Among the broadcast media, three people stand out as the worst: Wendy Murphy, with her penchant for factual inaccuracies; Georgia Goslee, with her preposterous theories of the “crime”; and Nancy Grace.
Grace, who regularly mocked principles of due process, allowed guests (such as the ubiquitous Wendy Murphy) to say virtually anything denouncing the players, while challenging even the mildest assertion suggesting the players’ innocence. And, when the case imploded, this television bully, who takes such joy in shouting down guests who challenge her views, was silent.
Grace turned to events in Durham amidst Mike Nifong’s pre-primary publicity barrage. Her March 31 broadcast set the tone for subsequent coverage.
Upon hearing from a local reporter that the team played two games after the accuser made her allegation, she mocked, “I’m so glad they didn’t miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape!”
When another guest cited Nifong’s charges of non-cooperation, Grace fumed, “Why did they have to have a court order for 46 or 47 lacrosse members to give DNA? . . . Because there’s really no good reason why, if you’re innocent, you won’t go forward and go, ‘Hey, you want my DNA? Take it. I insist.’”
Grace seems never to have encountered ideas such as a right to privacy or probable cause.
Grace then previewed a regular theme—her incorrect forecasts. Placing herself in the minds of the defense attorneys, she suggested what would occur: “The first line of defense is, ‘I didn’t do it.’ The second line of defense is, ‘I did it, but it was consensual.’ The third line of defense is, ‘She’s a hooker.’ Now, let’s just say we get DNA back. They’ll immediately claim consensual.”
This prediction, like virtually every other one Grace made about the case, was wrong.
Grace also was a master of the within-broadcast inconsistencies. Around twenty minutes into the March 31 show, the host proclaimed that police “actually found the girl’s fake nails torn off in the bathroom where she said the rape occurred.” (Grace generally called the 27-year-old accuser a “girl.”) But around ten minutes later, Grace hypothesized, “If there had been evidence, I’m sure it was flushed down the commode or gotten rid of, innocently or not.”
So how did police find the nails if she was “sure” all evidence had been flushed down the toilet by the guilty parties? Grace never said.
Finally, this initial broadcast introduced a pattern of extremist guests offering outlandish theories. Viewers heard from Kelly Addington, director of Let’s Talk Solutions, an organization that operates under the philosophy that “it is almost impossible for today’s student to avoid being affected by sexual violence on campus.” Addington affirmed “it’s so important, as a community, for us to embrace this woman. And let me say that I respect and admire her for coming forward immediately and for having the strength and the courage to speak out.”
Shortly thereafter, Grace chatted with potbanger Serena Sebring, who criticized the Duke administration for “not addressing the things that have been admitted,” such as “the clear evidence of some sort of an assault having happened.” The Duke graduate student never shared exactly what constituted this “clear evidence.” But she nonetheless demanded “more accountability from the administration for the sexual and racial nature of this crime.”
The accusation, for both Addington and Sebring, implied guilt.
Over the next 35 editions of her show, Grace would devote portions of 24 to the Duke case. These broadcasts exhibited some common characteristics.
Grace was a mistress of innuendo.
- “Are DNA results being held back while the controversy, hopefully, subsides?” (April 5)
- The grand jury was “where the real evidence will come out.” (April 11)
- “Tonight, police try to enter students’ dorm rooms to question witnesses, and they refuse to cooperate with police. Why? I want to know why.” (April 14)
- Those following the case needed to become “familiar with the charge called terroristic threats.” (April 14)
- “It’s hard for me to believe not one person came forward to say what happened.” (April 17)
- “There’s something else. The DA has got an ace up his sleeve.” (May 11)
When innuendo didn’t suffice, Grace would cite non-existent evidence. Here, for example, is how she said the case would be won even without DNA (April 5):
Physical trauma. You’ve got possible vaginal, anal bruising and tearing. Torn clothing. Torn clothing indicates an attack. Contusions, which is a big word for bruises. Tears, broken nails, which we know we have in this case. She also said in the affidavit that she scratched one of the perpetrators’ on the arm. Look for DNA under that nail, people! Emotional trauma, change in her demeanor, the outcry she makes to the first person. That would be in the Kroeger parking lot.
The only accurate item of the those she referenced above was the broken nails. (Indeed, two nights before, the police had released a 911 tape in which Grace’s “outcry” witness, the Kroeger security guard, said, “There ain't no way she was raped--ain't no way, no way that happened.”) Grace never addressed the discrepancy.
On April 18, meanwhile, she wondered whether Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty were “two housemates in the home where the alleged rape took place.” After a few minutes of discussion, she settled on a theory that “they lived together at another time,” in a different house, and “they’re very familiar with each other.” The location of this house has never been revealed.
On May 11, Grace announced that “the allegations that this young lady changed her story were completely false.” In fact, members of the Durham Police Department had the accuser telling them there were zero, two, and five rapists, or three rapists plus three accomplices. Grace never mentioned any of these police documents.
On the same day, she cited the “breaking news” of “human tissue found under the nails of the 27-year-old student-turned-stripper reported a match to a Duke lacrosse player at the party where she was allegedly raped.” Human tissue? A match to a lacrosse player? As we all learned from Dr. Brian Meehan’s December 15 testimony, this assertion was so wrong as to be laughable.
Grace also liked to cite non-existent eyewitness evidence.
On April 5, she anticipated “some brave young man who could be a friend of the alleged rapists to come forward and say, ‘I heard her screaming. I heard them in the bathroom. I saw her come out. They said one, two, and three when they came out of the room. That’s what this case will take to be cracked.’”
A few weeks later, Grace developed a theory as to why her prediction had turned out wrong: “You’ve got to keep into account that a lot of the guys were probably downstairs.” But 610 N. Buchanan was a one-level house.
Grace seemed unaware of basic facts about the case. For instance, after playing a clip of Nifong at the April 11 NCCU forum, she observed, “There you see the alleged district attorney there in Raleigh-Durham speaking out.”
In fact, Nifong was the “district attorney,” not the “alleged district attorney.” (What would an “alleged district attorney” even be?) And his jurisdiction was
Grace also seemed unfamiliar with the key players in the case. When a guest commented about Keith Bishop, she wondered, “Isn’t he one of the defense in this?”
In fact, Bishop was the black challenger to Nifong in the primary. He had no connection to the defense.
Indeed, Grace struggled with the political angle as a whole. In what might be the strangest piece of analysis of the entire case, she dismissed allegations of Nifong’s political motivations by announcing that no evidence existed “that this young lady planned the whole thing in order to help Nifong get reelected.” (April 14) To my knowledge, no one except for Grace had ever suggested that the accuser made her charge to help Nifong politically--or that, on March 14, the accuser even knew who Mike Nifong was.
The April 14 broadcast also featured a trio of high-profile wrong predictions.
- “Was this woman drunk? How come the medical records don’t say that?” [Of course, the UNC medical records did say the accuser was drunk.]
- “You know, along with that, that’s not to say that the alleged perpetrators, the alleged rapists, didn’t go ‘CSI’ and use condoms.” [Of course, the accuser claimed her “assailants” didn’t use condoms.]
- When told that defense attorneys possessed exculpatory evidence, “Well, if you want to ward off a grand jury investigation, if you want to ward off an indictment, if you want to go, ‘Look, this isn’t true; hey, look at her,’ wouldn’t you show it [to Nifong]?” [Of course, defense attorneys had tried to show the evidence to Nifong, only to be rebuffed.]
The contempt that Grace demonstrated for those who cited defendants’ constitutional protections becomes clearer when keeping in mind her own record of prosecutorial misconduct.
- When a former FBI investigator charged Nifong with rushing to obtain indictments, Grace ridiculed him: “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. It’s all fitting together to me. You weren’t on the Duke lacrosse team a couple of years ago, were you?” (April 14)
- When a defense lawyer suggested (prophetically) that the accuser might suffer from mental instability, Grace pounced: “Isn’t that something they call—what is that? Slander, yeah.” (April 10)
- After Dave Evans’ press conference proclaiming his innocence, Grace brought on a person described as a “body language expert” to contend that Evans was untruthful.
- On June 9, after a defense attorney noted that Kim Roberts’ police statement contradicted the accuser’s claims, Grace shouted, “I’m glad you have already decided the outcome of the case, based on all of the defense filings. Why don’t we just all move to Nazi Germany, where we don’t have a justice system and a jury of one’s peers?”
When all else failed, Grace’s guests could offer ludicrous assertions:
- April 10, Wendy Murphy: “Apparently, at least a couple of the players are cooperating and have provided [inculpatory] statements there.”
- April 17, Travis Mangum (the accuser’s father): “I could see the bruises on her face. She had a scratch on her arm . . . A lot of things I learned later . . . like the broom they used on her and stuff like that.” (All of these assertions were unsubstantiated.)
- April 18, psychologist Dale Atkins: “So often, these kids who really bond together feel entitled and privileged and really kind of above the rules. They don’t think they apply to them, so they want to stay together and they want to be a group, and they’re not going to talk about one another.”
- April 18, Group of 88 member Charlotte Pierce-Baker: “I worry for this victim survivor that we’re talking about.”
But when Nifong’s case went south, so too did Grace. The day the D.A. dropped the rape charges, Grace gave way to a guest host. Meanwhile, her show never mentioned:
- the December 15 hearing (Nifong-Meehan DNA conspiracy);
- the filing of either round of ethics charges against Nifong;
- Nifong’s recusal from the case.
To paraphrase psychologist Dale Atkins, so often, it appears, these TV hosts on primetime Headline News feel entitled and privileged and really kind of above the rules.
--Unfortunately, the very funny SNL portrayal of Grace and the case no longer is up on youtube. [Update, 1.13am: A commenter found the clip here.]