Charlie LeDuff and Detroit: An American Autopsy

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First off, oops. I’m a little late to the party posting this. Can we just call it fashionably late?

Anyway, earlier this week we started Charlie LeDuff’s book Detroit: An American Autopsy. After winning a Pulitzer, working for the New York Times, and having a daughter, LeDuff thought that it would be best to pack up and move back home to Detroit. I’m sure you can imagine his surprise (that’s not an understatement) when he realized what he came back to. He had so many feelings that he wrote this book about it.

Our assignment was to question the authority (Question the authorities?! Yeah! Stick it to the man!!) Charlie LeDuff has to analyze Detroit, as well as address his strengths and weaknesses in his analysis. I thought it was an interesting assignment because it made me question what authority anyone has to analyze anything (lookin’ at you, Fashion Police).

I got over my little moment and considered it. At first, I thought: well, he’s a reporter. Reporters have the power to, as he put it in his book, “parachute” to scenes, report, and fly away. His job writing for the Detroit News allowed him to extensively travel, inspect, and interview all parts of Detroit. Plus, he was raised in Livonia and spent much of his childhood experiencing Detroit directly, through his own experiences, and indirectly, in the ways it affected the people in his life. He knows what Detroit was, sees what is now, and I think that by taking the time to actually write about it, he’s indicating that he thinks there’s something left to be made of of it. One could conclude that LeDuff’s credibility comes from the fact that he’s no stranger to the city. Additionally, the fact that he is both an outsider and a native to Detroit allows him to offer more than one perspective on the city of Detroit.

So, I’ll let him write the book. He’s got some authority to.

But…can he write it…well?! A Pulitzer in his backpocket would like to say that he can. In class we pointed out a few potential weaknesses that should be noted, though. While his attachment to the city is beneficial in some ways, others may also view it as bias in his writing. Some may worry that he can’t be objective about writing. His writing can sometimes have that propaganda-y feel to it. A little online research brings up some sketchy allegations of plagiarism. But the worst weakness of them all? Sometimes he even seems to portray himself as a (wait for it) badass.

I don’t know, though. Pretty weak arguments. He writes with a relatively “realist” tone, so I don’t think he’s bias in any way. For what he’s going for, you don’t need to be objective. Considering Detroit’s state, it’s probably not propaganda. Regarding the plagiarism, he openly denied any dishonest actions and was backed by his boss. His language is entertaining, true or not. And maybe he does portray himself as a badass, but maybe he is.

Have you seen his goatee?

Form your own opinion of him. Use this video to help you out.

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One thought on “Charlie LeDuff and Detroit: An American Autopsy

    mpbarney said:
    September 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    This is a really good assessments of the merits of Charlie LeDuff. The man brings an interesting perspective to the debate about Detroit, one of a returning native. I think your overview of his faults is incredibly fair, LeDuff is not a perfect saint but he never plays himself off as one. LeDuff may very well be a reporting badass covering things that few will cover and asking things few will ask.

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