Few people any longer are defending the print media’s coverage of the lacrosse case. In a recent edition of CNN’s Realiable Sources, CNN and Washington Post media correspondent Howard Kurtz termed the event an “absolutely awful performance by the media, pumping this into a big national melodrama.” Christine Brennan, a reporter for USA Today, agreed that it was “an awful performance, an embarrassing time, I think, for journalism . . . I think some people lost their minds in this story.”
One general exception to this pattern exists: the college media. The journalists of the Duke Chronicle have provided more, and better, investigating reporting on the case than every reporter in the country combined except for Joe Neff.
Perhaps because this case has featured the highly unusual event of a prosecutor targeting college students at least in part because of their identities as college students, the college press has proved far more willing than its more established counterparts to ask some hard questions of Nifong’s behavior.
The Chronicle opened this week with an extensive Q+A between reporter Rob Copeland and Richard Brodhead. Copeland’s questions were thoughtful but in no way hostile, the type that needed to be asked. The list included:
- “If you were Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, would you want to come back to a campus where professors have denounced them and where students have held protests against them personally?
- “Let’s talk about the attention Duke’s faculty has received in this case, in particular the members of the so-called ‘Group of 88.’ Do you hold the faculty to a higher standard? Should they understand the legal process, and recognize that it’s not appropriate to speak about their individual students to the national press?
- “Another committee, the Campus Culture Initiative, has been met by widespread antipathy by students as an effort by the administration to control student life. And when you appoint divisive individuals such as Vice President Moneta, it’s fair to say you invite such criticism. Why do you continue to pursue the CCI?”
Brodhead was very careful in his responses, but nonetheless the interview broke some new ground. He defended the Group of 88’s dubious claim that the April 6 statement did not imply the players were guilty, while avoiding Copeland’s question on whether he holds faculty to a higher standard. On the other hand, his defense of the CCI was half-hearted at best. And he offered a more generous rationalization for his dismissal of Mike Pressler than he had in May, when, according to the Herald-Sun, he told alumni that the coach had to go because “Pressler’s presence would have been a big story.”
The interview was accompanied by a compelling news analysis from Chronicle reporter David Graham, who balanced his story with quotes from a former lacrosse player who graduated last year and from the first arts and sciences professor to challenge the Group of 88, Steve Baldwin.
The Chronicle, in fact, has been the only media source that any of the team members have spoken with in any depth—in part, no doubt, because they could appreciate the paper’s fairness. A summer article by John Taddei, “Living a Nightmare,” is far and away the best article that’s addressed the human side of Nifong’s actions; team members Bo Carrington, John Walsh, and Tony McDevitt spoke on the record about events on campus, in the classroom, on the team, and with Nifong.
Carrington provided the only glimpse inside the procedurally improper pre-indictment visit by the
Walsh offered what turns out to have been a spot-on analysis of Nifong’s dilemma: “"He started something to get re-elected, and now he’s got it, but he’s made the biggest mistake in the world. He buried himself in a hole, you know. What’s he going to turn on it now when he publicly stated that ‘I know there was a rape in this house?’ What can he do? He’s got nothing, absolutely nothing.”
Finally, the Chronicle’s Jared Mueller beat out his competitors at the N&O and the Herald-Sun on Sgt. Mark Gottlieb’s rogue treatment of Duke students before the lacrosse case even emerged. Mueller’s article was chilling—revealing a bigoted and unethical police officer, who appeared to despise Duke students and who clearly treated them differently from other
Add to these articles the paper’s regular coverage, first-rate commentary from columnists Kristin Butler, David Kleban, and Stephen Miller, and prescient editorials on Nifong and the Group of 88’s statement (among others)—and the Chronicle’s performance over the past ten months has been remarkable.
In fact, compare the Chronicle’s coverage to that of the New York Times on this case, but remove the mastheads from the two papers. I suspect that most people would guess that the Times, with its (until recently) simplistic, one-sided articles and commentary was the college newspaper, and the Chronicle’s work was that of the country's paper of record.