Saturday, September 09, 2006

Michaels Asks Questions

In recent months, with the exception of the N&O's Joseph Neff, the mainstream media has adopted a two-pronged approach to the Duke lacrosse case. First, most of those who descended on Durham in late March and April have turned their attention to other matters. Sure, the basic story line they told at the time--that a gang-rape definitely occurred, with the indicted players representing the lowest levels of human depravity--seems increasingly untenable. But it's much easier to ignore the collapse of Mike Nifong's case (and the fact that a Durham County D.A. played most of them for fools) than to admit error.

The second MSM contingent falls upon the New York Times/Durham Herald-Sun axis. These two newspapers seem to have a vested emotional interest in propping up Nifong's case, and have done everything they can to frame coverage in a pro-Nifong direction. At the Herald-Sun, the mantra is "wait for the trial," as if investigative journalists are supposed to consider themselves jurors, compelled to vacate from their minds all thought about the case until the state's attorney has presented his case in court before even asking hard questions about his motives or actions.

The New York Times, meanwhile, seems traumatized by the fact that Duke lacrosse could be an unappealing combination of Judith Miller's uncritically accepting the Bush administration's assurances that Iraq possessed WMDs and Howell Raines' insistence on using membership criteria at Augusta National as a modern-day version of 1960s civil rights activism. The result: stories like the recent Wilson/Glater travesty, which was so transparently biased that its authors couldn't even avoid indisputable factual errors.

Outside of the mainstream media, however, one North Carolina journalist has stood out. I've read Cash Michaels' column every week since I started following the story, in part because Michaels, who writes for the Wilmington Journal and whose work is part of the BlackPressUSA Network, has access to sources that few, if any, figures in the mainstream media possess.

From the start, Michaels--like most of his readers--has openly sympathized with the accuser. But he's also been open to adjusting his perspective as new evidence has come in. And unlike people such as the Herald-Sun's Bob Ashley, he has kept asking questions about the case--something I thought was the job of all journalists.

Most important, in my opinion, Michaels has homed in on the significance of Nifong's habitual disregard for standard procedures. Several weeks ago, he started asking some hard questions about whether the D.A. exploited African-American voters in handling the case; and his most recent column raises serious (and, as yet, unanswered) concerns about both Nifong's procedurally irregular behavior and the seemingly dubious personal character of the case's lead investigator, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb. The piece is a must-read.

Michaels' conclusions strike me as critical for the African-American community. We all know the sad statistics--blacks are far more likely than any other group in this country to be victimized by police or prosecutorial misconduct. So allowing Nifong to get away with his multiple violations of procedure in this case will set a dangerous precedent from which African-Americans almost certainly will suffer in the future.

I'm, obviously, not from Durham; and so pay special attention to message-board posts when people from the area talk about how their friends and neighbors are viewing the case. There's an interesting pattern: few, if any, seem to have been influenced by the widely condemned Times article. But many, especially in the African-American community, cite Michaels' work. It looks as if they understand that on the lacrosse case, readers are more likely to see quality journalism in the Wilmington Journal than in the New York Times.


Anonymous said...

This is your best post yet.

Cash Michaels is a critical voice in this case.

His abandonment of Nifong will pretty much seal the monstrous DA's fate.

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew how to e-mail Cash because he'll probably never read this comment and I might not find my way back here to see if he replies.

Anyway, I'd like to commend him for keeping an open mind about this case and rejecting what were apparently his initial conclusions about what happened and who was to blame.

Primacy, as I understand it, relates to the strong tendency for people to continue to believe something that they first believe. It causes you to ignore information that conflicts with your initial belief and to view ambiguous information as being consistent with that initial belief.

Cash seems to have overcome the influence of primacy and I think he should be commended for that.

Anonymous said...

your problem KC is that you are definitely not in durham and do not know what is being said in the black community(or the white one either). cash micheals has lost a lot of credibility with his core audience when he jumped ship and is now spinning for the defense. he has admitted on a local message board to have ties to cheshire and word is that he was paid off to help the defense. you will see just how much credibility cash has on election day.