At a pre-election media forum held on Duke’s campus, editor Bob Ashley said that “the Herald Sun should have been quicker to aggressively examine the competency of the investigation.”
This statement falsely implied that what Liestoppers has derisively referred to as the “Snooze Room” has actually investigated the matter. In fact, the only two articles that could pass as Herald-Sun “investigative” pieces on police competence went out of their way to defend police actions.
- The first, penned by legal affairs second-stringer Ray Gronberg, attempted to rebut N&O and Duke Chronicle stories about what could charitably be termed Sgt. Mark Gottlieb’s pattern of overzealousness in dealing with Duke students’ constitutional rights. Gronberg, however, focused not on “aggressively examining” the DPD’s “competence” but instead on uncritically passing along a claim that the DPD has an official policy of meting out disproportionate punishment to Duke students as a class. The article was most notable for its revelation of a shadowy figure named “
Bethany” (no last name offered in the article) in the office of attorney Bob Ekstrand. No one named “ Durham ” works for Ekstrand, but “Snooze Room” investigative pieces rarely let the facts trespass upon the story that Ashley wants told. Bethany
- The second “investigative” article of police practices, authored by Herald-Sun stalwart John Stevenson, “broke” the news that a local strip club owner claimed that the accuser hadn’t performed there since late February. Unfortunately, the owner’s testimony was contradicted by the written statement filed months before by the person generally described as the accuser’s “driver”—a statement that Stevenson, focused on his “scoop,” neglected to mention. The next day, the owner retracted his affidavit.
Such writing, of course, reflects Ashley’s “eyes wide shut” approach to journalism, in which the job of a local newspaper is to ensure that facts critical of the local elite never reach readers.
The editor offered up more of the same in his editorial on the D.A.’s election in yesterday’s paper. “It appears,” Ashley intoned, “that many more voters than we suspected, and perhaps more than Nifong suspected, have taken issue with the way he has handled the case.”
Ashley’s admission that he had failed to realize he was out of step with a majority in his community was telling. Perhaps some of the 51 percent whose votes expressed no confidence in Nifong’s handling of the case were among those who in the last six months have abandoned the Herald-Sun. The paper has experienced the largest drop in circulation figures of any major
Having taken into account the sentiments of a majority of his community (and potential readership), how did Ashley respond to the results? Just like his mentor, Mike Nifong: full speed ahead. “The best course for all concerned is to continue down the current path to trial and, we hope, to justice,” lectured the editor.
Which “current path” should we “continue down”?
- The path where the
’s “minister of justice” suggested that the fact “that people in the community are divided or up in arms over the existence of that case” was “in and of itself” a justification for trying a case? Durham County
- The path where the District Attorney publicly labeled the lacrosse players “hooligans,” and claimed to have read the SANE nurse’s report before the report was even printed?
- The path where the person supervising the investigation—Nifong, as of March 24—sought indictments without re-interviewing Kim Roberts, even though Roberts’ statement to police directly contradicted the accuser’s claim that Roberts was a witness to the start of the alleged attack?
- The path where the “minister of justice” ordered police to violate their own procedures to ensure he obtained indictments before the primary election?
- The path where the District Attorney acted to ensure that Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty would have no opportunity for a probable cause hearing, while refusing to meet with Seligmann’s attorney to discuss exculpatory evidence?
- The path where Nifong, upon seeing a young man wearing a lacrosse T-shirt, refused to speak with him and then joked, “I might have prejudged him.”
- The path where the “minister of justice” mused, “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong”?
Editor Ashley’s path, it seems, would lead straight back to the Scottsboro of the 1930s.
In what might be his most preposterous assertion of the entire case (and, given his record, that’s saying something), Ashley asked readers to believe that he now has the interests of the accused players at heart. Since “an upcoming trial . . . is sure to draw major media attention, it would be better for the players to have an opportunity to prove their innocence at trial.”
Much like Duke president Richard Brodhead, Ashley appears unaware that the purpose of a trial in the
[Update, 7.40am: A commenter correctly points out that while Ashley has his own column, all editorials at the Herald-Sun are nominally the responsibility of the editorial page editor. It would appear, however, that either Ashley has handled the lacrosse case editorials himself, as I suspect; or the paper's editorial page editor has elected to produce lacrosse-case editorials that are almost identical, in tone, substance, and argument, to Ashley's first major commentary on the case, a July column described here.]