Monday, April 30, 2007

Baker: No Outside Inquiry

The following item just appeared on the city of Durham website:

Durham City Manager to Provide Report Next Week Regarding Duke Lacrosse Investigation

Durham, N.C. – Following the release of the North Carolina Attorney General's report regarding the Duke Lacrosse Case “Summary of Conclusions,” Durham City Manager Patrick Baker has asked the Police Department to review the steps it took to investigate the case. Baker plans to release a report based upon the review next week.

# # #

Good Things Are Happening In Durham


Given Patrick Baker’s performance to date in this case, grave concerns exist about the fairness of having the police department that AG said violated its own procedures conduct its own investigation.

Baker previously had promised the report this week; his announcement provided no explanation for the delay.

And the irony of issuing such a press release over the heading of “Good Things Are Happening In Durham” is hard to avoid.

[Update, 8.03: Julia Lewis of WRAL notes that she has repeatedly attempted to interview Chief Steven Chalmers, but the chief--who appears to fall out of public view for months at a time--has refused each request. She quotes Durham City Council member Eugene Brown, who appears dubious about Baker's latest gambit: “I just think we have to be very careful and not have this report end up a word game or semantics, like was this really a lineup, a witness lineup, or what.”]

Chafe: Some in Group of 88 Presumed Guilt

The Chronicle has a lengthy article today on the continued defiance of the Group of 88; I will be posting more on this issue tomorrow.

The article includes a major, if perhaps unintended, admission by Group stalwart William Chafe: “Most of us never presumed guilt.” [emphasis added]

This statement is, to my knowledge, the first public concession by a Group member on this issue. Chafe did not inform Chronicle readers which Group members presumed guilt.

Reade Seligmann Letter

Reade Seligmann asked if I would post the letter below, directed to all those in the blogosphere who contributed to exposing Mike Nifong's misconduct.


Dear Everyone,

I have been meaning to write to all of you for quite some time. I want to thank you for your relentless dedication to uncovering the truth and your unwavering commitment to defending the innocent. I also want you all to know how appreciative I am for your concern for our well being and for your diligent dissection of this case.

I have closely followed all of your commentary over the past year and I think that you are extraordinary individuals, not to mention incredibly clever. Tuning into the case-related blogs became a daily ritual for my family and me, especially my mother. Your posts, poems, and videos (thanks Tony S.) were so important to her that she had to learn how to operate the computer all by herself.

The encouragement and compassion we received from the blogs helped us get through some of our darkest times. We were able to seek comfort in the fact that there were people out there interested in hearing the truth—people who were not going to prejudge us because of where we lived, the schools we attended, and the sports that we played. Thankfully, there were people like you who knew better than to view this case through a racial and political lens and chose to focus on the facts, rather than engage in unfounded speculation, to arrive at a decision. You have all done a great thing not only for Collin, David and me, but for the integrity of our legal system.

While you have all worked so hard to help the three of us clear our names, I ask that you continue your pursuit of justice in other cases. Our case, while certainly an outrageous instance of an injustice, is just one small link on an entire chain of injustices that take place in our country everyday. You have all done a wonderful thing by drawing attention to the situation we have faced, but please don’t stop here. I know that with the support of my family and a great deal of hard work I will be able to restore my reputation and achieve the goals I have set for myself. However, I now know that it is my responsibility to use this experience to help those who will not have the chance to see the other side of their prison walls.

You have all waged a war against prosecutorial misconduct and exposed Mike Nifong, Crystal Mangum, the Durham Police Department as well as all of the other peripheral characters involved. We must continue to fight for those who do not have a voice and will never have the opportunity to sit in front of a national audience to declare their innocence.

You have all done so much for our families and we can never truly express to you how thankful we are. Now is the time for you to put to use all of the same passion, thoughtfulness, and resolve you have demonstrated on our behalf and help others who are in much more helpless situations.

[Update, 9.22am: Liestoppers also has a forum thread on the letter.]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Farred File

For DIW readers in the Berkshires: Tomorrow afternoon Group of 88 stalwart Grant Farred will give a talk on the lacrosse case entitled, “Public Secrets, Public Scandals: The Event of Duke Lacrosse.” The talk is scheduled for 4.30pm, at Griffin Hall, Room 3, Williams College.

One “public scandal” of this case, of course, was Farred’s behavior—the Literature professor published a pre-election op-ed accusing hundreds of Duke students of “secret racism” for the offense of . . . registering to vote in Durham.

Given that Farred’s talk seeks to expose “Public Secrets,” it would seem that he would be eager for as much publicity as possible. Yet it is my understanding that he rejected a request for his talk to be taped.

I would invite anyone who attends the talk to take notes, which I will post.

[Update, 9.25pm: JinC has some suggested questions for Farred.]

Sunday Roundup

The incomparable Kristin Butler penned her final column of the year by noting, with sadness, that Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann won’t be returning to Duke—and by asking some hard questions: “Why should our wrongly accused classmates come back after everything they’ve been through? Can we say we have learned anything from their (and our) ordeal?”

Certainly Durham seems to have learned little, if anything. Nifong, Butler notes, remains in place, having “not yet faced a single consequence for his actions.” The police still have in place a policy that led to “disproportionately targeting Duke students for arrest and citations.” And Butler’s words came before City Manager Patrick Baker publicly defended Nifong’s “multiple-choice-test-with-no-wrong-answers” lineup.

As for the University: silence appears to be the order of the day. Silence regarding the occasion when “Durham police officers entered (perhaps illegally) Edens Quadrangle last spring.” Silence regarding the “separate-but-equal” justice system of Duke students being punished more than Durham residents for the same offenses. And silence—or worse—on “a campus where so many still don’t seem to ‘get’ what happened to our classmates.”

Everything Butler has published on the case has been a must-read; so too was her column this week.


Tara Servatius has done the best reporting on the relationship between the case and North Carolina’s open discovery law, and she did so again with a piece last week. The issue: a proposal—mentioned by Joe Cheshire in the April 11 press conference—to roll back the open discovery law, which Servatius appropriately dubbed the “Nifong Protection Act.” The measure stated, “Disclosure is also not required of legal research or of records, correspondence, reports, memoranda or trial preparation interview notes prepared by the prosecuting attorney or by members of the prosecuting attorney’s legal staff.”

Servatius sat down with Jim Cooney, who similarly was outraged by the proposal. Reade Seligmann’s attorney noted, “Under this bill, the DA wouldn’t have to produce it [notes of the interview] unless the DA believed that was evidence of innocence. The DAs would always take the position ‘no such thing.’” Indeed, this is just what Nifong tried to do regarding his: April 10 conversation with Dr. Brian Meehan; his April 11 chat with Crystal Mangum; and a June meeting with SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy.

Servatius then sat down with the legislative sponsors of the bill—and got them to admit they didn’t know the measure’s terms. Senate sponsor Tony Rand, according to Servatius, justified the bill as a way to protect social security numbers of victims and witnesses. When Servatius pointed out the bill didn’t even address that issue, Rand responded that he had “only seen [the wording] twice.” House sponsor Ray Warren similarly cited the social security number rationalization, but similarly failed to explain how the bill would address this problem. He confessed that he introduced the measure at the behest of the North Carolina District Attorney’s Association. But Wake County District Attorney Colin Willoughby likewise couldn’t explain how the bill on the table protected against identity theft.

Cooney’s conclusion:

What they have proposed essentially undoes everything that has been done the last four or five years and again it’s going to mask the truth in these cases and all that leads us to is innocent people being convicted. For the life of me I cannot understand in view of what has played itself out in Durham why the district attorneys believe this is a good time to actually cut back on the open file discovery provisions. This bill isn’t written for DAs who follow the rules. The bill is written for DAs who aren’t following the rules.


From this week’s humor file: At Liestoppers, Joan Foster channels ABBA. The fifth verse is particularly good.

And’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback does its version of NFL draft. Its mocking selection for the Carolina Panthers also contains a serious message:

14. Carolina Panthers: Moezeldin Elmostafa, Durham, N.C. cab driver
Elmostafa is the witness who knew that one of the Duke lacrosse players couldn’t possibly have done what he was accused of doing, and stuck to his story despite police attempts to intimidate him into silence. And while everyone is rightly bashing the sleazeball district attorney, what about the Durham police department? The Durham police in this case come off looking highly suspect, yet no officers or commanders have been fired.


The left-wing “netroots” hasn’t exactly distinguished itself in its approach to the case. First, Melissa Lafsky at Huffington Post said that rape charges shouldn’t be dropped as long as Susan Estrich didn’t call Crystal Mangum a liar—and then, when it was pointed out Estrich had called Mangum a liar, simply eliminated the sentence but kept the rest of her post unchanged. Then Amanda Marcotte embarrassed the John Edwards campaign with her vile language, presumption of guilt, and preference for airbrushing posts that proved intellectual indefensible.

And now DailyKos has gotten into the act, with a post from Betsy Angert, who proclaimed that she could “stay silent no more and needed to “flush out what I believe is folly” “Stunned and sickened” by the dismissal of charges, Angert announced that “a subtlety [sic] violent, destructive, and abusive action took place.” That Mangum (who Angert describes as a “financially strapped student” and a “scholar of lesser means” but who the AG’s report portrayed as a mentally imbalanced person who had a drug dependency) chose to strip for a living “speaks to a society in trouble.”

How, Angert cried out in anguish, can we forget “the accuser’s vivid account of racist and misogynistic taunts?” (Apparently Mangum had no trouble forgetting them: ) Dismissing the support petition for Reade Seligmann, Angert mused, “Are their [sic] enough affluent and admired Black persons able to plead a similar case?” The accused students, Angert fumed, had lives “filled with achievements, accomplishments that few Black Americans have available to them.” After meandering off into a discussion of Tiger Woods and Oprah(!), Angert compared the lacrosse party to an event with people “dressed in blackfaces, Klu [sic] Klux Klan costumes, and carrying a noose.”

Quite an analysis.


Duke Basketball Report has a common-sense reaction to the release of the AG's report:

The mystery here is, as it has been: why did Mike Nifong do this? Was it just for a pension?

Given the magnitude of the crime committed here - and in our opinion, even if Nifong is never charged, using an unstable woman to frame three innocent men is at least a moral crime - one has to wonder about his other cases. Which seems more likely to you - that he would start cheating on a high-profile case like this? Or that this is part of a pattern? We have no idea, but it’s a disturbing yet important question to ask.

What takes our breath away is the arrogance of it, the idea that the D.A. could just so blatantly spin a case out of nothing.

In fact, given the magnitude of what has transpired, we’d really urge attorneys, or law students, or journalists (which rules out just about anyone from the Herald-Sun) to pore over the records of the office for the last decade or so to see if anyone else was hung out to dry. Our hunch is that what happened in the lacrosse case didn’t happen in a vacuum.


Yet another in the long line of Herald-Sun factual errors about the case: both the summary of the AG’s report posted Friday afternoon and John Stevenson’s Saturday article contained the following assertion: “For the first time, the alibi defense that accused lacrosse player Collin Finnerty planned to use came to light in the report.”

Actually, 60 hours before the report appeared, Finnerty’s alibi was publicly revealed here.

In the time between the staff reports article and the appearance of the Stevenson article, I alerted H-S editor Bob Ashley about the error, and he acknowledged receipt of my e-mail. Yet not only did no correction appear, but the error was repeated--even after Ashley knew the statement was false.

At this stage, why should anyone be surprised?


Last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Thomas Stinson had a superb article on the lacrosse team's quest for the 2007 national championship. He noted the irony of what had changed since 2006:

Pressler was gone. Teammates Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, the first players charged in the case, had left school with no plans to return. The third, David Evans, had graduated.

Yet Duke president Richard Broadhead, who canceled last season, remained. Athletics Director Joe Alleva, who forced Pressler's resignation, remained. Many of the students who had banged pots and pans at the rallies in support of the accuser before the case began to unravel, remained. And suspicion remained.

Coach John Danowski astutely summarized the attitude of the team:

The kids are angry; they're angry at the world. They're angry at the faculty. They're angry at some administrators. They're angry at the media. They're angry at those people who jumped to conclusions without even meeting them, without even getting to know who they were and getting to know the real circumstances of that evening.

And Stinson noted that despite AG Cooper's call for apologies--and the willingness of some people, such as Ruth Sheehan, to accept his advice--the Group of 88 "has yet to respond." And, given their behavior over the past 13 months, few would have expected any different behavior from the Group.


At Real Clear Politics, Dennis Prager listed eight lessons of the case, in which “America’s news media, an amoral university, an opportunistic district attorney, and a police department that seems to have collaborated in framing innocent students all combined to nearly destroy the lives of three innocent young men.” He added that “given the political correctness of our time and the inverted values that prevail among America’s elites—particularly the news media, the universities and the legal profession—lessons [of the case] will rarely be expressed, let alone learned.”

A few worth noting: At Duke, “eighty-eight professors, abetted by Duke’s president, created a mob mentality against the young men not unlike that of a lynch mob”—though “of course, nothing will be done to Duke’s president or to those professors.” And “the next time you hear that someone was indicted by a grand jury, unless you have knowledge of the case, or reason suggests possible guilt, don’t assume it.”

Read his full column here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Wilson and the Prosecutors

Duff Wilson, New York Times, August 25, 2006:
The dancers stopped. An argument ensued. Using a racial epithet, someone yelled that they had asked for white dancers, not black ones. That much is agreed. It was 12:04 a.m. March 14. [emphasis added]
Report of the Attorney General, April 27, 2007:

Both dancers were in the car at 12:42 a.m. After the accusing witness was placed in “Nikki’s” car, [well after both Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty had left the premises,] “Nikki” yelled a sexually and racially based comment at a group of party attendees standing across the street near the wall to East Campus at the university. One or more of the party responded with racial epithets. After this exchange, “Nikki” drove away with the accusing witness in her car.

As his former boss observed, Wilson isnt an incompetent locker-room hack who was in over his head” on this story. The logical alternative, then: Wilson and Times editors chose to slant the record to bolster Nifongs version of events, and then refused to correct factual errors.

Summarizing the Report

As TalkLeft’s Jeralyn Merritt observed, the attorney general’s report made clear that the lacrosse case was a “hoax” —perpetrated by a mentally unstable accusing witness, an unscrupulous district attorney, and a few other key figures willing to compromise their professional ethics to keep the fraud alive.

A summary of the conclusions:

1.) Crystal Mangum has no credibility now, and she never had any credibility.

The two key passages:

In meetings with the special prosecutors, the accusing witness, when recounting the events of that night, changed her story on so many important issues as to give the impression she was improvising as the interviews progressed, even when she was faced with irrefutable evidence that what she was saying was not credible . . .

The accusing witness attempted to avoid the contradictions by changing her story, contradicting previous stories or alleging the evidence was fabricated.

Mangum’s final story contradicted each and every other story she had told to law enforcement officials over the previous 13 months. Now, she claimed that the rape occurred while she was suspended in mid-air(!), a scenario that AG Cooper already had dismissed as wholly non-credible.

In her conversations with special prosecutors, Mangum also claimed acts of public “violence”—the perpetrators, she claimed, kicked her in the neck and tossed her onto the porch, followed by 10 other lacrosse players assaulting her in the backyard. Yet not only did all of this public “violence” leave no bruises—a medical miracle—but also neither of the two neutral witnesses (next-door neighbor Jason Bissey or dancer Kim Roberts) saw any of it.

In addition to her sealed medical records explaining these bizarre allegations, the AG’s report made it clear that Mangum seemed dependent on prescription drugs—confirming the suspicion voiced many months ago by Kathleen Eckelt that Mangum was using the claim of rape to obtain prescription drugs.

2.) No innocent explanation exists for Nifong not knowing of Mangum’s lack of credibility.

The attorney general’s report makes clear the special prosecutors’ contempt for Nifong’s investigating style. The document notes, “The special prosecutors met with the accusing witness a number of times and questioned her about inconsistencies that existed at the time the Attorney General’s office accepted the case, as well as other inconsistencies that had arisen since then. This was apparently the first time these questions of inconsistencies had been asked formally.” [emphasis added]

Nifong, it’s worth remembering, had previously informed the court that he had determined Mangum to be credible by chatting with her about her children.

If Nifong hadn’t wanted to interview Mangum, he could have interviewed other lacrosse players—which he refused to do, despite offers from defense attorneys as early as March 27 and March 29. The attorney general’s report makes clear that the special prosecutors found credible the 17 lacrosse players who voluntarily submitted to questioning from the AG’s office.

3.) Without naming names, the report takes to task several of Nifong’s key facilitators.

The passages on Linwood Wilson were devastating:

Significantly, the chief investigator also showed her the photographs of lacrosse team members she had previously viewed on April 4, 2006 in the PowerPoint presentation. The chief investigator’s interview of the accusing witness was not recorded and neither the chief investigator’s notes nor his subsequent report revealed that the accusing witness was shown the photographs again, although he acknowledged to the special prosecutors in an interview that he had done so.

No explanation for this was contained in the chief investigator’s report or notes. His report does reflect, without explanation, that the accusing witness, for the first time, began referring to the three individuals as David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, rather than “Adam,” “Brett” and “Matt.” The chief investigator’s report also does not indicate whether the accusing witness was still able to identify the three individuals previously identified on April 4, 2006. [emphases added]

The special prosecutors then explained why Wilson’s actions were so wrong:

Showing the accusing witness these photographs which were the subject of a pending motion to suppress, along with her use of the proper names of those charged, provided the defense additional grounds to argue that the out of court and in court identification should be suppressed which would have effectively ended the case.

The special prosecutors determined that Tara Levicy had little credibility:

No medical evidence confirmed [Mangum’s] stories. The SANE based her opinion that the exam was consistent with what the accusing witness was reporting largely on the accusing witness’s demeanor and complaints of pain rather than on objective evidence. [emphasis added]

Ironically, despite Levicy’s full-out attempt to prop up Mangum, the accuser actually denied telling Levicy the items in Levicy’s March 14, 2006 report.

Finally, the attorney general’s office rebuked the Durham Police Department: “The special prosecutors concluded that the process by which the accusing witness ultimately identified David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty as her attackers was of questionable validity . . . The photographic arrays shown to the accusing witness on four different occasions were limited to members of the lacrosse team. ‘Fillers,’ or individuals not regarded as potential suspects, as recommended by Durham Police Department policy for identifying suspects, were never included.”

All told, a devastating report for Nifong and his law enforcement enablers—and yet a document that in no way prejudices his right to a fair hearing before the state bar, since it skirted the two primary issues for which he faces ethics charges.

[Update, 10.11am: Patrick Baker has responded to the report, essentially dismissing the criticism of the state's top law enforcement official by claiming that the lineups were not lineups, and therefore did not require due process protections. This is, of course, the same Patrick Baker who said that every story Mangum told was consistent.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

A One-Two for the DPD

N&O, this morning’s editorial: “Obscured in the hubbub following the dropped charges in the Duke lacrosse case has been the disappointing role played by the Durham Police Department. The department’s own procedures were swept off the table by a district attorney determined to prosecute what seemed to be a shaky case from the start . . . Chief Steve Chalmers now should offer an accounting of his department’s professional lapses; explain what, if any, discipline has been meted out; and detail what safeguards have been put in place to keep such lapses from occurring again. If Chalmers balks, his bosses, City Manager Patrick Baker and the City Council, should insist.”

AG’s office, this afternoon’s report: “The special prosecutors concluded that the process by which the accusing witness ultimately identified David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty as her attackers was of questionable validity . . . The photographic arrays shown to the accusing witness on four different occasions were limited to members of the lacrosse team. ‘Fillers,’ or individuals not regarded as potential suspects, as recommended by Durham Police Department policy for identifying suspects, were never included.”

I e-mailed Durham Police spokesperson Kammie Michael to ask if she had a comment on the N&O editorial and the statements in the special prosecutors’ report.

Her reply: “The Police Department has no comment.”

AG's Report

Some key findings from the full text:

"In meetings with the special prosecutors, the accusing witness, when recounting the events of that night, changed her story on so many important issues as to give the impression she was improvising as the interviews progressed, even when she was faced with irrefutable evidence that what she was saying was not credible."

"The accusing witness attempted to avoid the contradictions by changing her story, contradicting previous stories or alleging the evidence was fabricated."

Crystal Mangum showed up for an April 4 meeting with the special prosecutors significantly impaired, and admitted that before the meeting, she had taken Ambien, methadone, Paxil and amitriptyline. The report concluded that her behavior at that meeting was very similar to the behavior she exhibited on the night of the party.

The special prosecutors interviewed 17 lacrosse players and the two non-lacrosse players at the party.

The special prosecutors verified that Mangum arrived at the party around 11:40pm, and that the dance began around 12.00 midnight.

The report discusses some of the Finnerty alibi first revealed here on Wednesday.

The SP's had strong doubts about Mangun's credibility in identifying people: "When asked how she could recall with such certainty who allegedly attacked her she claimed she was good at remembering faces. When the special prosecutors brought Officer Gwen Sutton of the Durham Police Department into the interview room, the accusing witness claimed she did not know Officer Sutton and had not seen her before that day. Officer Sutton had spent more than five hours with the accusing witness on the morning of March 14, 2006."

The conclusions of SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy that Mangum exhibited symptoms consistent with a rape were based entirely on Levicy's subjective observations, rather than any medical evidence at all.

On the question of whether this report will hurt Nifong's June bar hearing, one example of a new problem for Nifong: "The special prosecutors met with the accusing witness a number of times and questioned her about inconsistencies that existed at the time the Attorney General’s office accepted the case, as well as other inconsistencies that had arisen since then. This was apparently the first time these questions of inconsistencies had been asked formally."

At his December 21, "no-witnesses" meeting with Mangum,
Linwood Wilson admitted that he showed her the April 4 lineup photos again, this time using the players' real names. The SP's concluded: "Showing the accusing witness these photographs which were the subject of a pending motion to suppress, along with her use of the proper names of those charged, provided the defense additional grounds to argue that the out of court and in court identification should be suppressed which would have effectively ended the case."

N&O summary here; full text here; more to come--

Assessing the Post

Quite appropriately, the aftermath of Attorney General Cooper’s declaration of the three players’ innocence has focused critical attention on the two newspapers that did the most to uphold Mike Nifong’s efforts: the New York Times and the Herald-Sun. But a third paper also embarrassed itself in how it approached the case. Original reporting in the Washington Post was good though rare. The paper’s opinion pieces, on the other hand, all approached the case through a race/class/gender worldview so extreme as to almost represent a caricature.

First, the good news: Post reporter Anne Hull did two thoughtful, lengthy pieces on social aspects of the case that avoided the clichés common in New York Times coverage. The first, published on May 7, provided a sympathetic portrait of NCCU—but also unequivocally presented the evidence of innocence that had emerged by that time. The second, published on June 10, looked at how several D.C.-area Duke lacrosse parents were coping with the crisis. As in her May 7 article, Hull was sympathetic to her subjects, but avoided cliché.

The Post editorial board published a powerful December 31 editorial demanding that Mike Nifong drop all charges. “It’s been clear for months that Mr. Nifong’s case—to the extent he has a case—is riddled with flaws that raise serious questions about his motives and ethics.” The editors also commented how Nifong “badly misconceives his job as a prosecutor, which is not simply to robotically prosecute claims or seek a conviction at all costs but to make an independent analysis of whether justice would be served by continuing with the case.”

Yet the tone of the Post’s approach to the case came from its opinion pieces. In late June, Ruth Marcus penned an opinion piece admitting that she initially assumed the players were guilty, and making it clear she didn’t think much of the team members. But she was open-minded, and troubled, about the facts of the case: “The paucity of physical evidence; the accuser’s prior unsubstantiated rape charge; her changing stories that night; sloppy and unreliable identification procedures—any of these alone, and certainly all of them together, make it hard to understand why the prosecution is going forward and impossible to imagine that it could win a conviction.” Moreover, she noted, “The confluence of Nifong's political interests and the prosecution is itself another reason for discomfort.”

The Marcus column stood alone among the paper’s coverage. Five other Post columnists published about the case, and all five said essentially the same thing: the accused players were horrible people, probably racists, and were receiving special treatment because they were privileged.

Eugene Robinson started the parade on April 25, 2006. “It’s quite possible,” noted he, “we’ll never have a truly satisfactory answer as top what “really happened that night between a house full of rowdy lacrosse players.” (Party photos hardly showed a “rowdy” group.) Why? Because rape was hard to prove, “especially cases of alleged rape in which the accused can afford top-shelf legal counsel.” So Robinson urged people to focus on the “historical context” (i.e., the metanarrative) “of all the black women who were violated by drunken white men in the American South over the centuries. The master-slave relationship, the tradition of droit du seigneur, the use of sexual possession as an instrument of domination.” No rush to judgment there. A “true hero” of the case, stated Robinson, might be Richard Brodhead—because “he seems to understand the need to deal not only with the specific allegations but with the context and the questions as well.” Of course, Robinson seemed not to understand that successfully dealing with “the context and the questions” depended in part on knowing what actually happened.

Then there was Lynne Duke, who brought her judgment to bear on May 24. Duke employed a writing style more appropriate for a Harlequin novel than the op-ed pages of the Post. Her opening sentence: “She was black, they were white, and race and sex were in the air.” Parroting Robinson’s argument, the columnist then fantastically revealed “the brutal truth”: “It is that the Duke case is in some ways reminiscent of a black woman’s vulnerability to a white man during the days of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow, when sex was used as a tool of racial domination.”

In July, Marc Fisher stepped up to the plate. His thesis mocked Collin Finnerty’s character witnesses by appealing to class prejudice. His conclusion on the case as a whole? “Even if no rape occurred in the Duke case, even if that ugly incident was no more than a raucous party at which a bunch of drunken kids verbally abused a hired performer, it sounds like it was entirely within character for these kids.”

Andrew Cohen provided the worst legal analysis of any figure outside of Wendy Murphy and Georgia Goslee. Like Fisher, he focused on the class angle: in article after article, he suggested that the accused players were receiving special treatment because they could afford good lawyers:

  • In May, he savaged the defense attorneys while lionizing Nifong, who “has generally resisted the temptation to ride the whirlwind of media coverage and duel it out with defense attorneys via the media . . . His only vindication will be at trial, but that must seem these days like a long time coming for him and his star witness.”
  • A June posting claimed that the defendants’ “race and money” had caused the media to raise questions about Mike Nifong’s conduct. Cohen clucked, “We haven’t seen all of the evidence, haven’t examined all of the testimony; haven’t had the privilege of seeing the case unfold at trial the way it is supposed to.”
  • In July, after a post that also improperly described Rule 3.6 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, Cohen had to run a correction after falsely suggesting that defense lawyers had violated a gag order.
  • And even when charges were dropped, Cohen dismissed critics of Nifong, and instead suggested that the accused players’ wealth helped them get the truth out, an option that they would not have had if they were poor. Yet he seemed unable or unwilling to understand that if Crystal Mangum had accused poor, local African-Americans of rape, Nifong would have had no reason to make the case in the first place.

Bill Anderson described the paper’s “party line” as follows: “Yes, they were innocent of the charges, but they had a party where strippers were paid to dance, and there was drinking, and the air was filled with racial slurs.”

The Post’s most recent opinion piece, from yet another columnist, John Feinstein, took the exact same approach to the story that every other Post columnist did.

  • Feinstein ridiculed critics of Nifong as “the defenders of the right and the white.” (I guess people like Jim Coleman and Jeralyn Merritt don’t count.)
  • The suspension of the team’s season was justified to send “a message that accusations of rape would not be taken lightly” (even though Brodhead didn’t give this as a reason).
  • The three accused players “were still part of a group of kids that was out of control and never have they shown any remorse for anything other than the fact that they were facing rape charges. No one from the lacrosse team has ever said, “okay, maybe we went too far with our partying at times.’” (Actually, the captains apologized publicly and privately on multiple occasions for holding the party—but why let the facts get in the way of a good argument?)
  • “Remember one team member was also accused of a gay-bashing crime in Washington and another sent out a hateful, threatening e-mail in the wake of the arrests.” (It would be hard to “remember” the first incident, since it never occurred; as to the second, no one has described the McFadyen e-mail as “threatening” for months, and, as a commenter points out, Feinstein appears unaware of either the context or the time in which the e-mail was sent.)

Anderson concludes that Feinstein’s observations contained “little more truth than a story from Pravda in the heady days of the former Soviet Union.” As has usually occurred in the case, Anderson is on target. And the Post should be ashamed for offering such extreme, consistently one-sided, commentary on the case.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seligmann Receives Delbarton Medal

From the good news file: earlier this week, Delbarton School awarded Reade Seligmann the Delbarton Medal, the school’s highest honor and one rarely given to those outside the student body. The school’s headmaster, Fr. Luke Travers, praised “Reade's courage, nobility, integrity and charity,” adding that the Delbarton graduate “gave us a model of how to handle the pressures that we all experience.”

In an address to the entire student body, Seligmann (wearing the Medal) cited the backing he had received from the Delbarton community, and noted—correctly—“all leaders of every academic institution in the country now have an example to follow.” Indeed, Delbarton’s behavior throughout the case shows how an academic institution can remain faithful to its ideals and loyal to its students.

If the Herald-Sun Had an Ombudsman . . .

. . . His name would be Adam Eaglin. In yesterday’s Chronicle, Eaglin provided what almost certainly will be the definitive published review of the Herald-Sun’s coverage. From the paper’s slanted editorials to its ignoring news to its factual errors, Eaglin’s article reviews the Herald-Sun’s sorry performance.

But, of course, the Herald-Sun doesn’t have an ombudsman. And so, as Eaglin discovered, the person reviewing the work of news editor Bob Ashley, columnist Bob Ashley, and co-editorial page editor Bob Ashley is . . . Bob Ashley. Ashley’s verdict on Ashley? Critical self-reflection doesn’t seem to be a desired attribute at the Herald-Sun.

As Eaglin noted in a blog posting, he confronted a serious dilemma in writing the article: few people, it seems, read the Herald-Sun. He noted, “Despite finding plenty of sources willing to comment on the lacrosse case (journalism professors, editors, watch-dog organizations), I faced one common problem. Many of my sources—and I don’t mean this to be derisive or facetious—prefaced interviews with one caveat: they didn’t want to comment because they didn’t bother reading the Herald-Sun, and thus were unfamiliar with its coverage.”

Defense attorneys, obviously, read the H-S: the December 15 change-of-venue motion was filled with examples of the paper’s misleading, one-sided coverage. Jim Cooney’s public calling-out of the H-S bias was one of the most spectacular events in the April 11 press conference; Cooney told Eaglin he did so because while Nifong probably didn’t pay too much attention to national publications, “if The Durham Herald-Sun had stood up for due process and justice, he would’ve been forced to pay attention.”

Eaglin also obtained a comment from Bill Green, a former Washington Post ombudsman who now lives in Durham. Green’s analysis: “The Herald-Sun has consistently failed to presume the innocence of these three people. They leapt to judgment early and stayed with that thinking.”

An obvious example of Green’s thesis—the paper’s first editorial on the case, published March 28, 2006. The editorial praised the potbangers, hoping that “the banging drums served as a wake-up call that the students’ obnoxious fun and games have taken a very serious turn.” The editorial inaccurately stated, “When police officers arrived at the house with a search warrant on March 16, none of the players would cooperate with the investigation.” Moreover, added the editorial board, it was “outrageous that not a single person who was in the house felt compelled to step forward and tell the truth about what happened.” Of course, they had done so. They just hadn’t told the “truth” the H-S so desperately wanted to hear.

Asked by Eaglin whether the paper regretted the tone or substance of these early editorials, Ashley defended them: “We were reflecting the circumstances and situation as it was known at the time, and I don’t have any regret in doing that. I don’t think we need to apologize for that conclusion.”

Ashley similar seems blasé about the depressing litany of slanted stories that Eaglin’s article presented. Eaglin noted that Ashley considered such stories exceptions to the paper’s handling of the case: “We’ve tried,” the editor proclaimed, “to do our best to cover it in a level-headed and even-handed way.”

Why would defense attorneys and virtually anyone who’s actually read H-S coverage think otherwise? Ashley appears mystified.

And Cooney points out a dubious honor: the H-S was “the only newspaper in the country who wasn’t critical” after revelations that Nifong had entered into an intentional agreement with Dr. Brian Meehan to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence. Of course, this was the same newspaper that several months before had portrayed Meehan’s DNA tests as a boon for the state.

Ashley’s decision to write opinion columns on the case (demanding a trial, mocking Nifong’s critics) that foreshadowed the paper’s news coverage likewise attracted comment: UNC journalism professor Lois Boynton told Eaglin that “if the stories start to reflect too much the leaning of the individual, the readers will begin to question the validity of the stories . . . [Ashley] is pushing his luck a little bit here.”

Ashley, incredibly, even rationalizes the paper’s falsely claiming (in a page-one headline) that Attorney General Roy Cooper said that concern over racial tensions contributed to his decision to publicly declare the three accused players innocent. “We made a mistake,” the editor blandly observed. “Human beings in this business make mistakes all the time.”

Why is it, I wonder, that in the lacrosse case, all of the Herald-Sun’s lacrosse case “errors” tilted in one direction?

In his blog posting, Eaglin offers a devastating assessment: I’m only a student, and an admittedly amateur reporter. But I hope the Herald-Sun can realize what everyone else seems to see—the Herald-Sun is setting.”

It’s tough to disagree with that assertion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Finnerty Timeline

In a June interview with Dan Abrams, Collin Finnerty’s parents made clear that their son had a strong alibi. Their attorney, Wade Smith, chose not to reveal the alibi for understandable legal reasons—a fear that Mike Nifong would try to manipulate the facts around the alibi. Indeed, this is exactly what Nifong tried to do regarding Reade Seligmann’s alibi.

With the case concluded, however, the Finnerty record on the night of the party is now public. What it reveals: Finnerty had an alibi of comparable strength to that of Reade Seligmann—and Seligmann’s alibi, it’s worth remembering, was unimpeachable in demonstrably proving his innocence.

The timestamped photos from the party showed the Roberts/Mangum dance running from midnight until 12.04am. That timeline was further corroborated by a statement from the neighbor, Jason Bissey. That Mangum (despite Nifong’s later claims) didn’t arrive at the party until around 11.40pm was conclusively proved by an 11.44pm receipt from her “driver,” Brian Taylor, who stopped off at a gas/convenience store nearby the lacrosse house just after he dropped Mangum off.

12.10am-12.20am: As Kim Roberts and Crystal Mangum went to the back of the house, Finnerty and several other members of the team milled around for a brief period in the living room. At no point during this period was Collin ever alone; several members of the team recalled seeing him leave through the front door.

12.22am: In the first of a series of eight cell phone calls, Finnerty called another member of the team asking whether he wanted to get something to eat.

12.24am: As a reminder, Reade Seligmann has unimpeachable electronic evidence that he wasn’t at 610 N. Buchanan at this time, in the form of an ATM photo from Wachovia Bank; two minutes later, Mangum placed a call from her cellphone to another escort service.

12.27am: Finnerty received a call from a different member of the team; they talked about where and what to eat. By this point, Collin had gone to a house around the corner rented by two other senior lacrosse players—he had to pick up his Playstation, which he had left at the other house. Finnerty’s legal team had all his calls triangulated, and, therefore, could prove how his eight calls were made “on the move” and in different zones away from Buchanan house.

In short, as of 12.27am, Finnerty had unimpeachable electronic evidence that he was not at 610 N. Buchanan.

12.30am: Finnerty placed a call to Domino’s to order a pizza.

12.31am: Mangum was photographed, smiling, outside the back door at 610 N. Buchanan.

12.33am: Finnerty and his friends decided to pick up food at Cosmic Cantina instead of pizza; he called Domino’s to cancel his order.

12.33am-12.56am: Collin and three team members (a freshman, a sophomore, and a senior) left the other lacrosse house and headed across East Campus to a Mexican restaurant, Cosmic Cantina, to get something to eat. At 12.56am, a credit card receipt showed the time at which one of the team members with Collin paid Cosmic Cantina. Finnerty then took a cab back to his dorm.

1.04am: Finnerty used his key card to gain entrance to his dorm, and then used his card to buy water in a vending machine.

1.16am: Finnerty made a 15-minute cell-phone call to his girlfriend.

The Finnerty record contained three other vital items:

1.) In May, Finnerty was administered a lie detector test, run by the instructor for the polygraph course at the North Carolina SBI. Collin passed the test unequivocally; afterwards, the tester told Wade Smith, “This boy is telling the truth and is innocent.”

2.) The Finnerty team fingerprinted—from top to bottom—the bathroom in which Mangum claimed she was attacked. No prints from Collin were in that bathroom. That result came as no surprise: Finnerty never set foot in that bathroom—either on March 13-14 or at any other occasion in his life.

3.) On November 15, Finnerty attorney Doug Kingsbery interviewed SANE nurse Tara Levicy—expected to be one of Nifong’s star witnesses if a trial ever occurred. Levicy left no doubt that she believed Mangum—but she wasn’t exactly the most discerning examiner, either. She told Kingsbery that she had never encountered a woman who lied about claiming to have been raped.

In their interview, Levicy told Kingsbery that on several occasions on the morning of March 14, she asked Mangum to slow down, so she could get all of Mangum’s details in her report. In the course of Kingsbery’s questioning of Levicy, it became clear that the SANE nurse had omitted a critical item from her report.

Did Mangum say when the alleged attack occurred?, Kingsbery queried. Yes, conceded Levicy. “About” 1.00am.

So at the time when Tara Levicy—whose zeal for conviction appears to have been almost equal to Nifong’s—had Mangum saying the attack occurred, Collin Finnerty was eating at a restaurant more than a mile away from the captains’ house.

For those who still fail to understand why this case has caused so much outrage, a recapitulation:

1.) Mike Nifong obtained indictments despite having—in the words of Attorney General Roy Cooper—“no credible evidence” that a crime even occurred.

2.) The first two people against whom Nifong obtained indictments—Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty—had a combination of witness testimony and unimpeachable electronic and forensic evidence to prove that they were innocent.

One final word, in the case of Finnerty: the indictment led to an extraordinary wave of character assassination against him in the media, beyond what Seligmann endured. Not only were these portrayals inaccurate, but they were almost 180 degrees incorrect—and described a person that no one who has spent 15 minutes with Collin would even recognize.

This record explains why it is—to use Cooper’s adjective—“tragic” when prosecutors (and their allies in the media and the academy) close their eyes to the evidence and use their enormous powers for harm rather than good.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Wojciechowska's Counterfactual

An intriguing counterfactual from Iza Wojciechowska, regarding her article today:

When I was talking to critics and former Times editors for this article, they all repeatedly told me that The Times ran articles slanted toward Nifong and never completely acknowledged their error, even after the case came to a close earlier this month. It brings to light an interesting dynamic because The New York Times is arguably one of the most-respected papers in the country (some of my sources called it “a bible” or “a gospel” of the news), but when The Times takes a certain stance, it takes its many readers along with it. I think the thing I heard most when reporting for this story was that because of The Times’ reputation and the standard people hold it to, what The Times prints must be true.

So I wonder: if The Times had restrained its coverage a little bit—or perhaps been “more skeptical,” as the critics would like to have seen—would the entire story, the entire case, the entire “perfect storm” have been the same? Would it still have been a story of such national prominence if The Times had run something else on its front page?

What Byron Calame Should Have Written

Sunday, Times public editor Byron Calame published his review of the Times coverage of the lacrosse case. It avoided any comprehensive analysis of the coverage, faulted Duff Wilson’s August 25 story but offered no convincing explanation of why the story was so flawed, and provided a basic message of “no harm, no foul” in the Times’ mishandling of the case.

The article that a good public editor might have written appeared in today’s Chronicle, penned by Iza Wojciechowska. “In the year since the story first broke,” wrote Wojciechowska, “The Times has been criticized for printing news with a slant favoring Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and for drawing out the amalgam of sex, race and class issues that contributed to the case’s prominent position in the national spotlight.”

Wojciechowska obtained damning analysis from three prominent media critics.

  • Daniel Okrent, the first Times public editor: “I think The Times’ coverage was heartbreaking. I understand why they jumped on the story when they did, but it showed everything that’s wrong with American journalism.
  • Jack Shafer, Slate editor at large and author of the Slate press box column: “Here was a story that fit a template that they recognized and thought was a productive one... a story about privilege, a story about town and gown, a story about how race is handled in America.” Now that their original analysis had proved wrong, “How do you elegantly say, ‘Whoops, we erred here?’ I still think The Times has not acknowledged the role it played in sensationalizing its story.... You don’t need to put on the hairshirt and run around and get everyone to accept an apology—I’m talking about correcting the record and getting the story better, righter, straighter.”
  • Stuart Taylor, senior writer at National Journal: The August 25 Times article “was the worst single piece of journalism I’ve ever seen in long form in a newspaper.” Yet its impact was substantial: “A lot of people think The New York Times is a bible of what really happened. I think an awful lot of people have been misled by The New York Times coverage and either didn’t pay attention to what critics were saying or shrugged it off—’Who am I going to believe, The New York Times or some no-name critic in the blogosphere?’”

Wojciechowska’s piece highlights a critical element wholly ignored by the Calame “public editor” review: the Times’ decision to highlight the story in the first place. Shafer observed, “Not that many rape stories make Page 1 of The New York Times. When The Times decides such a story rises to national prominence, the onus is on them to explain why this is a national news story. The Times sets the national news agenda.” Okrent agreed that faulty editorial decisions to give the story such early play and with such a clear-cut story line played a key role in nationalizing the story.

The Times has never ever explained why the initial reporter who covered the case, Joe Drape, was replaced by the transparently pro-Nifong Duff Wilson after Drape published a late March article casting strong doubt on Nifong’s claims—and, implicitly, the Times’ race/class/athletes-behaving-badly approach to the story.

Calame, on the other hand, has claimed that the Times “performed a service” by highlighting the story—a decision that played into Nifong’s hands by upping the public pressure on the lacrosse team.

Three other items from Wojciechowska’s impressive analysis.

1.) All observers she consulted agreed that once the Times (briefly) brought in David Barstow as the lead reporter on the case, in late December, coverage dramatically improved.

2.) In a major scoop, Wojciechowska obtained candid quotes from John Burness, who was almost as critical of the Times as Okrent, Taylor, and Shafer. Burness said, “I think the paper also had difficulty because they had trouble figuring out what the story was. For the first few weeks they had sports reporters, then education reporters, then investigative reporters.... It was just very frustrating because you would hope that if The Times got it right it would set a standard for others.” Regarding Times op-eds, Burness recalled, “There was one two-week period where we asked for about 10 corrections in The Times and probably got about five. We should have gotten 10."

3.) Wojciechowska also tracked down a previously obscure October 16 quote from Craig Whitney, Times assistant managing editor and standards editor, who defended the August 25 Wilson/Glater piece and added, “One test of it is how this record would look to a reader after the case is closed. I believe that taken as a whole it would look fair and balanced to an unbiased reader, no matter what the outcome.”

Judged by Whitney’s own standards, then, the Times badly failed, since the implications of the Attorney General’s April 11 remarks were unequivocal: the August 25 story, which claimed that a “body of evidence” supported Mike Nifong’s decision to take the case to trial, was—to put it bluntly—wrong.


Okrent concluded, “If and when The Times does a big story on what went wrong in the Duke case, unless they’re a part of the story, unless they report on themselves, it will be an incomplete story.”

And given Calame’s unwillingness to offer a hard look at the Times coverage, it appears highly unlikely the Times would take Okrent’s advice. Perhaps, as a compromise, the “paper of record” should simply supply a link to Wojciechowska’s article, as an example of how a good media critic might have handled the Times’ flawed approach.

Araton: No Apologies

Yesterday’s post looked at the peculiar analysis of Times coverage from public editor Byron Calame. In his Sunday column, Calame wrote, “As public editor, I have sought to avoid evaluating opinion articles because I haven’t found a universally acceptable yardstick for measuring what is good opinion and what is bad. So my review excluded Times columnists—including the sports commentators critical of Duke—who may have held forth on the case.”

This policy—to which he had not adhered in his April 2006 case analysis, which defended the work of Selena Roberts—allowed Calame to avoid comment on Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, who penned one of the most disturbing op-eds of the entire case. After hearing that members of the women’s lacrosse team would wear armbands at the Final Four expressing sympathy with the three men’s players targeted by Mike Nifong, Araton chastised the “lacrosse gals” for showing how “cross-team friendship and university pride [could] negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke.” They were, he scoffed, “staking their own reputations” on the case’s outcome.

Indeed they were. And the actions of the women’s lacrosse players (or “gals,” as the politically correct Times apparently prefers to label them) were vindicated.

Araton says that he is “absolutely not” sorry for the positions he took in that column. “I am,” he e-mailed me, “a commentator and I do not expect people to agree with what I say, or think.”

He cited the “elegantly” penned recent column of “Duke’s own” John Feinstein to suggest the appropriateness of criticizing the character of the players. Of course, this is the same John Feinstein who remarked last spring that Duke should immediately revoke the scholarship of every member of the lacrosse team—an over-the-top reaction exceeded only by Group of 88 stalwart Houston Baker’s demand that the entire team be immediately expelled from the school.

“The excesses of the Duke lacrosse team,” Araton told a DIW reader, “were fair game to shine a light on and condemn,” and “only those who expected the commentators to declare their innocence (or guilt, depending on what side they were on) the way it is done on cable television, failed to distinguish between the two stories, the alleged crime and the culture.”

As Araton presumably knows, his Times sports colleague Selena (“lily-white”) Roberts was one of these figures. In her March 31, 2006 column, Roberts contended that an inextricable link existed between the lacrosse team’s culture and the alleged crime. Of course, by March 2007, Roberts was arguing exactly the opposite, once it became clear that no crime occurred.

Araton also observed that his “lacrosse gals” column was written on May 26, and “what we knew back then was based on what the defense had been feeding the media.” (Araton appears to have missed Mike Nifong’s 50-70 interviews in the initial week of the case—it seemed to me that the district attorney was “feeding” quite a bit of information to the media.) He continued, “If the outcome of every high-profile case was to be determined by the ability to afford the best defense attorney, would any person of means ever be convicted of a crime? Would any true victim be willing to stand up?”

Now we know why such powerful evidence was dismissed: if only Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans had consented to be represented by public defenders, New York Times sports columnists would have paid attention to evidence of their innocence.

In any case, Araton remains critical of the “lacrosse gals.” “It was too soon in the case, he e-mailed me, “for anyone to be absolutely certain where it was heading, whether there was enough of a case to even pursue. That was my position in being critical of the women’s lacrosse players.”

It’s not clear when in the case it would have been appropriate for the women’s players to have spoken up. By the time of the Final Four, the public knew that Reade Seligmann was on a video someplace else at the time of the alleged attack; that Mike Nifong ordered the police to violate their own lineup procedures in order to get Crystal Mangum to pick three—any three—people to indict; that the second dancer told police the allegations were a “crock”; and that the DNA evidence that Nifong had promised would identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent had matched no lacrosse players. Indeed, the fact that the attorney general recently announced that there never was any credible evidence against the accused students suggests that the women's players were right in speaking up when they did.

“If I had a daughter,” Araton continued, “I would not have been thrilled to see her ‘stake her reputation’ on [the men’s players], given their behavioral track record.” Of course, one reason the women’s lacrosse players were willing to wear the armbands is that they knew the character of the three accused players. And given the outcome of this case, it would seem to me that parents of the women’s lacrosse players must be extraordinarily proud of their daughters. They stood up to protest against what is the highest-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history, withstood attacks from papers like the New York Times, and were proved correct.

Anyhow, Araton complained, the case was “so typical of a behavioral double-standard in a country where young black basketball players are called thugs for wearing a tattoo or a doo-rag.” I asked him for instances in which a race-baiting district attorney falsely had claimed that three “young black basketball players” had committed a heinous crime while the media and their professors focused instead on the players’ behavior; he supplied none.

Araton concluded his response to the DIW reader by mocking “the fury of the Duke defenders in context to the three thousand young people dead in Iraq and the thousands more returned home with tragic injuries.”

Those with long memories might recall this isn’t the first time that Iraq has been cited in a bizarre fashion in this case. In early April, Mike Nifong tried to rationalize his procedurally improper pre-primary publicity barrage through the following statement: “Having said something other than 'no comment’ in the first place, it’s kind of like going into Iraq. It’s not a question of if you’re right to go in there. It’s a question of is it right to leave things a mess at this point in time?”

I fear the Iraq analogy will work no better for Araton than it did for Nifong.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Miller Signs Off

Today's Chronicle features a farewell column from Stephen Miller, one of the heroes of the case. He closes by posing a counterfactual:
Imagine that Collin, Reade and David had been black students, accused of raping a white girl and that they faced a witchhunt led by a prosecutor re-elected thanks to the overwhelming support of the white community. Then imagine this witchhunt was supported by hordes of student protesters, prominent white activists and a large portion of an elite campus faculty, many of them affiliated with the European Studies Department. Imagine also that the University president suspends the almost all-black sports team of which these students are members and fires their black coach. Further imagine that the accuser in the case has continually changed her story from the first night, that there is no evidence against the players, that they've cooperated with the police and passed polygraphs and that extensive evidence exists to prove their innocence.

You think that scenario would have lasted for a year? Try a week.

To understand the lacrosse tragedy as simply the result of a rogue district attorney would be a grave revision with dangerous consequences. Ignoring the racial and political agendas that propelled the case from the beginning, and our politically correct culture that paralyzed the powers that be from stopping it, not only would invite further disaster in the future, but also would mean erasing culpability from those people and forces in our society dissolving the common bonds that hold us together.
Miller's commentary, along with that of Kristin Butler, has given the Chronicle the best op-ed coverage of all aspects of the case of any newspaper in the country. It is something for which a college newspaper should be extraordinarily proud.

The Times: No Harm, No Foul

By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.

--New York Times, 25 August 2006

Roy Cooper’s April 12 press conference contained two messages for the New York Times. “I think,” the attorney general remarked, “a lot of people owe a lot of apologies to, to other people. I think that those people ought to consider doing that.” It would be hard to imagine that Times columnists Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton, reporter Duff Wilson, and the paper’s senior editors would not be included in the category of those who owe apologies to the falsely accused students.

Cooper had more to say: “We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges . . . we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night.” With those words, the attorney general of North Carolina effectively asserted that the New York Times got a major story completely wrong: there was “no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night” on April 12, 2007, just as there was “no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night” based on the 1850 pages of discovery files that Duff Wilson purported to examine last August.


In yesterday’s Times, public editor Byron Calame reviewed the paper’s lacrosse coverage in an article that reminded a Liestoppers commenter “of the women’s sleepwear you see advertised in Victoria’s Secret catalogs. It covers everything, but you can see right through it. One wonders why he even bothered to write it.”

Calame’s scarcely credible thesis: “I found that the past year’s articles generally reported both sides, and that most flaws flowed from journalistic lapses rather than ideological bias.”

Who does Calame think he’s fooling? Imagine the following scenario: three African-American college students are charged with a crime for which almost no evidence exists. One has an air-tight, public, unimpeachable alibi. Their accuser is a white woman with a criminal record and major psychological problems. They are prosecuted by a race-baiting district attorney who violates myriad procedures while seizing upon the case amidst an election campaign in a racially divided county.

Does anyone believe that the Times would have covered the story outlined above with articles that bent over backwards to give the district attorney the benefit of the doubt, played down questions about his motivations, and regularly concluded with “shout-outs” regarding the accuser’s willingness to hang tough—coupled with sports columnists who compared the accused students to gangsters and drug dealers?

Calame, in short, appears unable or unwilling to consider how the Times’ failure in the lacrosse case—and having the thesis of a paper’s major article publicly dismissed as untrue surely constitutes a failure—was attributable to reporters and editors allowing their worldviews to distort the facts.

A summary of the specific material presented by Calame:

1.) Times editors are now rationalizing their performance through word games.

Times executive editor Bill Keller described the August 25 story in the following manner: “I think if you read the whole story you came away with a better understanding of what Nifong thought he had, but with continuing serious doubts about his case.” Matthew Purdy, the story’s editor, added that the “straight-from-memory” Gottlieb report formed the article’s spine because it “offered a fuller view of what Nifong had and perhaps what led him to believe he had a case.”

So the purpose of a 5,600-word, front-page story was to show “what Nifong thought he had”? If true, this claim raises grave doubts about the competence of Times journalists, since the article’s stated thesis was very different than what Keller and Purdy now describe. If false, this claim suggests a troubling willingness for Times editors to dissemble.

2.) Bolstering Nifong’s case.

One reason it is so hard to take seriously the explanations presented by Keller and Purdy is that Wilson’s article repeatedly slanted the evidence in ways highly favorable to Nifong—and in a manner that ultimately did not survive public scrutiny.

Two examples. (1) In his August 25 article, Wilson wrote, “The files show that aside from two brief early conversations with the police, she gave largely consistent accounts of being raped by three men in a bathroom.” In fact, as Joe Neff and others had reported, the accuser didn’t tell the same story twice, at any point in the process.

(2) In his August 25 article, Wilson marveled at the accuser’s performance in the April 4 lineup, in which “the full transcript shows some precise recollections, three weeks after a relatively brief encounter with a large group of white strangers.” In fact, as Joe Neff reported, most of those “precise recollections” were wrong.

Wilson and Neff had access to the same discovery file. How, then, could Wilson have gotten these basic facts so wrong, and slanted them so heavily in Nifong’s favor?

One clue, perhaps, dates to the evening of August 24. Just after his article went to press, Wilson e-mailed defense attorneys requesting a complete copy of the first 1,812 pages of the discovery file—that is, everything other than the Gottlieb report. He said he wanted to undertake a “more careful” and “re-reviewing” of the material. Yet his article stated that “the full files [were] reviewed by The New York Times.” Why would Wilson still have needed to obtain the discovery files after his major article, allegedly based on a thorough review of these same files, had gone to press?

3.) Burying the lede.

Calame’s article contains a stunning admission from Wilson: “Mr. Wilson said he had been told that the sergeant [Gottlieb] relied ‘largely’ on Officer Himan’s handwritten notes when the two of them met the accuser on March 16 of last year to ask her to describe her attackers.”

The only “news” in the public editor’s column, therefore, Calame buried in his 14th paragraph: Duff Wilson had an explanation of the Gottlieb report’s origins that should have raised enormous questions as to how the sergeant came up with descriptions wholly different from Himan’s—and yet the Times elected not to report this fact in the August 25 article.

"Just after the article went to press, Wilson e-mailed defense attorneys asking for a full copy of the discovery file other than the Gottlieb memo, for the purpose of "re-reviewing" this material--even though his article claimed that he had comprehensively reviewed these documents over an exteded period of time.")"Just after the article went to press, Wilson e-mailed defense attorneys asking for a full copy of the discovery file other than the Gottlieb memo, for the purpose of "re-reviewing" this material--even though his article claimed that he had comprehensively reviewed these documents over an exteded period of time.")

4) Factual errors.

Calame avoids mentioning that Wilson’s article contained four factual errors—each of which made Nifong’s case appear stronger than it actually was. To date, the Times has left three of these errors entirely uncorrected, and the fourth corrected in a misleading fashion.

The most serious of these errors involved the following passage: “The dancers stopped. An argument ensued. Using a racial epithet, someone yelled that they had asked for white dancers, not black ones. That much is agreed. It was 12:04 a.m. March 14.”

In fact, the statements of Kim Roberts, the three captains, and neighbor Jason Bissey did not agree with this statement—all said that a racial exchange occurred outside the house, around 12.45am, long after Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty had left the premises. The only two people who had made such a claim before Wilson affirmed it? Mike Nifong and Crystal Mangum. And Calame suggests that it was the critics who fostered “a perception of the paper as leaning toward Mr. Nifong”?

5) Calame’s selective standards.

In yesterday’s column, Calame maintained, “As public editor, I have sought to avoid evaluating opinion articles because I haven’t found a universally acceptable yardstick for measuring what is good opinion and what is bad. So my review excluded Times columnists—including the sports commentators critical of Duke—who may have held forth on the case.”

In his April 23, 2006 column on the Duke case, however, Calame adhered to a quite different standard. In that article, he stated that while he had a “nit” to “pick” with her March 31, 2006 column, “Selena Roberts, a Times sports columnist, had ample reason for her recent concern about a ‘code of silence.’” In fact, we know now that Roberts’ claim was wrong. The three captains voluntarily gave statements to police, along with DNA and their e-mail passwords; they also offered to take lie detector tests. Moreover, as Joe Neff has reported (a pattern should be evident here, in which the N&O consistently scooped the Times on this story), in the days before Roberts’ column, Nifong spurned repeated requests from different defense attorneys to meet with him. The “code of silence,” in short, was caused by Nifong’s behavior.

Since Calame had no problem defending sports columnists in 2006, why does he now consider them out of bounds for his critique? Could it be that even he can’t defend Roberts’ most recent effort?


Based on their statements to Calame, neither Purdy nor Keller seems troubled by the paper’s performance. Yes, they suggest, perhaps the thesis of the August 25 story was a bit overstated, but they cite a June article by Wilson as indicative of the good reporting he did. Yet the June 12 piece did little more than summarize faults in Nifong’s case already made public by Joe Neff and the N&O, though the Times went out of its way to insinuate (inaccurately, as things turned out) that hidden evidence would bolster Nifong’s case. (“The defense has released evidence selectively,” wrote Wilson, “presumably showing only those parts that strengthen its public position.”) Original Times reporting—the front-page stories of late March and early April, Wilson’s August 25 article, slanted pieces in the fall—all tilted heavily toward Nifong.

Last fall, Calame’s predecessor as public editor, Dan Okrent, said, “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.”

Now we know. Calame’s column gives no indication that Times reporters, editors, or even the public editor believe that there was something wrong—seriously wrong—with the Times’ coverage of the case. Such a conclusion, of course, allows them to avoid exploring how the paper allowed its employees’ biases on issues relating to race, class, and gender to distort its search for the truth.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Abandoning the Sinking Ship

From today's Herald-Sun:
But [Mark] Edwards speculated that a heavy turnover on Nifong's staff might indicate an undercurrent of lacrosse-related stress.

At least six staffers have resigned in recent months, although all said they were leaving for personal reasons unrelated to the Duke case.

"They have been graceful in talking about it," said Edwards. "But I personally think it's a sign that the stress level is high. I've never before seen that kind of turnover in my 17 years here."
The paper also reveals that the DA accused by the state bar of violating multiple ethics rules, three North Carolina laws, and the U.S. Constitution is still the lead prosecutor in a quadruple-murder case. Frightening.

The Chronicle: Right Again

Friday’s Chronicle has another spot-on editorial. Duke’s Student Government purchases one local paper for free newspaper boxes across campus; during the 2006-2007 academic year, the Herald-Sun was the choice. Using the lacrosse case coverage as an example, the Chronicle urges a move to the N&O. They note,

The Herald-Sun—under the leadership of Editor Bob Ashley, Trinity ‘70 and a former managing editor of The Chronicle—has consistently been out-reported on Durham stories by The N&O. Since the Paxton buyout, the Durham paper has cut more than 80 staff members and received widespread criticism for its coverage of the lacrosse case . . . [and] while The Herald-Sun’s overworked writers have cut back on investigative reporting, The N&O this week concluded a groundbreaking five-part series on the lacrosse case that has put much other media coverage to shame.
All the while, Editor Ashley and his cohort have “been hesitant to acknowledge its myriad editorial mistakes. A recent example is a front-page story that appeared in Monday’s paper—the article falsely claimed that racial considerations influenced North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to declare the former lacrosse players innocent.”

Chronicle commenters overwhelmingly backed the move. “I completely agree that if Duke’s hometown newspaper can’t even give honest and ‘live’ news coverage, it’s not serving any useful purpose, except perhaps in one’s fireplace,” said one. Another noted, “The Herald-Sun has consistently sided with Durham ‘activists’ in their tirades against Duke University and Duke students. Bob Ashley has been a disgrace. His motivations seem twisted. Either he had prioritized whatever he perceived were his commercial interests in Durham, or he succumbed to some social-activist instinct of his own (similar to Nifong’s championing of ‘his victim’).”

As John in Carolina has observed, the N&O’s early coverage of the case was very poor, and its pallid editorial page for too long ignored the insights gleaned from the news that its own reporters produced. But overall, the N&O broke more stories on the case than every other newspaper in the country combined. As Wade Smith noted, “I think The News & Observer has done a really terrific job in covering the lacrosse story. I think at first The News & Observer went for (the accuser’s) story. But The News & Observer has done careful and very responsible reporting after the initial part of the coverage ended and The News & Observer started to see the light.”

The move seems particularly appropriate given that financial considerations appear to have played some role in Editor Ashley’s slanted coverage. By leading the anti-Duke charge, the case provided an opportunity for the paper to increase its appeal in the African-American community. It seems only fitting, then, that the Herald-Sun should instead lose financially from its poor coverage.

It’s my understanding that Student Government leaders were already thinking along the same lines as Chronicle editors, and hopefully the move from the Herald-Sun to the N&O will swiftly occur.