In an interview last week with
Ashley was, on occasion, almost comical in his remarks. For instance, at 21.41 of the link, he asserted, “I think we were skeptical in many instances.”
Really? When? This was a paper whose editorial page and chief reporter covering the case (John Stevenson) demonstrated not one iota of skepticism about anything Mike Nifong said or did between March and December 2006.
Ashley and Stevenson might have displayed a little more skepticism had they seen fit to quote Jim Coleman in any of their stories in the months after Coleman publicly criticized Nifong. The Duke Law professor first went public in mid-June 2006, in comments that have stood the test of time. Yet Ashley and Stevenson ignored Coleman’s remarks when he made them. And they ignored Coleman in July 2006. And in August 2006. And in September 2006. And in October 2006.
NAACP “case monitor” Irving Joyner, meanwhile, seemed to be on Herald-Sun speed dial, always ready to offer flaccid pro-Nifong commentary.
Even Ashley didn’t seem to believe his claims that the paper was often skeptical about the
Ashley returned to the theme later in the interview, at 21.57 of the link: “Some of the editorial comments that Stuart [Taylor] cites, looked at from the vantage point of 18 months later, probably have proven to be mistaken. But they were based on the best available evidence and judgment at the time . . . We don’t have the luxury of waiting several months before we wade into the fray.”
The insinuation: the paper’s coverage wasn’t biased; it did the best it could have under the circumstances; and its critics are Monday morning quarterbacks.
(Ashley added, by the way, that he hadn’t read UPI, even as he conceded that many people in Durham were talking about it.)
It’s not clear how Ashley’s explanation would account for the coverage of the Chronicle, which broke several stories and whose editorial and op-ed columns have stood the test of time. Nor is it clear how Ashley’s explanation would account for the coverage of the N&O—which badly misfired in its March 25, 2006 story, but was breaking news on the case as early as April 22, 2006, en route to a pattern of exposé after exposé.
A listener to Ashley’s interview, meanwhile, would have concluded that no criticism of the Herald-Sun existed until Stuart and I published our book.
Ashley must have missed posts such as those of Craig Henry at Lead and Gold. On July 5, 2006, the blog correctly noted that the H-S “still spins for Nifong even when it tries to take a bold, forthright position. Like most of the MSM, it refuses to confront all the disturbing facts in the case when it issues its agonizing reappraisals of the mess that is Durham justice . . . The Herald-Sun is still dissembling as it calls for a speedy trial and it is shirking its duty. Instead of waiting for he truth, the paper should start digging into the mistakes made by the media, Nifong, and Duke. Isn’t that what a watchdog press is supposed to do? The paper has no appetite for such work. Like most local media, they are loyal lapdogs for prosecutors. This is made clear by the gentle way they handle the questions about Nifong’s handling of the case . . .
“The DA gets the benefit of the doubt. From the beginning, the lax players were presumed guilty; their presumption of innocence went out the window back in March. But Nifong—he “must have some evidence.” The Herald-Sun does not tell us what it might be, but they are sure he must have something. It is a touching to see the media place such childlike faith in a politician. It is a faith that is contradicted by the facts we know—no DNA, no severe injuries, no date rape drug, no viable timeline, multiple false statements by the DA, absurdly contradictory accounts by the accuser and the second dancer. Why, then, does the Herald-Sun cut him so much slack?”
It didn't take Craig Henry 18 months to see through Editor Ashley's biased coverage.
And it doesn't seem that John in
JinC asked whether the H-S had offered a “fake news story . . . a sham repackaging of material previously disclosed.” His post posed a question: “Did the Herald-Sun today give us a genuine story about previously undisclosed DNA matches, or did it give us a sham repackaged "old news" story intended to prop up sagging public support for a case most people know has been nothing so much as a series of injustices?”
In August 2006, indeed, Liestoppers’ Joan Foster composed a poem for Ashley, entitled, “In Search of One Courageous Editor.”
He asks if we've gone "insane?"
For Nifong there's no blame
Bob's hoping that the boys will go to trial
How very debonair
Oh, my...so laissez-faire!
It's easy when the accused is not your child!
Of course, DIW also regularly offered contemporaneous criticism of Ashley’s handiwork, whether from his personal op-ed column; on the editorial page; or in the efforts of John Stevenson. And when Ashley OK’d an article featuring Travis Mangum claiming that
[And for other examples of contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous criticism of the H-S from this blog, Editor Ashley could have checked here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here; or here.]
Indeed, virtually anyone who commented on the Herald-Sun’s coverage during the course of the case criticized it. The paper might have been spared additional criticism, as the Chronicle’s Adam Eaglin discovered, only because so many commentators didn’t read the H-S.
Since April, while the paper’s editorial coverage has remained as slanted as ever, the news performance has improved dramatically. John Stevenson’s byline largely has disappeared from articles related to the case, replaced by the work of William West or Ray Gronberg. Both have produced first-rate articles. So the H-S clearly has people capable of quality work. Why, then, did Ashley have kept the reliably pro-Nifong Stevenson on the case for so long, unless he found the Stevenson message appealing?
So, in the end, Ashley continues to deny reality. The insinuation that serious criticisms of the H-S did not occur throughout the case is absurd.