With the last edition 18 days ago, it seemed time for another Q+A post. Since August 28, when I installed a site counter, the blog has had more than 175,000 unique visitors, with over 320,000 page views. Visitors to the blog have now come from 83 countries outside the United States; new additions include Cuba, Cayman Islands, Aruba, Bermuda, Netherlands Antilles, Ecuador, Argentina, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Croatia, Montenegro, Morocco, Uganda, Kenya, Bahrain, Pakistan, Palau, Taiwan, Cambodia, and Nepal.
Q: Why Gottlieb was assigned to the case (and as lead investigator!!) is a question I’ve been asking for a while. Perhaps he volunteered???
A: It seems almost certain that the sergeant did, in fact, volunteer—and it’s worth speculating how different this case would be had he been on medical leave in March rather than July. I suspect that this blog wouldn’t exist, because there almost certainly would have been no case without Gottlieb’s pushing forward a transparently non-credible claim that the responding officers appear to have recognized as false; and then the sergeant’s willingness to aid and abet Nifong’s misconduct, culminating in his “straight-from-memory” report.
--------Q: For the NYTimes’ Public Editor: How can Duff Wilson use a quote from [Judge] Stephens and merely describe him as a “local judge” and “the district attorney before Nifong”- while leaving out that Stephens was previously the presiding magistrate over the initial indictments in this case?
A: I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an answer to this question, which gets to the continuing biases of Wilson’s coverage. Another example comes from this morning’s article. Here is Wilson’s third paragraph:
The degree of the woman’s injuries has been central to the case. According to case files, detectives found that she had difficulty walking or sitting in the days immediately after she reported being attacked and that she told medical personnel up until several weeks later that her neck and back pains were a result of the attack.In fact, unless Wilson is revealing new information in this paragraph, his statement is inaccurate: only one “detective,” former lead investigator Mark Gottlieb (in his “straight-from memory” report, filed months after the alleged events it described and contradicting the contemporaneous notes of several members of the department), provided any such indication. And while Wilson dutifully reported the accuser’s claims of pain in the UNC medical report, he continued to avoid mentioning the damaging elements in the report’s conclusions, first outlined by Joseph Neff last week.
If the paper had any journalistic integrity, it would pull Wilson from the case and assign someone who didn’t have an apparent motive of upholding earlier, deeply flawed, reporting. Had the Times followed its current approach in the Judith Miller case, no doubt we’d still be seeing Miller bylines discussing unfound WMD’s in Iraq.
Q: If the Duke 3 were black, would the case be scrutinized as such?
A: The short answer is no, because there almost certainly would be no case: Nifong would have had no political motive for prosecuting such a case given the pre-primary political dynamics.
The longer answer is considerably more interesting. In the early days of the investigation, when Nifong was—in James Coleman’s description—“pandering” to the black community, the D.A. highlighted the racial aspects of the incident and suggested that the players could be charged with a hate crime.
Then, suddenly, in early April, all talk of a hate-crime charge vanished. Nifong appears to have realized that however politically tempting, going the hate-crime route posed an unacceptable risk: bringing in the FBI. And, for very understandable reasons, Nifong needed to avoid federal involvement of any type into the investigation, lest FBI operatives decide to launch an inquiry into his misconduct.
Q: Who stands to benefit most from keeping this trial on schedule and “alive”? Aside from the Nifong get-out-the-vote reasons, who are the real decisionmakers here who stand to benefit from having this continue? I list some possibilities: publicists with book deals, politicians on the “right” with constituencies to keep, tv lawyers, etc. My humble opinion would be that shortly the leftist feminist groups are smelling a dead fish and will want to distance themselves from it. So if it continues, who gains?
Q: When are people en masse going to start making some serious waves with respect to Nifong’s frail accusations? It’s crystal clear that Mike Nifong is waging “lawfare” for his own vainglorious reasons. What repercussions, if any, is he likely to face?
A: The person with the most to gain from getting to trial is Nifong. He knows that the day the trial ends, the state bar’s ethics committee likely will open an investigation into his misconduct. If he can’t get to trial, the committee no doubt will conclude that he massively violated procedure to construct a case out of whole cloth; and doubtless will recommend suspension or disbarment. The committee should evaluate his misconduct without taking into account the results of the case; but we all know, in the real world, that the ethics investigate will not work that way.
It’s worth reiterating that Nifong’s interest at this stage is not the accuser’s (non-existent) right to a fair trial, or justice of any sort, but merely professional self-preservation.
As to the others whose self-interest dictates a trial:
- Duke president Richard Brodhead. A trial might soften increasing criticism from alumni as to why the administration stood silently by as Nifong ran roughshod over the rights of Duke students. At this stage, Brodhead’s best-case scenario is for the D.A. to tarnish the players sufficiently to justify Duke’s apparent public relations strategy: claiming that the institution didn’t act to ensure that all Duke students were treated according to the same procedures as every other resident of
because the lacrosse players didn’t deserve Duke’s backing. Durham
- The New York Times. The case collapsing before trial will only strengthen the critics who have deemed the paper’s coverage a scandal worthy of the institution that gave us Jayson Blair and Judith Miller. Today’s Duff Wilson article, in this respect, conforms to the established pattern of spinning even seemingly neutral articles to bolster the paper’s interest in seeing a trial occur.
- The Group of 88. The Group has made clear its hope to use the crisis to transform Duke’s curriculum; as Thavolia Glymph noted as far back as April 10, the lacrosse players’ innocence means that things are “moving backwards” for the Group’s agenda. Grant Farred’s recent Herald-Sun column offered the latest in remarkable thinking from the Group.
I agree with the questioner that left-wing activist groups—feminist organizations and the NAACP—have no particular interest in a trial. Yet they’ve proven unable to detach themselves from Nifong, and, as seen in recent actions by the NAACP, have inched closer and closer to justifying even Nifong’s April 4 lineup.
As to other groups—(1) cable TV talk shows have an obvious interest, although Tucker Carlson, for one, noted that it was difficult to find guests willing to defend Nifong’s conduct. (At this point, I doubt that anyone outside the Nifong family treats as credible the likes of Georgia Goslee, Wendy Murphy, and Norm Early.) (2) Politicians on the “right”: this case would seem to me an issue that is very exploitable for conservatives. Yet, for reasons that I’ve explored elsewhere, the right has proven reluctant to step in.
Q: Isn’t there a way to fight back legally — now? What if the unindicted players sued the city of
A: I emailed attorney Alex Charns, who has demanded that the city of
Q: What I am troubled by is this: Where are the
A: Technically, they have violated the bar’s ethics code by failing to report Nifong for his ethical misconduct. In the real world, however, this provision is almost never enforced, since their livelihoods depend on Nifong.
Q: Suffering some “consequences” for holding that party has what, if anything, to do with extremely serious felony charges being brought against the 3 LAX players? And when it is blindingly obvious that nothing remotely criminal happened at that party, why has Brodhead ignored the blatant misconduct of the DA?
A: Duke’s response to these questions has been one of the most curious aspects of the case. The administration appears willing to accept anything bad about the party—that “highly unacceptable behavior” occurred—but has maintained that anything positive about the players—such as the fact that Reade Seligmann was on a videotape someplace else when police claimed the rape was occurring—must be verified by a trial.
This novel approach might cause some to speculate as to whether the administration’s primary motive is not justice for its students but to defend the rush-to-judgment actions by influential Duke faculty members.
Q: There has to be a reason why the Herald-Sun and Ashley are so pro-Nifong when common sense says otherwise. How can we find out any connections between them?
A: It’s increasingly clear that Editor Ashley is a caricature of a small-town journalistic hack: his approach is to appeal to the basest sentiments of his readership, and, as Ruth Sheehan has pointed out, a pro-Nifong base exists in
The odds of that occurring, however, seem very remote, as anyone who read Wednesday’s or Thursday’s articles by John Stevenson would understand.
Q: [In the 10-27 court session], did the DA really admit to becoming the lead investigator?
Q: Was there any mention of who or by what authority Nifong “put himself in the position of being a factual investigator in this case”?
A: In a properly operating system, or anything close to a properly operating system, Nifong never would have been allowed to have taken over the police investigation. The court session gave no indication of how Nifong usurped proper police authority—only that, on March 24, he did so.
Among reporters, only Benjamin Niolet appears to have recognized the significance of Nifong’s statement, repeatedly getting reaction to the item from defense attorneys. Niolet was also the first reporter to break the story that Nifong had never spoken with the accuser—an item that took several weeks to move into the mainstream. I suspect the same process will work here.
Q: By actively campaigning against Mr. Cheek, Mr. Monks is diminishing a chance that Mr. Cheek wins the election. Now, who is playing with the lives of the accused?
A: An excellent question, to which no good answer exists. Whatever motivates Monks’ spoiler campaign at this point, justice for the accused does not rank first, second, third, or 30th on his list of priorities.
Q: Stunning - the DA doesn’t/hasn’t spoken with the accuser or the accused about this case. This leads me to two questions: 1) What the hell does this guy do all day?; and 2) How much weaker would the case be if the DA hadn’t announced at the NCCU forum that he was handling the case personally?
A: I’ve wondered about this issue, too. We know that Nifong takes time from his schedule to read (and critique) the blogs. He also cleared time so that police could inform him the moment they picked up the cabbie who corroborated Reade Seligmann’s alibi.
Otherwise, he appears to do very little apart from constantly complaining about how his heavy workload justifies the slow pace of his handing over material to the defense and asserting that he’s not a politician as he uses his office to engage in political demagoguery.
Q: Why do judges permit prosecutors to speak obvious untruths in their courtrooms?
Q: Clearly Nifong was trying to frame these guys, but where was the Judge [Stephens]? Why was he silent and why did he let Nifong get away with it?
A: Judge Stephens appears to have had a policy of believing even the most incredible statements by Nifong (and then issuing endorsements of Nifong to the Times, which Duff Wilson dutifully reprinted without ever commenting on Stephens’ connection to this case). Judge Smith, on the other hand, appears to want to create the appearance of fairness by not rebuking Nifong.
But in this instance, the appearance of fairness and real fairness are mutually irreconcilable. Eventually he will have to decide whether he wants the appearance of fairness or actual justice.
Q: Is the case still in the “second setting”? At what setting will this case be for the December hearing?
A: With the arrival of Judge Smith, the case has now moved outside of
Q: Personally, what has happened in this case scares the hell out of me. It could have been anyone’s child—if the situation fit Nifong’s political agenda at the time.
A: Not a question, but this comment is dead-on.
Thank you for the questions; I’ll continue running the Q+A posts as long as people continue to supply interesting questions.