Friday, December 06, 2013

Selena Roberts: The Serial Misleader

The case involving Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is probably the highest-profile sexual assault claim involving an elite college athlete since the lacrosse case. But the facts of the two cases have almost nothing in common.
  • The claim in the Winston case was one of acquaintance rape, his DNA was found on the accuser, and as soon as the DNA findings became public, his attorney admitted that Winston had sexual contact with the accuser. The lacrosse players’ attorneys, on the other hand, consistently denied any sexual contact—and no DNA links between them and false accuser Crystal Mangum ever were established.
  • In Tallahassee, the local police seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate Winston; in Durham, the local police (ranging from the DPD leaders, who turned the case over to Mike Nifong, ranging down to ex-Sgt. Mark Gottlieb) seemed to bend over backwards to frame the lacrosse players.
  • In Tallahassee, the college administration stood firmly behind Winston; in Durham, the reverse was true.
  • In the Winston case, the media coverage was generally accurate and avoided a rush to judgment; in the lacrosse case, the reverse held true--especially on the pages of the New York Times.
  • And, of course, there was no equivalent to the Group of 88 in Tallahassee.
Given these enormous differences, it would be a reach to draw much of a connection between the two cases. But Selena Roberts has never let anything like facts (or common sense) stand in her way. She embarrassed herself earlier this year in odd ruminations about Auburn. After disparaging the concept in her coverage of Duke, she suddenly purported to discover the importance of due process in Auburn—only to see several of the current and former players she had (allegedly) quoted claim that they didn’t tell her what she claimed they did, and only to see her main source, whom she had presented as almost certainly innocent, plead guilty to the crime.

So now, she’s back to doing what she does best—leveling a character assault against the lacrosse players, while whitewashing her own commentary from the period before the arrests. As part of a critique about the police response in the Winston case, Roberts reached back to Durham:

“In 2006, pitched against a political backdrop of elections, District Attorney Michael Nifong aggressively pursued rape charges against lacrosse players and falsified statements about evidence. The case against the players was dismissed and Nifong was disbarred. Nifong let himself be swept into a public tinder box of scenes from the party, including porn-style pictures taken on phones of an exotic dancer -- accuser Crystal Mangum -- and a disturbing email post depicting the skinning of strippers in an ‘American Psycho’ reference. This was in addition to irrefutable accounts of racial slurs and sodomy jokes at the party and past misdemeanors involving the team.

“As I noted in two opinion pieces for The New York Times, a no-crime, no-foul approach wasn't the only answer to the Duke scandal although it was the most popular one by the lacrosse team supporters. Folks can still inspect and debate a dehumanizing culture even though what happened at Duke didn't rise to a criminal case. I wrote in March 2007: ‘No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges -- and that may have occurred on Nifong's watch -- but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive. Some readers argue no one would have known about the lacrosse team's misogyny bash last year if not for the initial rape charges by the hired dancer. True, but that’s how we often discover what goes on behind the curtains: by a botched break-in, through a door left ajar.’”

It’s curious that Roberts writes that she penned “two opinion pieces for The New York Times.” Actually, she wrote three. Two of her columns, as she noted, focused on attacking the players’ character. Those columns came in April 2006—after, contrary to widespread expectations, it was revealed that there were no DNA matches between Mangum and the lacrosse players, strongly suggesting that her story, as described, could not have occurred—and in March 2007, after Nifong’s case had utterly collapsed.

But a character-only approach wasn’t Roberts’ initial take. I wonder, therefore, why Roberts didn’t ask “folks” to review the first column she wrote on the case, published in late March 2006. Indeed, I wonder why she didn’t even mention that column. That’s the item in which she—based solely on what Nifong and Mangum were saying—unequivocally asserted that “something happened March 13” that “threatens to belie [the players’] social standing as human beings.” She compared the players’ behavior to that “of drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.” She praised the “heartening” protests of the potbangers—people, it’s worth remembering, who carried signs reading “Castrate” and “Measure for Measure.” She falsely stated that none of the players “have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.” She falsely contended that a “court document” described the accuser as “the victim of a hate crime.” She noted that the accuser was “reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.”

This sort of writing didn’t exactly feature a recognition that “the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.” It did precisely the opposite, by analyzing the lacrosse players’ character (in what turned out to be a wildly misleading fashion) solely for the purpose of trying to explain why the players had not turned in their teammates who had committed the rape. Comparing college students to drug dealers or gang members doesn’t scream a respect for presumption of innocence. Does Roberts believe that no one who reads her work has access to Lexis-Nexis or Proquest? Why, then, would Roberts attempt to mislead about the thesis of her columns?

While Roberts has “folks” assuming the worst about the lacrosse players’ character (all of them, in Roberts’ world, appear to be judged solely on a portrayal of the party that some didn’t even attend and the overwhelming majority didn’t plan, with no discussion of whether the party was in any way typical of tasteless spring break activities by many college students, and a convenient use of the plural to describe events at the party), examine how Roberts describes the criminal case.

Most important, Roberts still can’t bring herself to label the lacrosse players as innocent. (“The case against the players was dismissed.”) So does she believe there was some evidence to substantiate the charges? If not, why the reluctance to identify the falsely accused players as AG Roy Cooper did, as actually innocent?

As for Nifong, he almost comes across as a good guy—“swept into a public tinder box” (he had no choice!) as he “aggressively pursued rape charges” (what’s wrong with that?). So what did Nifong do wrong? Roberts can only bring herself to devote four words: the disgraced DA “falsified statements about evidence.” Actually, he concealed evidence. And he ordered police to violate their own procedures to produce inculpatory evidence. And he violated myriad ethical procedures. And he lied, in court, to a judge. But including such offenses would have distracted from Roberts’ agenda.

After all, some lacrosse players (like hundreds of other Duke students, thanks to a then-secret agreement between Duke and Durham) had “misdemeanors.”


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Anonymous said...

Is Selena Roberts a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Do the duke students trust duke's health services after all that they have seen happen in these cases with Ms. Mangum and duke health services?

Is duke's health services also suspect for discrimanatory undue threat of harm of the duke students in order to provide duke with some unjust control of their students actions like the suspected over persecution by the durham judicial system at the direction of duke against duke students as you mention, KC?

How do the lacrosse players feel about this duke health services trust issue at duke in conjuction with their lawsuits, Ms. Mangums current case, and over-zealous persecution?

skwilli said...

I'm thankful that in my profession, if I did as "good" a job as Roberts did in reporting on this affair, I would be out of a job forever. No one should ever believe or even read anything she writes.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, since this case was so well publicized - and seems to be 'news' that gets brought up frequently still in the media - that the settlement agreement issues that are fact as agreed to by duke in the settlement agreement would help to clear up any misconceptions that might exist about the lacrosse players, (or Ms. Mangum for the matter), being the ones to blame for the outrage of the case.

In addition, perhaps if they could do public service for the people of NC in show of good faith toward them - and with the power that their position of media news worthiness provides them at this time - by providing a pool of lawyers with NO conflict of interest with duke who could be readily available to assist any whom may find themselves in similar dire straights with duke at any time.

They would really make people proud of duke students and restore faith in humanity that may have been tatered in some by these duke cases, as well as provide a resource of lawyers with no conflict of interest with duke for the public that is not currently available in NC today for most.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt about it, North Carolinians' faith in humanity has been tatered by these events.

guiowen said...

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Anonymous said...

"perhaps if they could do public service for the people of NC"

The players' lawsuits called for the appointment of a federal monitor over the DPD, and various other reforms, such as the taping of police interrogations--which would only have benefited the people of Durham and all future NC defendants.

However, apparently neither Duke, nor Judge Beaty, nor the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court, is interested in seeing those reforms put into place.

Anonymous said...

We need lawyers with no conflict of interest to duke in NC.

Otherwise all people will suffer at the hands of duke at 'duke's' pleasure.

DO NOT blame NC citizens if NC citizens have no way to control duke because there are no lawyers able to hold them accountable and demand change for the better for all.

The duke lacrosse players and ALL their supporters need to realize that.

Perhaps they could assist on this one issue which would hopefully help to even out the injustice and corruption that is apparent in durham/duke/nc.

jim2 said...

Kenyon College update:

Anonymous said...

Not surprising that any comment and link back to KC's blog post here that is posted on the Sports on Earth web page is immediately deleted. The truth hurts, I guess.

Anonymous said...

For continued bad reporting during and after the initial event and fallout, I didn't think Nancy Grace could be topped. I guess I stand corrected