Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Joined at the Hip

Staff-written puff-pieces populate every campaign website. These articles make the candidate appear extraordinarily effective, or exceptionally committed to justice, or akin to an everyman you might see weekly at church. No hint of political or personal flaws, of course, permeate such political propaganda.

At first blush, mikenifong.com conforms to this pattern. For instance, take a look at this site excerpt:

Not so long ago, the Durham Criminal Defense Lawyers Association took pride in the fact that it could successfully badger powerful district attorneys . . . No more . . . “My impression is that the association was formed at a time when relations between the District Attorney’s Office and the defense bar weren’t very good,” chief prosecutor Mike Nifong said last week. “But now, I believe relations are generally quite good. I think, overall, the defense bar is pleased with the response we have taken to meet their concerns.”

Or this one:

When it comes to collecting worthless checks, the Durham District Attorney’s Office has just been reinforced by a bass voice of CD quality, over 6 feet of height and more than 200 pounds of weight. Enter Linwood Wilson, a former policeman, retired private investigator and singer in a nationally known gospel quartet . . . Anyone who knows Nifong is aware that he is an unabashed music fanatic. He said it didn’t hurt that Wilson has 39 years of singing experience with the Spokesmen Gospel Quartet, and that he once sang with the Stamps Quartet, which provided background vocals for Elvis Presley. “If we ever want an office quartet, we’ve got the bass now,” said a smiling Nifong.

Or a third:

Every time he turned around last week, District Attorney Mike Nifong found himself thinking Feliz Navidad. It wasn’t just because Christmas was on the way. Nifong said he was celebrating the fact that Frances Miranda-Watkins soon will become Durham’s first Hispanic assistant prosecutor. She starts Jan. 3. “It’s hard for me to imagine we have never had a Hispanic assistant district attorney in Durham before,” said Nifong.

Beyond the unusually wooden prose, the above material seems to contain nothing out of the ordinary. But, in fact, there is something very unusual about these three excerpts, and several others posted on the Nifong website. Though a careful reader could easily mistake them for Nifong press releases, they are actually “news” articles, penned by John Stevenson of the Herald-Sun.

Yes, that John Stevenson, author of August’s borderline fraudulent story on DNA evidence.

Events of recent months have shown Nifong and Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley to be joined at the hip, so much so that it's hard to determine which items on mikenifong.com were penned by campaign staffers and which postings came from Herald-Sun “journalists.” Indeed, the Herald-Sun has done everything possible to facilitate Nifong’s efforts to get the lacrosse case to trial. Consider:

  • The paper’s “votebook” initially listed Nifong as “unopposed” in the November election—despite the fact that Lewis Cheek is also on the ballot for D.A., and a Cheek victory would render the seat vacant, allowing the governor to appoint a replacement for Nifong. In response to criticism (from, among others, me), the "votebook" listing was changed--to what Liestoppers correctly terms a "highly inaccurate and misleading statement," which falsely implies that Cheek attempted to have his name removed from the ballot.
  • Ashley claimed that, In July, Cheek said that his “supporters shouldn’t vote for him after all”—when, in fact, Cheek invited all Durham county voters who wanted to recall Nifong to cast a ballot for him.
  • The editor has written, “Given the sentiments in this community, I believe the best hope we have for closure is for these questions to be decided in a courtroom”—unaware, it seems, that in the United States, the criminal justice system doesn’t exist to provide political trials.
  • Last week, the Herald-Sun “broke” the “story” that Durham County Democrats (unlike, apparently, Democratic and Republican party organizations in every other county in the United States) want citizens to vote the straight party line, allegedly as a way of expressing support for Nifong;
  • A second Nifong-booster from last week “revealed” names that pro-Cheek forces were allegedly floating as possible replacements for Nifong. The story’s source? Nifong. The district attorney informed John Stevenson (naturally) that he “was told and also heard the rumored names. Stevenson, of course, didnt press Nifong on how he ferreted out this information.
  • Although Stevenson articles adorn the entire right edge of mikenifong.com, Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek spokesperson Beth Brewer reported that Ashley expressly denied her the right to reproduce Herald-Sun articles on the Cheek website, with the exception of an op-ed by Cheek himself. Editor Ashley failed to explain why Nifong received special treatment.

No wonder Liestoppers has branded Ashley an “enabler of the hoax” and labeled his workplace the “Durham Snooze Room.”

The “joined-at-the-hip” relationship, ironically, seems quite one-sided: when the Gottlieb report was leaked, the recipient was not Ashley or Stevenson but Duff Wilson of the New York Times. The Herald-Sun was left with the thankless task of explaining how Gottlieb’s statistically disproportionate arrest rate of Duke students really formed part of a Durham Police Department policy that the sergeant, it appears, alone enforced. Illustrating the level of quality we’ve come to expect under Ashley’s editorial guidance, the piece declined to include comments from any civil liberties groups or Duke students affected by the policies.

There is, I suppose, good reason why Nifong has bypassed Ashley for important leaks: Ashley’s reporters occasionally are too obvious in their attempts to help out the D.A. The Gottlieb article (unintentionally) revealed that the Durham Police have an official policy of disproportionately punishing Duke students as a class, thus triggering the possibility of federal intervention. And the “Nifong-as-rumor-monger” story (unintentionally) caught the D.A. in a lie: after stating in court that since April 1, he has answered all questions about the lacrosse case with a no-comment, Nifong informed Stevenson, “People have accused me of dividing the community with the lacrosse case. It seems to me the lacrosse case has merely revealed divisions that already existed.

The next Ashley editorial doubtless will explain how the district attorney really meant to say no-comment.


Anonymous said...

at least the H-S is doing rather poorly - perhaps he can find a job writing fluff piece as a paid member of the Nifong team.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic journalism. Is local journalism in North Carolina really this bad?

TombZ said...

Yes, the local journalism in Durham and Raleigh is that bad.

madder than a hornet said...

I hope all the "intellectual" Gang of 88 at Duke get smart and vote for Cheek. Their employer (Duke)is under seige because of a national recognition that Durham isn't safe for students. Aiding in that seige is the pitiful journalism at N&O.

Why would any parent send a student to the badlands of Durham when the local paper doesn't even fight for justice?

Anonymous said...

At least one can find solace in the N&O's circulation numbers: 3 times that of H-S.

Anonymous said...

That should have been '4 times that of H-S'

N&0 has ~178k readers avg M-F.
H-S has ~44k readers avg M-F.

I'm excluding Sat and Sun where N&O hits 217k while H-S stays static.

Anonymous said...

I am not a Durham resident but have family that are. I am afraid to recommend them to vote for Cheek for one simple reason. You have a lame duck governor, Mike Easley, who has nothing to lose in re-appointing Mike Nifong as DA should Cheek win out. Mike Easley is a former Attorney General fo NC and was notorious for being a stubborn brat, much like Nifong, he let a class action law suit, Faulkenbury vs State of NC, which she was a retired school teacher that had had all her retirement benefits changed from her initial contract at time of employment, and kept the appeal going for many years and ultimatley cost the taxpayer's of NC over $550 million dollars to settle the case with other disabled state employees. So he is not beyond re-appointing re-appointing Nifong as DA of Durham County. Cheek is un-wise to think differently. He, himself, is hoping for good old boy politics from Easley. Until Easley commits himself to another DA other than Nifong, BEWARE.

Anonymous said...

excuse the typos.

KC Johnson said...

I agree that, in theory, Easley could reappoint Nifong were Cheek to win. (Doing so would end any hopes Easley has of running for the Senate, however.) Yet a Cheek victory is the only chance of removing Nifong from office. The Monks write-in effort is simply a spoiler bid to drain votes away from the RN-VC campaign; I've seen nothing from the Monks campaign to suggest it has anything near the organizational level necessary to carry out a successful writein bid.

Anonymous said...

As usual, KC is correct. The Cheeks bid is the only way to get a new DA. Easley has ambition and wouldn't appoint the albatross again.

Former Durhamite said...

Well, I'm just glad that Paxton has brought Paducah-style reporting to the Triangle as seamlessly as possible.

Anonymous said...

Why are the deputies not being charged?!?! The sherrif should also
be ran out of town on a rail!