Q. When the Duke Lacrosse "rape" case first erupted, the New York Times sports section was one of the leading cheerleaders for the conviction and slandering of the Duke team as a whole and the three charged players. When the charges imploded, the players exonerated, and Michael Nifong disbarred, the sports section and "pundits" remained steadfastly silent. Since you are the chief editor, one must assume that you led and approved of all the reporting (and non-reporting) and the commentary (however incorrect and one-sided). Question: As the editor of the sports section how do you justify your behavior in toto?
— Rex Avery
A. Dear Mr. Avery: First, let me clarify that our reporters remained involved in the coverage of the Duke case throughout. [Indeed they did: Duff Wilson remained involved throughout, and the central conclusion of his major article in the news section was deemed false by no less than the AG's report.] The placement of the articles moved into the national section of the paper once it became a court case, as is generally the case with such stories, including the rape cases against Kobe Bryant and Mike Tyson. We've written stories about the team since it was reinstated and covered its run to the title game last season.
As far as our coverage of the case itself, if the essence of your question is whether I feel good about it, the answer is that I very much regret my failure to recognize that we were dealing with a rogue prosecutor and that the university had compounded his bravado by overreacting to the initial reports about the case. I don't recall another instance of a university canceling the season of a team that was a contender for a national championship. Nor do I recall a similar example of a prosecutor launching such an aggressively wrongheaded investigation.
But the bottom line is that I'd do some things differently, and that knowledge gained by hindsight has informed our approach to other stories since then.
Jolly, unfortunately, did not say what he would have done differently, and the effect of his statement was somewhat minimized by his response to a previous question in the thread, about the departure of the worst of the guilt-presuming sports columnists, Selena Roberts: "Selena's voice is unique and finding a suitable replacement won't be easy, but we will."
Nonetheless, Jolly's statement is by far the clearest acknowledgment of regret for the paper's poor performance from anyone affiliated with the Times.