Monday, May 05, 2014
The Independent: Durham Needs a DA with Passion, Like Nifong & Cline
Tuesday is primary day in North Carolina. The Independent, the Triangle’s alternative weekly, recently made its endorsement for the Democratic primary for DA.
The Independent hosts the columns of Hal Crowther, hailed by author William D. Cohan as “the conscience of progressive thinkers in North Carolina.” That would be the same Crowther who penned a vicious summer 2006 column featuring Peter Wood speaking disparagingly of the accused lacrosse players he had taught in his class. When the mother of one of the players, Reade Seligmann, called up Wood to ask him on what basis he had attacked her son, Wood hung up on her.
(In an intriguing item, Cohan revealed in the WYNC interview that he knew Wood when he was at Duke, explaining the book’s heroic treatment of the discredited lacrosse critic.)
Indy has quite a record on endorsements.
In the 2006 DA’s primary, the Independent urged voters to “look beyond the recent handling of one case” (including the DA’s myriad ethically improper public statements) and vote for Mike Nifong. The paper’s board praised Nifong’s “hardworking and professional manner,” and suggested that “colleagues and legal opponents alike laud his sense of fairness and justice.” (This statement came in the midst of the lacrosse case; Joe Cheshire’s first press conference calling into question Nifong’s sense of fairness and justice had occurred weeks before.) But Nifong was acceptable ideologically, and so he earned the nod.
In the fall campaign, Indy climbed back on board the Nifong bandwagon. Editors fretted at how “Nifong has a target on his back,” and then offered a bizarre recapitulation of events of the year. “Nifong and the Durham Police Department may have mishandled the case,” Indy delicately noted, and—in a Cohanesque interpretation—perhaps Nifong spoke out of turn when he “publicly condemned the defendants before completing his investigation.” But, the editors assured their readers, “the district attorney has made amends.” The nature of those “amends” was a mystery in October 2006 and remains a mystery now.
In the event, even if he was seeking to convict innocent people without any evidence, The Independent concluded that “We're sticking with the endorsement we made for the April primary: Mike Nifong.” After all, “maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.” Tricks, perhaps, like withholding exculpatory evidence.
Nifong was removed as district attorney amidst an ethics scandal.
In the 2008 primary, after conceding they were hoodwinked by Nifong, the editors issued a glowing endorsement of Tracey Cline. Identity politics was front and center in the selection; the editorial suggested that Cline, “as a black woman, could be an excellent role model for the young African Americans caught in the system.”
In a remarkable passage for a paper that had enabled Nifong, the editorial whitewashed Cline’s role in the lacrosse case. “She is putting to rest questions,” Indy mused, “that she was involved in Nifong's lacrosse prosecution, a concern among some critics. She told the Independent that police officers came to her asking advice about what paperwork to complete, a search warrant or a non-testimonial order, and when they had completed the paperwork, filed it with then Assistant District Attorney David Saacks, who signed it. ‘I didn't sign anything,’ Cline said. ‘All I did was advise them, which I should do on every single case. Under the same situation, any district attorney would do the same thing. The statute requires you to do that.’”
Of course, the questions extended beyond her giving an “advice” for a NTO that covered some people the police had no cause to believe even were in Durham the night of the party. The questions involved what role Cline—second chair to Nifong in the trial that William D. Cohan desperately wished had occurred—played in assisting Nifong during 2006. Cline’s Wonderland-like implication that she had never talked about the case with Nifong fooled no one—except, it seems, the Indy editors.
Cline was removed as district attorney amidst an ethics scandal.
So who has the paper endorsed in the first post-Cline election? In an editorial that didn’t mention Indy’s endorsements in either 2006 or 2008, the paper endorsed a “veteran defense attorney” named Brian Aus. What accounted for the choice? “He seems to have more passion than his opponents.”
And, by the way? According to the editors, “passion is the very quality that sunk Nifong and Cline.”
It’s good to see that for the Independent, reconsidering long-held criteria in face of contradictory evidence isn’t a useful task.