Jack Shafer, the press correspondent at Slate, had an interesting column last week. He commented, “The average newspaper should expand by a factor of 50 the amount of space given to corrections if [University of Oregon journalism professor] Scott R. Maier’s research is any guide.”
In a survey of 3600 articles from ten newspapers, Maier and his researchers discovered 2615 factual errors in 1220 stories. Yet, as Shafer noted, “Just 23 of the flawed stories—less than 2 percent—generated newspaper corrections. No paper corrected more than 4.2 percent of its flawed articles.” Even more alarmingly, Shafer suggested that the Times (which still hasn’t corrected the three factual errors, two of them major, in Duff Wilson’s August 2006 article) is actually more rigorous than most newspapers in publishing corrections.
Two recent, serious, and non‑Times non-corrections come to mind. In an August 1 article in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, reporter Tim McGlone profiled Michael Vick’s legal team, which included “Durham, N.C., attorney James D. ‘Butch’ Williams. He represented one of the unindicted co-conspirators in the Duke lacrosse team rape case, which ended in dismissals against all those accused.”
The term “unindicted co-conspirator” has a precise legal definition. Here is my colleague, Stuart Taylor, describing the term as it applied to the Whitewater case and former Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey:
The prosecutor is saying in essence in court—and they haven’t said it yet by the way--but they apparently will—that we believe this man was part of the criminal conspiracy, along with the people who are on trial. We haven’t indicted him but the relevance of that for the purposes of the trial is that lets them get in more evidence about the unindicted co-conspirator’s or the alleged unindicted co-conspirator’s out-of-court statements than they otherwise could. It’s a way around the hearsay rule . . . For example, if they want to--somebody, one of their witnesses, to talk about what Bruce Lindsey said to him, ordinarily that would be barred by the so-called hearsay rule. You can’t talk --you can’t testify in a trial about what somebody else said out of court. That rule has a lot of exceptions. One of the exceptions is if the person who you’re trying to quote, here Bruce Lindsey, is named by the prosecution as an unindicted co-conspirator, then you can talk about what he said out of court.
Mike Nifong never made such a determination about Williams’ client (Dan Flannery). In fact, Nifong said exactly the opposite, releasing a public statement last May saying that no charges would be brought against anyone other than the three (falsely accused) targets.
I brought this record to McGlone’s attention, and asked if he would be running a correction. He declined, noting that similar language had appeared in the AP wire-service story about Williams. Yet here’s how that story described Williams and the lacrosse case: “A Durham lawyer who represented an unindicted player in the now-debunked Duke lacrosse rape case is working on another high-profile sports case: the dogfighting investigation involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick.” [emphasis added]
A reader from Norfolk, John Deal, pointed out the problem in a letter to the editor about Flannery: “Unindicted yes, but clearly he was not a ‘co-conspirator.’ Instead of using a catchy but inaccurate phrase, how about referring to him as ‘one of the members of the Duke lacrosse team subjected last year to a false accusation of rape’? It just goes to show how difficult it will be to change public perceptions even after the attorney general of North Carolina went out of his way to declare the innocence of those actually charged. In the wake of one of the worst cases of prosecutorial misconduct, an accurate press could help."
Letters to the editor, of course, aren’t corrections; and as of today, the Virginian-Pilot archives reveal no correction of McGlone’s error.
That column stated,
A source has provided ESPN with a detailed account of the exotic dancer’s arrival at the hospital the night of the alleged sexual assault at a party thrown by members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous, was present at the hospital on the night of the alleged incident and says the woman was “beat up” but would not immediately divulge to anyone the identity of her alleged assailants.
“She was hysterical,” the source said. “She was crying, she was pretty banged up. She said she was sexually assaulted, but she didn’t say by whom.”
The source says the woman entered the hospital well after midnight March 13 wearing a red nightgown and nothing on her feet. She was walking on her own, but there were bruises on her face, neck, and arms.
A triage nurse attended to her, but the woman did not want him to touch her because he was a man. She was then examined by a sexual assault nurse.
There were injuries to the woman’s pelvic area, the source said.
According to the source, the woman did not immediately inform either the police or the hospital staff who inflicted the injuries to her.
“She never said one thing about Duke, any athlete or anything,” the source said. “She just kept hollering and screaming. She never said who did it.”
The woman was discharged after approximately five hours.
The timing of Adelson’s article certainly raised eyebrows. The piece appeared one day after: (a) defense attorneys revealed that the DNA tests Mike Nifong’s office had promised would exonerate the innocent produced no matches; and (b) Nifong learned from Dr. Brian Meehan that not only did Crystal Mangum’s rape kit contain no matches to lacrosse players, but there matches to the DNA of multiple, unidentified males.
With the benefit of hindsight, all the italicized items in Adelson’s article appear unsustainable.
We know now:
- Multiple photographs of Crystal Mangum taken between 12.00am and 12.41 am on the morning of March 14 showed no “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- A 12.31am videotape of Crystal Mangum taken on March 14 showed no “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The statement from Kim Roberts, who was with Mangum from 12.41am through around 1.20am on March 14 made no mention of “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The statements of the first three police officers to see Mangum on March 14 made no mention of “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The statement of the Durham Access Center nurse, who saw Mangum around 1.40am, March 14, made no mention of “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The written reports of seven doctors and nurses at Duke Hospital who saw Mangum between 2.00am and 8.00am on March 14—including the transparently biased Tara Levicy, who later would be willing to shift her story to accomodate the ever-changing prosecution tale—made no mention of “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The written reports of the UNC medical staff, who saw Mangum on March 15, made no mention of “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- This and other police photographs made clear that, as of March 16, Mangum had no “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
- The Attorney General’s comprehensive inquiry discovered no evidence that, on the morning of March 14, Mangum had “bruises on her face, neck, and arms.”
The logical conclusion from the above: Adelson’s source lied to him. At the very least, the source should be identified so his or her veracity can be tested. Yet Adelson has continued to stand behind the story; no correction has appeared.
Citing items from the discovery file, the Liestoppers discussion board participants have made a very strong case that Adelson’s source was Duke Police Officer Sara Falcon, a graduate of Fayetteville Technical Community College who had joined the Duke force (as a trainee) five months before the lacrosse party. Falcon is the only person in the record who made the odd claim that Mangum refused treatment from a “male triage nurse.” SANE nurse-in-training Levicy, on the other hand, had suggested that Mangum had become hysterical when left alone in the room with an unnamed white, male rape crisis counselor who Levicy could not describe.
Falcon appeared in one other context in the case: the Bowen/Chambers report faulted Duke officials for not paying more attention to her version of events, and instead relying on the (truthful) recollection of Officer Christopher Day that he overheard a Durham police officer say that Mangum claimed to have been raped by 20 men. Bowen and Chambers did not explain why the Duke administration should have given such weight to a trainee officer who had less than a half-year of experience.
If, in fact, a Duke employee was the source for Adelson’s highly damaging article, it would raise further questions about the University’s bias against the lacrosse players.
And, if Shafer is correct, we won’t be seeing corrections from either ESPN or the Virginian-Pilot any time soon.
Hat tip: L.E.