the rest of the story… Nowhere did the story include those who are buying into and supporting the city’s rebirth…we’d like to see the hope.”

• NABJ-Detroit issued the following statement: “The Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists does not necessarily dispute the accuracy of the narrow scope of what was reported in NBC’s Dateline piece, but is concerned about the balance of its content.” Journal-ismsRichard Prince reports that NABJ-Detroit will hold a community forum on the program.

TVNewser so far has been unable to obtain a comment from NBC for this story.