Blaming the Victim: The Shoddy Press Coverage of the Dali Destroying the Francis Scott Key Bridge

I’ve noticed a nasty trend in the way the press is covering the recent destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge when a freighter named the Dali crashed into it. The most recent example I’ve seen of this trend is this Politico story, titled “Outmoded bridge design likely contributed to catastrophic loss in Baltimore”. The lede continues to blame the victim this way:

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge Tuesday after a collision with a massive container ship could have been mitigated with simple “fenders” that have been standard issues on new bridges since the 1990s.

Outmoded bridge design likely contributed to catastrophic loss in Baltimore, Politico, March 27, 2024

The way the author writes this, you’d think the bridge jumped in front of the ship like a defender trying to draw a charge during a basketball game. Apparently, designers of the bridge in the 1970s were supposed to anticipate that freighters going in and out of that harbor would quadruple in size over the subsequent half century. Later on in the story, they quote an attorney in Florida who defended a freighter captain whose ship hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge during a storm, resulting in the deaths of 35 people.

If you look at the Baltimore bridge pictures, you’ll see the piers are unprotected,” Yerrid said in an interview. “That occurred in 1980, our horrific accident. So what I’m saying is, they didn’t learn. And for 44 years–I’m not saying they should have rebuilt their whole bridge, but they certainly should have taken safety measures.”

Outmoded bridge design likely contributed to catastrophic loss in Baltimore, Politico, March 27, 2024

Nowhere in the entire Politico piece is there any accountability placed on the people responsible navigating the ship. Not a single question posed about the wisdom of a ship that size (which launched in late 2014) having just one propeller and rudder. This USA Today piece smartly questions the practice of not requiring tug escorts for such large ships. It even mentions the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the oil tanker-caused ecological disaster that resulted in double-hulled construction being mandated for all such ships in the future.

Most of the radio coverage I’ve heard focuses far more on the collapse of the bridge than on the massive ship which caused it. But a bit of searching yielded this foreign press story, which talks not only about the Dali’s previous crash at the Port of Antwerp, but about previous sanctions from the Australian government against the owner of the ship, Grace Ocean.

Overall, the coverage of this disaster reminded me a lot of how survivors of Hurricane Katrina were called refugees in and by the press. The implication that these people didn’t belong here couldn’t have been more obvious. Nor was it a coincidence that the vast majority of those dead and displaced by the storm were poor and black. Social media has been predictably filled with derisive commentary from so-called conservatives about the black governor of the state, Wes Moore, not wearing a suit during a 3 am press conference responding to the disaster. They’ve called Brandon Scott a “DEI” mayor, ignoring the fact that he was elected by a majority of the citizens of Baltimore in 2020. Right-wing pundits have blamed everything from COVID to border policy for the bridge collapsing–nevermind the fact that any bridge hit by something the size and weight of a skyscraper was going to fall down. Nearly 20 years after Katrina, the sort of implicit bias we saw in mainstream news coverage of that disaster seems no less prevalent today.

Grand Opening, Grand Closing

Ronna McDaniel’s tenure as an NBC contributor has ended far more quickly than expected. Depending on which source you choose, it was either 4 days (per Fortune Magazine) or 5 days (per Rolling Stone). It would be easy to make jokes about her short tenure in the job (compared to Anthony Scaramucci or Liz Truss for example), but the truth is that she never should have been offered a role in the first place. She isn’t the first former RNC chair NBC has hired. Michael Steele remains a political analyst today for MSNBC, in addition to hosting his own podcast and other endeavors. But unlike Michael Steele, Ronna McDaniel is an election denier (or was, until a $300,000/year contract from NBC meant acknowledging the truth). Here’s what vice-chair of the House’s January 6 committee Liz Cheney had to say about McDaniel:

Ronna facilitated Trump’s corrupt fake elector plot and his effort to pressure Michigan officials not to certify the legitimate election outcome. She spread his lies and called January 6 ‘legitimate political discourse’. That’s not ‘taking one for the team’. It’s enabling criminality and depravity.

Liz Cheney: controversial NBC hire Ronna McDaniel enabled Trump ‘depravity’, The Guardian, March 25, 2024

Per the NPR article reporting McDaniel being dropped by NBC, she was still calling the 2020 election–an election where the GOP made a net gain of 14 seats in the House of Representatives–a rigged election in a summer 2023 interview with Chris Wallace on CNN. Ronna McDaniel led the RNC in actively undermining the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and in attacking the legitimacy of the press.

The internal email sent by NBC chairman Cesar Conde (and presumably leaked to NPR) contains both a classic non-apology apology and a fake accountability line:

I want to personally apologize to our team members who felt we let them down,” Conde added. While this was a collective recommendation by some members of our leadership team, I approved it and take full responsibility for it.

Former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel dropped as NBC contributor following outcry, NPR, March 26, 2024

If those lines are representative of content and tone of the rest of that email, that’s not even close to enough of an apology for exercising such poor judgment. Conde chose to hire someone who as chair of RNC, led it to censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the January 6 committee. Regardless of her spin on the matter in the Chris Wallace interview, the RNC under McDaniel’s leadership characterized the actions of rioters on January 6, 2021 as “legitimate political discourse”. Conde chose to hire the woman who said the following about his employees:

Ronna McDaniel in her role as RNC chair insulting people she would later call colleagues for a grand total of two weeks before being dropped by NBC

A leadership culture that couldn’t see the problem with hiring someone like Ronna McDaniel probably has a lot in common with the now-former leaders of Boeing, who presided over a culture which prioritized profit over safety to such an extent that a door plug blew out. Conde and everyone else who agreed to hire that election-denier should be shown the door in the same way.

Note: I updated this after initially publishing it to reflect McDaniel’s actual tenure as an NBC News contributor.

Is the Alabama embryo ruling pro-life or pro control?

That’s the title of this op-ed by Solomon Missouri, pastor of a rural church in eastern North Carolina and an Alabama native. While he is perhaps best known for a viral Twitter thread about modern romance, he was as serious as a heart attack in his discussion of the many flaws in the concurring opinion of Chief Justice Tom Parker–both in theology and in science. Pastor Missouri concludes (and I agree) that the ruling is pro control–just like the Dobbs decision from the Supreme Court which preceded it.

This paragraph in particular calls out his home state for its hypocrisy regarding the sanctity of the lives of children:

Alabama has the highest rates of maternal mortality among Southern states. Alabama 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Alabama ranks 48th in education, and 45th in children’s overall wellbeing. In January, the state rejected $65 million in federal funds which would have been used to feed children this summer. These systemic failures do not reflect love, compassion, or even sympathy. When so many systems fail children in Alabama it speaks to an underlying apathy and resentment.

Pastor Solomon Missouri, Is the Alabama embryo ruling pro-life or pro control?, February 29, 2024

The whole piece is well-worth your time to read in full, and share far and wide. These questions he ends his piece with are aimed directly at Christians:

[W]hy is cruelty the singular currency of your faith? Can a Gospel that breeds such hostility and animus towards its neighbors be considered good? Is it a “faith” if the state forces you to do it? And why are people who don’t share your faith required to follow your tenets under threat of prosecution?

Pastor Solomon Missouri, Is the Alabama embryo ruling pro-life or pro control?, February 29, 2024

The very first of the freedoms enumerated in Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Yet so-called conservatives both in state legislatures, state courts, and federal courts seem bound and determined to compel adherence to a Christianity that bears no resemblance to the example of Christ.

Thoughts on the Damore Manifesto

I’ve shared a few articles on Facebook regarding the now infamous “manifesto” (available in full here) written by James Damore.  But I’m (finally) writing my own response to it because being black makes me part of a group even more poorly represented in computer science (to say nothing of other STEM fields) than women (though black women are even less represented in STEM fields).

One of my many disagreements with Damore’s work (beyond its muddled and poorly written argument) is how heavily it leans on citations of very old studies. Even if such old studies were relevant today, more current and relevant data debunks the citations Damore uses. To cite just two examples:

Per these statistics, women are not underrepresented at the undergraduate level in these technical fields and only slightly underrepresented once they enter the workforce.  So how is it that we get to the point where women are so significantly underrepresented in tech?  Multiple recent studies suggest that factors such as isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, ineffective executive feedback, and a lack of effective sponsors lead women to leave science, engineering and technology fields at double the rate of their male counterparts.  So despite Damore’s protestations, women are earning entry-level STEM degrees at roughly the same rate as men and are pushed out.

Particularly in the case of computing, the idea that women are somehow biologically less-suited for software development as a field is proven laughably false by simply looking at the history of computing as a field.  Before computers were electro-mechanical machines, they were actually human beings–often women. The movie Hidden Figures dramatized the role of black women in the early successes of the manned space program, but many women were key to advances in computing both before and after that time.  Women authored foundational work in computerized algebra, wrote the first compiler, were key to the creation of Smalltalk (the first object-oriented programming language), helped pioneer information retrieval and natural language process, and much more.

My second major issue with the paper is its intellectual dishonesty.  The Business Insider piece I linked earlier covers the logical fallacy at the core of Damore’s argument very well.  This brilliant piece by Dr. Cynthia Lee (computer science lecturer at Stanford) does it even better and finally touches directly on the topic I’m headed to next: race.  Dr. Lee notes quite insightfully that Damore’s citations on biological differences don’t extend to summarizing race and IQ studies as an explanation for the lack of black software engineers (either at Google or industry-wide).  I think this was a conscious omission that enabled at least some in the press who you might expect to know better (David Brooks being one prominent example) to defend this memo to the point of saying the CEO should resign.

It is also notable that though Damore claims to “value diversity and inclusion”, he objects to every means that Google has in place to foster them.  His objections to programs that are race or gender-specific struck a particular nerve with me as a University of Maryland graduate who was attending the school when the federal courts ruled the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship could no longer be exclusively for black students.  The University of Maryland had a long history of discrimination against blacks students (including Thurgood Marshall, most famously).  The courts ruled this way despite the specific history of the school (which kept blacks out of the law school until 1935 and the rest of the university until 1954.  In the light of that history, it should not be a surprise that you wouldn’t need an entire hand to count the number of black graduates from the School of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences in the winter of 1996 when I graduated.  There were only 2 or 3 black students, and I was one of them (and I’m not certain the numbers would have improved much with a spring graduation).

It is rather telling how seldom preferences like legacy admissions at elite universities (or the preferential treatment of the children of large donors) are singled out for the level of scrutiny and attack that affirmative action receives.  Damore and others of his ilk who attack such programs never consider how the K-12 education system of the United States, funded by property taxes, locks in the advantages of those who can afford to live in wealthy neighborhoods (and the disadvantages of those who live in poor neighborhoods) as a possible cause for the disparities in educational outcomes.

My third issue with Damore’s memo is the assertion that Google’s hiring practices can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates.  I can say from my personal experience with at least parts of the interviewing processes at Google (as well as other major names in technology like Facebook and Amazon) that the bar to even get past the first round, much less be hired is extremely high.  They were, without question, the most challenging interviews of my career to date (19 years and counting). A related issue with representation (particularly of blacks and Hispanics) at major companies like these is the recruitment pipeline.  Companies (and people who were computer science undergrads with me who happen to be white) often argue that schools aren’t producing enough black and Hispanic computer science graduates.  But very recent data from the Department of Education seems to indicate that there are more such graduates than companies acknowledge. Furthermore, these companies all recruit from the same small pool of exclusive colleges and universities despite the much larger number of schools that turn out high quality computer science graduates on an annual basis (which may explain the multitude of social media apps coming out of Silicon Valley instead of applications that might meaningfully serve a broader demographic).

Finally, as Yonatan Zunger said quite eloquently, Damore appears to not understand engineering.  Nothing of consequence involving software (or a combination of software and hardware) can be built successfully without collaboration.  The larger the project or product, the more necessary collaboration is.  Even the software engineering course that all University of Maryland computer science students take before they graduate requires you to work with a team to successfully complete the course.  Working effectively with others has been vital for every system I’ve been part of delivering, either as a developer, systems analyst, dev lead or manager.

As long as I have worked in the IT industry, regardless of the size of the company, it is still notable when I’m not the only black person on a technology staff.  It is even rarer to see someone who looks like me in a technical leadership or management role (and I’ve been in those roles myself a mere 6 of my 19 years of working).  Damore and others would have us believe that this is somehow the just and natural order of things when nothing could be further from the truth.  If “at-will employment” means anything at all, it appears that Google was within its rights to terminate Damore’s employment if certain elements of his memo violated the company code of conduct.  Whether or not Damore should have been fired will no doubt continue to be debated.  But from my perspective, the ideas in his memo are fairly easily disproven.


Just came across this story relating to my January 25th blog post on Mike Daisey’s story of his visits to factories in Shenzhen. As it turns out they were indeed stories–large portions of his monologue have been revealed as complete fabrications.

This American Life has fully retracted the story, so I thought I would do the same since I linked to it when it first aired.

Howard Dean: DNC Chairman

Even though I haven’t been a registered Democrat for some time now (switched to independent 5+ years ago), I’m very interested in this turn of events. I hope it means that we’ll actually have a two-party system again, instead of a party-and-a-half like we’ve had for awhile. How he’ll play in the South is anybody’s guess, but I think a lot of his views will turn out to be more moderate than people expect.

Three Paper Town?

To the Washington Post and the Washington Times we can add another paper: The Washington Examiner. In this age of the Web, blogs and other forms of electronic media, starting a print newspaper seems an odd choice. From my time as a technology intern at the Washington Post, I remember stories from bosses about how DC used to have four newspapers. The Washington Star was the one they remembered most, since a number of them worked there before it closed up shop in 1981.

From this column by Dave Matsio, it sounds like they want to do something a little different with their opinion pages.

The rest of their website looks pretty well done. We’ll have to wait and see if the writing is good. It would be nice if they got lucky and broke an important story or two before the larger papers.

Social Security Formula Weighed (

If I’m reading this article correctly, it sounds like Social Security benefits are certain to be reduced, and these personal accounts are intended to provide an opportunity to make up the difference. It seems like a bad idea if the original purpose of Social Security was to keep the elderly out of poverty.

A Fight for Shiites

You can read Charles Krauthammer’s whole commentary to get the context, but he essential begins his column by using the elections that happened during the US Civil War and its immediate aftermath to defend elections in Iraq that may leave out parts of the country.

To call this an “apples and oranges” comparison would be putting it mildly. If England or France had over 100,000 troops in this country and was fighting on the side of the North or the South, Krauthammer might have an argument. But since that isn’t what happened, it’s merely a bad excuse for the disenfranchisement of “barely 20 percent” of Iraqi citizens.

The one point he makes in his column that I agree with is that a civil war is already happening in Iraq. Which is why it seems senseless to me for him to say this:

If Iraq’s Sunni Arabs–barely 20 percent of the population–decide they cannot abide giving up their 80 years of minority rule, ending with 30 years of Saddam Hussein’s atrocious tyranny, then tough luck. They forfeit their chance to shape and participate in the new Iraq.

This idea that Iraq will go on without the Sunnis if they don’t lay down their arms and vote completely ignores the nature of the violence that has been taking place. In the same section of the newspaper is an article about candidates for this election in Iraq being murdered. We shouldn’t forget how quickly the violence spread to other parts of Iraq after the Fallujah offensive either.

What seems to be shaping up is another Beirut situation–US troops in the middle of a civil war. It won’t turn out any better now than it did then.