Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Duff's Spin Machine

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I expected that the chorus of criticism that Duff Wilson received for his August article would have made him more likely to give at least the appearance of evenhandedness in his future efforts on the case. Instead, it seems, he is more determined than ever to confirm Dan Abrams’ judgment that Wilson’s preference is to editorialize in “what is supposed to be the news division of the newspaper.”

In his latest article—a scant 292 words—Wilson again proves how the New York Times is supplying Mike Nifong with publicity money can’t buy. Unlike his previous effort, Wilson at least avoids out-and-out factual errors in his account of last Friday’s court hearing. But he slants his coverage in transparent ways.

The Durham district attorney said in court Friday that he believed there was no evidence that a reported sexual assault at a Duke lacrosse team party last March lasted 30 minutes, as the police had stated.

Instead, the prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, said he thought the assault lasted 5 to 10 minutes.

A casual reader would come away from these two paragraphs believing that, perhaps, a police spokesperson had inadvertently claimed the attack lasted 30 minutes, prompting the district attorney to issue a correction.

In fact, the police filed at least four affidavits (March 16, March 23, March 27, and April 18) stating that the attack lasted approximately 30 minutes. The accuser herself gave at least two statements to police (March 16, April 6) saying the same thing. And on March 25, the accuser gave an interview with the N&O asserting that the attack lasted 30 minutes. Nothing in the police's own file of evidence corroborates Nifong's story, creating the extraordinary event of the district attorney altering the accuser’s version of events without, it appears, any corroborating evidence.

The judge rejected a defense request that prosecutors provide detailed accounts of the time and nature of each criminal act cited by the accuser . . .

In denying the motion for a detailed account of the crime, known as a bill of particulars, the judge, W. Osmond Smith III of Superior Court, accepted Mr. Nifong’s argument that such specificity was not required in the pretrial stage.

A casual reader would come away from these two sentences believing that under no circumstances would Nifong need to present a detailed accounting of events before trial.

In fact, the judge specifically granted defense leave to refile its motion. While accepting Nifong’s argument “that such specificity was not required” at this time, Smith did not rule out revisiting his decision and eventually holding that “such specificity” would be required in the “pretrial sage.”

Instead, the prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, said he thought the assault lasted 5 to 10 minutes . . .

Mr. Nifong said the woman’s account would be subject to cross-examination and jury review after she testified at the trial.

Wilson is, apparently, so inclined to see the case through Nifong’s eyes that he detected nothing unusual about that statement. But surely his editors could have urged him to solicit a response from any of thousands of law professors or law enforcement officials around the country. He might have learned that, in the U.S. system of justice, the state is supposed to compile evidence and develop the central aspects of the alleged crime before making arrests, not months afterwards; and that the purpose of cross-examination is to challenge the state’s case, not to determine which of the state’s versions of events should be believed.

Nifong, obviously, hopes that if he can somehow get this case to trial, it might mitigate the ethics sanctions he likely will receive from the state bar. But it’s increasingly clear that the Times and Duff Wilson are just as invested in Nifong’s goal, if for different reasons—the Times to justify its March and April decisions to give such prominence to the issue, Wilson to avoid becoming the Judith Miller of the lacrosse case. If the reporter and the paper for which he writes can’t prevent their biases from permeating a 300-word filler, there’s little hope that anything else the Times produces on this case will be of any value.


Anonymous said...

Exactly, KC.
If I want the truth, I am not going to read the NYT. Forget it. Like you demonstrated before, Duffs and NYT fail even when correcting mistakes Duff made. They are ridiculous, that's all I have to say about it. And now Duff insists on helping Nifong to do his dirty deeds. Rather pathetic, really.

Anonymous said...

I received my doctorate (economics) from Auburn University. I am sad to say that Salena Roberts also received her degree (journalism) from there. She definitely is an insult to that university.

William L. Anderson

Anonymous said...

From the CrystalMess blog:
Anonymous said...
I was in Creedmore (site of the first false rape allegation) about a month ago and needed police assistance with a car problem. After solving the problem I asked the officer what he thought of the Duke case in Durham. He said he sued to work for DPD. He said, "Oh those guys didn't do it." I asked how do you know? He said, "There's no DNA. We're letting people out of prison based on DNA. They're not guilty and I think everybody's guilty." I asked if he thought Nifong would get into any kind of trouble for pushing this case. He said, "No he was acting in good faith. He's safe." I reminded him about the line ups. He said, "Well, yeah that was all wrong. That could be trouble." I asked him why Nifong was doing this. He said, "He needed the swing vote."
I thought it was very interesting how even a police officer can see how wrong this entire prosecution is.