In October, former Times public editor Dan Okrent remarked, “The only thing we can look forward to now is what the Times will say to the accused once the charges are dropped, or once acquittals are delivered.”
Does Selena Roberts’ Sunday column preview the paper’s party line? If so, what we have to look forward to is ominous indeed. Defending the Times’ previous coverage by rewriting the past, Roberts minimized Mike Nifong’s misconduct, endorsed the Group of 88’s agenda, and maintained the character assaults on the lacrosse players—only now for behavior typical on virtually every college campus in the country.
Roberts’ March 31, 2006 column asserted that “something happened March 13” that “threatens to belie [the players’] social standing as human beings.” Roberts compared the players’ behavior to that “of drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.” She bizarrely called a search warrant a “reported court document.” She praised the “heartening” protests of the potbangers—people, it’s worth remembering, who carried signs reading “Castrate” and “Measure for Measure.” She falsely stated that none of the players “have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.” She falsely contended that a “court document” described the accuser as “the victim of a hate crime.” She noted that the accuser was “reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.” The reports, alas, were false; no correction ever appeared.
Basic human decency—if not a desire to uphold journalistic integrity—would suggest that a columnist with such a record would issue some sort of mea culpa, an admission that she got the story horribly wrong.
Instead, last Sunday, Roberts remained as intense in her criticism of players’ character as she had been in March 2006. Now that the case against them has collapsed, she criticized those who linked the case’s outcome to a critique of campus culture—even though, when it looked as if the players were guilty, she herself had enthusiastically made such a linkage. She mocked the “lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street” even as she herself has chosen to live in a lily white
Of Mike Nifong, meanwhile, Roberts could say nothing worse than he is “one part clueless Columbo.”
Perhaps most outrageously, Roberts left the impression that her basic assertion from last March—“something happened March 13”—is now and will remain valid. She quoted an unnamed Duke professor (Orin Starn? Grant Farred?) calling for dismissing the case because the investigation “has been so screwed up”—as if what occurred in Durham were a version of Floyd Landis’ Tour de France drug test, with strong evidence of guilt accompanied by the lab having “screwed up” by mislabeling part of Landis’ B-sample.
And just to make sure everyone got the message that it’s still possible that “something happened,” Roberts noted, “As the father of the accuser recently told The Herald-Sun, of
In that interview, Travis Mangum asserted that the accuser had swollen eyes on the night after the “attack.” Yet, as this March 16, 2006 police photo showed, the father—to whom Roberts gave credence—was not telling the truth.
It’s convenient, of course, for Roberts to pretend that this photo never existed. On August 25, it was similarly convenient for Duff Wilson to do so.
As Stuart Taylor observed shortly after it was published, the article “highlights every superficially incriminating piece of evidence in the case, selectively omits important exculpatory evidence, and reports hotly disputed statements by not-very-credible police officers and the mentally unstable accuser as if they were established facts.”
First, Wilson—who examined “the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution”—saw the same results that Joe Neff did for an October article: that the accuser made enormous errors (outside of the three players she picked) in the April 4 lineup. She said she was 100 percent certain of recognizing people the prosecution knew weren’t even at the party. She misindentified the person who made the broomstick comment, picking a player with a different hair color and body build. She no longer recognized people she was 100 percent certain of seeing when she first did a lineup on March 16.
Second, Wilson—who examined “the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution”—saw the same March 16, 2006 photo that all readers of this blog did last week, showing an accuser wholly without facial bruises or swollen eyes, despite the claims of her father.
Basic human decency—if not a desire to uphold journalistic integrity—would suggest that a news division with such a record would issue some sort of mea culpa, an admission that the Times got the story horribly wrong. Yet, incredibly,
It’s naïve, I suppose, to expect a paper that has been so unfair in its coverage to date to change its approach now. Given what we saw Sunday from Roberts, Times readers should dread what we will see from