Selena Roberts appears have concluded her appearances to promote her new book on A-Rod—interviews that doubled as a National Mendacity Tour regarding Roberts’ writings about events at Duke and Durham. As the Mendacity Tour comes to a close, I thought it would be useful to compile the range of Roberts’ distorted, misleading, and outright false statements about her work on the lacrosse case.
A note: Selena Roberts penned a book whose key assertions rested almost entirely on anonymous sources. Evaluating that book, therefore, requires exploring whether Roberts had, in past high-profile instances, (a) invented evidence; or (b) excluded evidence that didn’t fit her preconceived thesis.
Roberts did both in her writings on the lacrosse case. Perhaps more troublingly, Roberts did both in her 2009 interviews about that writing—in the process revealing a journalist who has what could charitably be described as a loose relationship with the truth.
The Roberts Mendacity Tour featured the following seven principal items:
1.) Falsely suggesting that she had only critiqued the team’s “culture,” and had never linked this critique to a position on the “crime.”
2.) Refusing to admit that she had changed her central critique of the team’s “culture” from a concern with the players’ allegedly “anti-snitch” tendencies to their alleged sexism and racism. (She did so after DNA reports strongly suggested that no crime occurred, and then invented evidence to sustain the critique of the team’s “culture” that she ultimately made.)
3.) Falsely suggesting that she had criticized, in print, Mike Nifong’s misconduct.
4.) Suggesting that because her false statements came in a newspaper column, she was under no requirement to run a correction.
5.) Portraying herself as a victim in the case.
6.) Benefiting from a press corps that seemed disinclined to challenge her assertions, even when she was outright lying to them.
7.) Electing—incredibly—to extend her savage, if evolving, critique of the team’s “culture” to Reade Seligmann.
1.) The “Culture,” Not the “Crime”
The one consistent talking point in the Mendacity Tour, raised by Roberts in every interview that touched on her writings on the lacrosse case: that she merely analyzed the team’s alleged “culture,” and made no judgment one way or the other about the “crime.”
In addition to several newspaper interviews, Roberts made this assertion to WEEI:
And to Jim Rome:
And to Deadspin:
This repeated claim is a lie—and Roberts’ willingness to lie (over and over and over again) about what she wrote has to raise questions about whether anyone should trust anything else she has said or written.
Roberts’ first column on the lacrosse case, which appeared on March 31, 2006, left little doubt about her feelings on whether a “crime” had occurred. She wrote that “something happened” when, “according to reported court documents [sic],” Crystal Mangum “was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime [sic],” since Mangum had “vaginal and anal [sic] injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape [sic].” Roberts also hailed protesters who had—among other things—urged the captains’ castration and flooded the campus with ‘wanted” posters containing the players’ photos, celebrating such behavior as the “heartening” indignation of “Durham residents and Duke students [who] have rallied on behalf of sexual-assault victims, banging pots and pans.”
After framing the crime as all-but-certain, the column articulated its basic thesis: that the team’s culture explained why none of the players had cooperated with authorities. “Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none [sic] have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account . . . why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?”
The premise on which Roberts based her portrayal of the team’s alleged culture was demonstrably false. As they had revealed three days before Roberts wrote the words quoted above, the three captains had given detailed “eyewitness accounts,” including DNA samples, which they provided voluntarily; and the players’ attorneys were begging Mike Nifong to meet with them so they could show him the evidence that proved no crime occurred. To this day, the Times has never run a correction of Roberts’ false statements, nor has Roberts explained why she elected to ignore the captains’ statements that they had fully cooperated with authorities.
In her March 31, 2006 column, Roberts’ attack on the team’s alleged “culture” focused exclusively on the claim that the players’ “culture” prevented “snitching” and thereby explained why the crime hadn’t yet been solved.
Roberts’ description of the team’s alleged culture contained no mention of the players’ alleged (a) misogyny; or (b) racism.
Incredibly, in a section of her interview with Deadspin that reporter Drew Magary did not flag in his post, Roberts appeared to defend her March 2006 column’s false description of the team’s alleged “culture”:
2.) Racists & Misogynists
Another regular pattern of the Mendacity Tour involved Roberts making a renewed character attack against the lacrosse players, suggesting they were racists, sexists, or both.
Roberts, in fact, started viewing the case through these prisms only when she penned her second column on the case, which came two days after reports that all DNA tests were negative. These reports, of course, strongly suggested that the crime Roberts was so certain had occurred on March 31, 2006 had, in fact, never taken place. Rather than issue a mea culpa, Roberts decided to double down and shift her line of attack against the players—quite like the Group of 88 was in the process of doing at Duke. By the time she wrote her final column on the case (March 2007) she was attacking the earlier version of herself, or people who had claimed that “the alleged crime and culture are intertwined.” The Selena Roberts of 2007, unlike the Selena Roberts of 2006, claimed to be interested only in a high-minded critique of the team’s culture—such as, she wrote, the fact that “apparently, no player could hold his own beer because public urination was an issue.”
That “critique” required Roberts to ignore the only comprehensive investigation of the team’s “culture” that had occurred. The report of the Coleman Committee all but completely refuted Roberts’ claim that the lacrosse players exhibited a “Lord of the Flies” regime in Durham. Is it Roberts’ standard journalistic practice to ignore evidence that contradicts her preferred thesis, or did she just follow this course in her writings on the lacrosse case?
While the Mendacity Tour ignored evidence that contradicted Roberts’ revised cultural critique, Roberts was equally busy inventing evidence to sustain the critique. She claimed, for instance, that the players had made “racial slurs” against Mangum and Kim Roberts—when, in fact, one player responded with a racial slur to Kim Roberts’ racial taunt, outside the house, at a time when most of the team had already departed and when Mangum was passed out in Roberts’ car. Even Selena Roberts can’t claim that one racist in a group of 47 people can justify labeling the entire group’s culture “racist.” So she simply invented evidence, which she then labeled “indisputable,” of multiple players using racial slurs, directed at both women.
But Roberts’ most preposterous assertion, made here to Jim Rome but also made in her Deadspin interview:
Anyone listening to Roberts would believe that the lacrosse players—as part of their “Lord of the Flies” culture—established a website to post titillating photos of Mangum. The photos, of course, were released by defense lawyers to the mainstream media only after Nifong had refused to look at them; and the photos (which were hardly titillating) were released to establish a definitive timeline showing that Mangum’s allegations could not be true. That the media then broadcast the photos, rather than simply describing them or showing the time-stamps, is an indictment of the media’s culture, not the players’.
One other, obvious, point: these “pornographic” pictures hadn’t been released anywhere when Roberts wrote her March 31, 2006 column asserting that the players had engaged in conduct “that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.” So whatever prompted that stunning, craven claim, it wasn’t “pornographic” photos that so concerned Roberts on her Mendacity Tour.
3.) Roberts as a Latter-Day Critic of Nifong
In a new discovery for anyone who followed the case, Roberts presented herself as someone who had used her standing as a powerful national columnist to call Mike Nifong to task. Here was Roberts at WEEI, speaking of the “thousand times” in which she wrote critically about Nifong.
And here she was, even bolder, in an interview with Deadspin:
Unfortunately, Deadspin interviewer Drew Magary didn’t ask Roberts where she had written that Nifong was “awful” or “terrible.” Roberts would have struggled to answer such a question—because she never wrote such words about Nifong, or anything close to them. In print, Roberts mentioned Nifong by name only once, in her March 2007 column, in which she labeled him as “one part district attorney, one part clueless Columbo.” Since Columbo was a TV character who purposely acted in a “clueless” fashion to solve the crime, it’s hard to see this passage as even a mild criticism, much less a description of Nifong as “awful” or “terrible.”
In Selena Roberts’ world, college students who attended a tasteless spring break party “threaten[ed] to belie their social standing as human beings,” while a man who broke myriad rules in trying to send three innocent people to jail for 30 years for a crime that never occurred can be described as “one part district attorney, one part clueless Columbo.” Talk about distorted priorities.
4.) Factual Accuracy? They Were Just Columns!
Responding to on-target criticism from Jason Whitlock—if she made factual errors she refuses to admit in her Times columns, why should we trust her anonymously sourced assertions on A-Rod?—Roberts offered this remarkable excuse:
In any event, as she informed Deadspin, Roberts believes that she had no obligation to run corrections for the factual errors in her columns, since other articles—published at some other point in the case, elsewhere in the New York Times—accurately described the facts that she had gotten 100% wrong.
This is a breathtaking assertion of journalistic (non-)accountability.
5.) Roberts as the “Victim”
In several interviews, Roberts described herself as someone who takes strong positions in her writings, and therefore is perfectly willing to accept strong criticism.
In fact, over and over and over again, she presented herself as a victim—often making unfounded attacks on her critics in the process. Her most insulting such claim came when she accused Jason Whitlock of “homophobia” because he posited an ideological motive (her beliefs as a “strong feminist”) for her errors of fact and interpretation on the lacrosse case.
Meanwhile, here Roberts was in the Deadspin interview, using a tried and true tactic of the Group of 88:
I asked Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio if Roberts had mentioned filing any police reports about this alleged harassment; he said he didn’t know. (In the interview, Deadspin columnist Drew Magary allowed Roberts to make the assertion without requesting corroboration.)
Victim Roberts also suggested her critics were cut from the same cloth as obnoxious Duke basketball fans, who taunt their opponents during games (without ever explaining, of course, how that interpretation could be reconciled with how many at Duke not only never defended the players, but acted as if the players were certainly guilty; and how many of her critics, like me, have no connection to Duke at all):
And a final example of the Roberts-as-martyr rationalizations, a suggestion that this conspiracy of pro-Duke activists had made her a "chosen one" while letting off the hook other journalists who behaved irresponsibly:
In fact, I suspect that if Duff Wilson, or Andrew Cohen, or John Feinstein, or Samiha Khanna wrote a book relying almost exclusively on anonymous sources, commenters would call into question their credibility based on their error-prone reporting on the lacrosse case. But, since the end of the lacrosse case, none of those “journalists” have written such a book.
Demonizing critics rather than addressing their specific complaints was a consistent tactic in the Mendacity Tour.
6.) MSM: Giving Roberts a Pass
Perhaps one reason why Roberts lashed out against Jason Whitlock is that Whitlock stood apart from the crowd in the MSM. For the most part, Roberts interviewers either ignored the credibility problems posed by her performance in the lacrosse case (Bob Costas, Dan Patrick) or lobbed up softballs to her, as this post from Craig Henry discussed.
Unfortunately, this pattern even carried over to the blogosphere. At Deadspin, Drew Magary brought up the fact that Roberts’ March 2006 column had contained the false claim none of the players had cooperated with police. Incredibly, Magary then threw Roberts a lifeline (which she eagerly grabbed), suggesting that she was only relying on the statement of the DA. The only problem with Magary’s excuse: three days before her March 2006 column appeared, the captains had released a statement with this information, and their statement had been reiterated by their lawyers the next day. Was Magary really suggesting that it was OK for Roberts either not to have noticed the captains' statement; or for her to have willfully ignored the information?
For good measure, at another point in the interview, Magary described the members of the lacrosse team as “assholes.” No push-back to Roberts’ ever-shifting cultural critique would be forthcoming from him.
7.) Slandering Seligmann
Finally, perhaps the most extraordinary element of the entire Mendacity Tour came in Roberts’ interview with WEEI. In her talk with the Boston radio station, Roberts—as she had on several other occasions during the Tour—declined to apologize for anything she had written.
The host then asked Roberts about whether she at least felt regret for including Reade Seligmann in her campaign of character assassination. Surprised that anyone could think she might have been interested in such a fact, Roberts quickly interjected that she “didn’t write about” the fact that Seligmann was shown on an ATM video at the time of the alleged “crime.” But, she added, she had no problem with what she did write about the members of the team—including Seligmann. She claimed that quotes from her columns had been taken “out of context,” but refused to say how:
One thing the National Mendacity Tour clearly established: Selena Roberts has no shame.