Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fairness

In general, the lacrosse case featured a level of non-responsiveness from key figures at Duke. (There were clear exceptions to this pattern: John Burness responded to virtually every request for comment from me.) Perhaps a fear of likely lawsuits explained this reticence; perhaps it came from a recognition—to borrow the chair of Dean McClain’s selection committee’s “Kinsley gaffe”—that many in Duke were “not on the right side of history.”

Among the faculty, the best example of reticence was the principal organizer of the Group of 88 statement, Wahneema Lubiano. Lubiano, author of two perpetually forthcoming manuscripts, aggressively solicited signatures for the Group ad, but subsequently refused all comment to me (or to any other blog that focused on the case), leaving unanswered such critical questions as to why she (falsely) claimed that five academic departments endorsed the statement. Within the administration, the case reticence award went to Larry Moneta, who declined an interview request for UPI, and who did his best to stonewall comment in this interview:
video

To what extent, however, could it be said that the blog (or, I suppose, other blogs) was unfair in not including sufficient information from the Duke faculty and/or administration? A few days ago, I was asked this question which is a rather interesting one, in reference to this post, which examined how the Duke and Durham communities responded to the sexual assault of Duke student Katie Rouse in a dramatically different approach than how the very same people had responded to the lacrosse case.

The post included one Moneta statement about the assault, in an interview with NBC-17 captured by Liestoppers: The situation was “part of the reality of collegiate life and of experimentation and some of the consequences of students not necessarily always being in the right place at the right time. This happens around the country. Duke is no different in that respect.” The post did not include Moneta’s earlier statement on the case, a four-sentence press release mentioned here, which claimed that Duke was giving an unidentified type of “support” to the student and cooperating with the police investigation.

Duke not cooperating with the police investigation likely would have violated federal law, and so saying the university was cooperating with police would be a little like saying the sky is blueclearly true, but of no relevance. In this instance, then, by the time of the post, the only appropriate reference to the Moneta press release would have been sarcastic—to note that a prominent Duke administrator apparently was defining “support” as seeming to shift the blame for the crime to the student.

But what if Moneta hadn’t done the interview with NBC-17? It’s still hard to see any news value in his press release, which was little more than pabulum. Given his position as president, the blog in general referenced all case-related press releases from Brodhead (even those that amounted to little more than pabulum), but generally referenced lower-level administrators only when they said something of substance. The handful of people who had any interest in generic statements issued over the signatures of various Duke officials could find them on the Duke website.

The idea that statements from affected parties must be referenced in the name of fairness—even if those statements either don’t say anything or non-responsive—has become a hallmark of contemporary political journalism, as reporters desperate to prove their “objectivity” include quotes from campaign press officials that amount to little more than talking points about issues that are at best tangential to the subject of the article. Reading past such non-sequiturs has become a requirement for anyone who glances at articles in the Times, Washington Post, or Politico. “Fairness” doesn’t immediately jump to mind when describing the impact of the inclusion of such statements.

The lesson from the Moneta press release? If administrators want their words noticed, their statements should actually say something. Then again, at Duke during the lacrosse case, administrators’ most substantive remarks (for instance, Brodhead’s April 5, 2006 letter to the campus community) often backfired. Perhaps they should have stuck to the pabulum strategy.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is Moneta a Communist?

Anonymous said...

harr has been at it again. he has written to the Vann expert witness, MD, and has essentially directed her to accept HIS findings. He calls the Nichols report fraudulent, deceptive and full of lies. He directs Dr. Roberts, the person hired by Vann, to do his bidding and contact Mangum directly with her reports....
If I were Vann and Nichols, I might consider taking action against this fruitcake.