Friday afternoon, Duke Law School will host a panel discussing the media and the lacrosse case. The session will provide an opportunity for one panelist, Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley, to introduce himself to another, Duke Law’s James Coleman. This professor from the hometown law school has received prominent national (60 Minutes, New York Times) and local (N&O) attention explicating Mike Nifong’s procedural misconduct. But the Herald-Sun—which touts itself as giving news with a hometown flavor—has never once mentioned Coleman’s comments about Nifong, nor about the dubious procedures employed by authorities. By contrast, the Herald-Sun five times (April 9, April 19, June 15, August 1, October 16) has quoted NCCU law professor Irving Joyner, who has taken a resolutely pro-prosecution stance.
Joyner’s latest appearance in what Liestoppers has derisively termed the “Durham Snooze Room” occurred Monday, as the H-S launched its desperate bid to revive Mike Nifong’s case. In an article sure to join the ranks of other H-S “news” stories that subsequently appeared as fluff pieces on the Nifong campaign website, Ashley assembled a “roundtable” to discuss the 60 Minutes story.
The gathering was actually a “semi-circle table”: all participants believed that a trial must occur, regardless of how much procedural misconduct Nifong has committed, or the amount of exculpatory evidence the players present or other media outlets (not, of course, the H-S) uncover.
The only problem any of the four indicated with Nifong’s performance? The D.A.’s early public comments. Ordering Durham police to violate their own lineup procedures; refusing to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence; Nifong’s announcing that he made up his mind as of March 27, even though mounds of evidence was yet to arrive—none of these procedural violations worried members of the H-S semi-circle.
The four participants in the “semi-circle table”: Joyner; African-American minister Durham minister Carl Kenney, a regular Ashley tag-team partner in commenting on the case; and two Duke students whose opinions on the case mirrored Ashley’s. The students were hardly representative of campus opinion, as the Duke Chronicle pointed out. But it’s been H-S policy for months to exclude views from its pages that strongly condemn Nifong’s decisions.
The “semi-circle” panel set the stage for yesterday’s H-S editorial, which was eviscerated in a post from Liestoppers. In the editorial, Ashley, editor of a declining local newspaper whose coverage of the case has generated ridicule, offered a lecture in proper journalistic practices to Ed Bradley, winner of:
- nineteen (19) Emmy Awards;
- three (3) Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards;
- the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Association of Black Journalists;
- the Radio/Television News Directors Association’ Paul White Award;
- the Damon Runyon Award;
- the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards grand prize;
- the George Foster Peabody Award;
- the Overseas Press Club Award;
- the George Polk Award.
The editorial itself betrayed flashes of desperation. In Ashley's imagined world, Collin Finnerty committed a hate crime—he was, opined the editor, convicted of “assault . . . with strong homophobic overtones, against a gay man.” Perhaps Ashley can nominate this clause for the Duff Wilson Award for the most factually incorrect statements in a news or propaganda article. (This way, Ashley can have an award that Ed Bradley has never received.) In contrast to Ashley’s incorrect version of events, Finnerty actually was convicted of a misdemeanor in a bar fight in which he never struck the victim—who, at least in the hundreds of articles I’ve read on what must be the most widely reported bar fight in American history, has always been identified as straight. Except, of course, by Ashley.
Ashley, meanwhile, ignored Kim Roberts’ outright refutations of the accuser’s description of the crime, and noted that “Roberts was separated from the accuser for at least two periods of 10 minutes or more. We still haven’t heard why an assault couldn’t have occurred during those gaps.” If Ashley hasn’t heard, it’s only because he hasn’t been listening: Reade Seligmann has documented electronic proof that he was either on the phone or away from the house during those periods. Collin Finnerty (in a portion of the 60 Minutes broadcast Ashley must not have “heard”) informed Bradley that he has multiple witness statements for these same time periods.
And Ashley concludes by wondering, “Does Durham really want a prosecutor who won't stand up for an alleged victim, even if she ranks near the bottom of society? Do we really want a prosecutor who is cowed by pressure—and this is enormous pressure—into dropping charges he believes should be pursued?” I would hope that
If Ashley seems intent on serving as a government propagandist rather than as a journalistic check on a figure in power, how can he be reached? It appears as if about the only thing to which Editor Ashley listens is the almighty dollar. In the spring campaign, Nifong flooded the Herald-Sun with advertising, spending more than $7,500 on various Herald-Sun ads. (Freda Black, though better funded, spent scarcely half as much on the
If Ashley chose to be so receptive to one big advertiser, perhaps he’d listen to others. Here’s a list of the advertisers from one recent edition of the H-S:
- Bull City Rug (919-477-9849); email: Craig@bullcityrug.com
- DHNT Insurance (919-286-7473) email:
- Fleet Feet athletic shoes(!) (919-968-3338) email:
- Aluminum Co. of NC (919-620-4348) email:
- Riverview Galleries (919-477-0481)
- Martin & Jones (919-544-3000)
- Clear Water Realty (866-438-8450 ext. 920)
- Marry Maids (919-598-1889)
Cleaners (919-309-9933; 919-401-5490; 919-620-7177) U.S. (919-484-0899) Sears Hearing Aid Center
To readers who have a few spare minutes today: why don’t you e-mail each of the first six businesses above and say that you noticed the business advertised in the H-S? (Those with a few more minutes might want to call the other four businesses.) Urge the business representative to contact Editor Ashley (email@example.com) with a request that he publish a newspaper rather than a propaganda sheet. Surely few business owners want to remain associated with a newspaper that so blatantly distorts the news to favor a candidate in a hotly contested election, lest doing so discourage Cheek supporters from patronizing their businesses in the future.
A final note: when he wasn’t lecturing Bradley in yesterday’s editorial, Ashley sanctimoniously lectured the players for underage drinking. I wonder how Ashley reconciles his moralizing with his accepting a recent ad—about three inches high and two columns wide—from “MAXXX Adult Emporium.” Situated less than a mile from Duke’s West Campus, this local establishment's ad touted its 8,000 DVD’s, “adult toys,” and “100-channel All-Digital Private Viewing Room.”
Could it be that Editor Ashley doesn’t hold his own newspaper to the standards by which he judges Duke students?