After going through the 10 worst op-eds/editorials yesterday, today’s bracket of the blog’s version of March Madness—the worst of the case—features the 10 worst “news” articles. As with yesterday’s bracket, the worst of the worst ranked is #1. Reader nominations are welcome in the comment thread. Worst of the Duke arts and sciences faculty publications come tomorrow.
10.) Sal Ruibal, “Duke Works to Learn Truth, Guard Image,”
9.) Ray Gronberg, “Cop Who Arrested Duke Students Doing Job,” Herald-Sun, Sept. 12, 2006. In early September, Michael Biesecker of the N&O broke a troubling story: Sgt. Mark Gottlieb had a wildly disproportionate record of arresting Duke students. A few days later, Jared Muller the Chronicle obtained interviews with several of the students, revealing deeply disturbing details about Gottlieb’s behavior. How did
8.) Ray Gronberg, “‘60 Minutes’ Interview Draws Local Reaction,” Herald-Sun, October 16, 2006. Although billed as a “roundtable” discussion on the case, the H-S invited only people who believed that a trial must occur, regardless of how much procedural misconduct Nifong had committed, or the amount of exculpatory evidence the players presented or other media outlets (not, of course, the H-S) uncovered. NAACP “case monitor” Irving Joyner set the tone with his pro-prosecution spin; African-American Durham minister Carl Kenney asserted that “it’s important that when there’s a claim of rape, the accuser has her day in court”; and one of the students appeared to condemn 60 Minutes for producing a report that would “agitate people.”
7.) Janet Reitman, “Sex and Scandal at Duke,” Rolling Stone, July 2006. That the article was cited in the Campus Culture Initiative report (one of only two bibliographical sources) and is assigned in Anne Allison’s springtime class, “Group of 88 for Credit,” gives some sense of its quality. Reitman employed the Group of 88’s favorite tactic—quotes from anonymous alleged students—to prove her case that Duke females have a “retro view of rape.” She subsequently blamed editors for having created the impression that she was describing the Duke social scene as a whole. And since she discussed a wild party at a fraternity that doesn’t even exist on Duke’s campus, Reitman appears to be the perfect example of a journalist whose goal was to find facts that would fit her story, and make them up as necessary.
6.) Michael Corey, “Phantom in Wonderland,” Blue Devil Weekly, February 5, 2007. Corey denounced the “seething” and “shrieking” blog attacks against the Group of 88, who he portrayed as victims of the blogs in the same way that the three indicted players were victims of Mike Nifong. Yet Corey’s article cited not even one blog post that he deemed “seething” and “shrieking.” An author concerned with “seething” and “shrieking” rhetoric, it seems, might have been offended by Houston Baker calling the lacrosse players “farm animals.” Or by Bill Chafe arguing that the whites who lynched Emmett Till provided the appropriate context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players. Corey’s only comment about such professors? Their lives were forever changed when they signed the Group of 88’s statement, which subjected them to “seething” and “shrieking” attacks from blogs—from which, of course, he never quoted—and from the “lemmings” and “locusts” that read blogs.
4.) Sal Ruibal, “Rape Allegations Cast Pall at Duke,”
A gap separates the top three articles in this bracket, since the three pieces below not only were shabby journalism but also either directly stimulated or kept alive a case that has now been exposed as a fraud.
3.) John Stevenson, “Lawyers Haggle over DNA Matches,” Herald-Sun, August 1, 2006. The closest thing in the case to an out-and-out journalistic fraud. Stevenson obtained access to the Meehan DNA files, presumably from his sources in Nifong’s office. Not only did he miss the biggest story of the case—the Nifong-Meehan DNA conspiracy to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence—but Stevenson managed to portray the Meehan tests as favorable to Nifong (with, of course, the requisite quote from Irving Joyner) while suggesting that items revealed by the N&O and WRAL in May were first reported by him on August 1.
2.) Samiha Khanna, “Dancer Gives Details of Ordeal,” N&O, March 25, 2006. Seven times, the story described the accuser as a “victim”—not alleged victim, not accuser, not complainant. Although the accuser’s police record was publicly available, the article did not mention it. Nor did it reveal the accuser’s claims about the second dancer robbing her. Nor did it provide context for a closing quote from Duke Law professor Paul Haagen that studies show that “helmet sports . . . are sports of violence,” since most such studies do not include lacrosse players.
None of this context was provided. Instead, the story played as a morality tale of the virtuous black accuser being verbally and sexually assaulted by the out-of-control white athletes. The N&O, it’s worth noting, has published more quality articles on the case than every other newspaper combined. But the effect of this story—which framed the way the case was discussed in the initial days—was enormously harmful.
1.) Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater, “Files from Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers,” New York Times, August 25, 2006. Of the four brackets for DIW’s “March Madness,” this was the easiest #1 seed: could there have any been doubt about the worst “news” article of the case? This story had it all. Using as its spine the transparently phony “straight-from-memory” Gottlieb notes. Saying over and over again that discrepancies couldn’t be “explained” by the authors. Four out-and-out factual errors, three of which went uncorrected, the fourth corrected in a misleading fashion. Distorting the medical evidence. Ignoring the political context in which Nifong operated. Quoting Gottlieb’s memorandum that a fellow officer said the accuser had bruises in photos taken on March 16, but not mentioning that the photos (which were in the discovery file) showed no bruises. Suggesting that the accuser--a person who never told the same story twice--was basically consistent in her myriad, mutually contradictory tales.
Perhaps most remarkable, Wilson and Glater had access to the entire April 4 lineup, so they knew of the accuser’s multiple mistakes (identifying people who weren’t there, misindentifying the player who made the broomstick comment, not identifying people she was 100 percent certain of seeing in the March 16 ID). Yet in an article that spanned more than 5600 words, they did not consider this item even worth a mention—despite the fact that the April 4 lineup, as Nifong would later admit, constituted the only evidence he possessed against the three players indicted. In fact, in their article, Wilson and Glater actually suggested the accuser's ability to recall from the lineup was unusually impressive.
Journalism schools in the future looking for a case study of how to get an important story entirely wrong should consult the Wilson/Glater August 25 article.