Friday, August 25, 2006

The Times Drops the Ball

Presented with a chance to review all the evidence in the Duke lacrosse case file, the Times, alas, continued the bias it demonstrated in its initial coverage of the lacrosse case, with hysteria articles from Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton.

A few items particularly stand out from the piece:

1.) Reade Seligmann's alibi. By far the most powerful portion of the alibi is the fact that Seligmann is on videotape at a Wachovia ATM a mile away from the scene of the alleged crime at the time that crime was allegedly occurring. How does the Times describe his alibi? A "cellphone log and other records." [emphasis added]

In the grand scheme of the story, this is a minor point. But it's a terribly revealing indication of bias that the Times reporters would consider a cellphone log to be more significant that the videotape of Seligmann at at ATM. I suspect a poll of 100 randomly selected lawyers would disagree 100-0 with the Times on that point. But why didn't the reporters give the readers the opportunity to make the choice, and describe what the other records were?

2.) The Gottlieb notes. The framing of the Times story--which lead off with the notes and rely on them heavily--suggests that the authors of the piece treated these notes as reliable. Yet, as the piece itself repeatedly observes, these notes (produced three months after the first indictments and the very last items turned over in discovery) contradict significant contemporaneous items in the file--the SANE nurse in training's recollections of the accuser; his fellow officer's contemporaneous recollections of the accuser's initial descriptions.

Gottlieb's notes, according to the Times, were typed, with little or no hand-written material.

The Times' conclusion: should the notes be treated with suspicion? No: The notes show that there is a "more ambiguous picture" than the defense suggested; "it shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury."

Goittlieb's notes, of course, didn't exist when Nifong took the case even to the grand jury. In a case where typed notes turned in months after the fact contradict items produced in a timely fashion; and when those notes amount to the only evidence the state possesses (as the Times makes clear), perhaps a wee bit of journalistic skepticism is in order?

3.) Nifong's filing with the court asking for DNA claimed, “The DNA evidence requested will immediately rule out any innocent persons, and show conclusive evidence as to who the suspect(s) are in the alleged violent attack upon this victim.”

The Times story repeats only the second half of that statement, while quoting in full Nifong's after-the-fact rationalizing that DNA evidence no longer would rule out "innocent persons." I'm sure that Nifong, too, would like the world to forget that he ever promised the court that a negative DNA test would rule out the innocent.

I'll have a more thorough review tonight. But in a story that obviously took considerable time to research, the paper dropped the ball.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The NYT article states:

Outside experts say it is possible for a rapist to leave no DNA evidence.

Questions for Duff and his sources:

1. What are the names of these outside experts you are citing?
(We want NAMES!)

2. In a forcible gang rape with oral, vaginal, and anal penetration - which is what the prosecution contends - how likely do your experts say it is that the attackers would leave no DNA?