Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Switch in Times?

The Times published three articles on Mike Nifong’s latest manipulation of evidence—dropping the rape charge, changing his theory of the crime, maintaining the other charges. The first of the three listed “Duff Wilson and David Barstow” as authors. The other two flipped the names, with Barstow designated lead reporter. The difference in quality as a result of the shift was notable.

The Wilson-led piece appeared on the Times website on the afternoon of December 22. The article noted that Nifong had dropped the charges after Linwood Wilson had interviewed the accuser; it contained no mention that, for inexplicable reasons, this discussion was the first between the accuser and a representative of Nifong’s office about the alleged events of the evening.

The article also seemed to violate the Times’ own policy regarding the use of anonymous sources, granting anonymity from a source “close to the investigation” to offer legal analysis. (I had speculated the source was Linwood Wilson, but someone whose knowledge of the case I trust disputed this guess.) In addition, Duff Wilson included a lengthy quotation supporting the prosecution from Victoria Peterson, who was described as “active in the black community in Durham and . . . a friend of the accuser’s family.” Amazingly, the article never mentioned that Peterson had served as citizens’ committee co-chair for Nifong.

By what possible journalistic standard could noting that Peterson is “active in the black community” be more important than mentioning her intimate connection to Nifong’s campaign?

In the next morning’s article, an interesting change had occurred: Barstow was now listed as the lead reporter, as he would be in the piece that appeared December 24. This article stated that Nifong “has faced relentless and rising criticism for his handling of the case.” After Wilson ignored the effect of Nifong’s action beyond a quote from Joseph Cheshire, The Barstow-led piece stated that the manipulation of the charges “intensified questions about Mr. Nifong himself” from “defense lawyers, defendants’ families and friends, bloggers and many experts.” [emphasis added] In his August magnum opus, Wilson had gone out of his way to avoid any mention that numerous legal experts, wholly unconnected to the case, had criticized Nifong's misconduct.

The Barstow-led articles also, fairly, listed critical aspects of Nifong’s procedural misconduct:

  • The fact that the only player twice identified with 100 percent accuracy wasn’t even in Durham the night of the party.
  • The fact that Dave Evans, despite the accuser’s claims, never had a mustache.
  • The fact that even the normally sycophantic Irving Joyner, Woody Vann, and Herald-Sun editorial page had criticized Nifong (if mildly) in recent days.
  • The fact that Nifong had repeatedly (and, as it turned out, falsely) assured the court, during the spring and summer, that the Meehan tests contained nothing more than what was disclosed.

The piece also, fairly, summarized the depth of defense anger with Nifong’s tactics.

The Times obtained a three-hour interview from Nifong, no doubt a reward for Wilson’s previously fawning coverage. In contrast to earlier Wilson articles, the Barstow-led piece presented the Nifong quotes in an unvarnished fashion, without a pro-Nifong spin. And Nifong unvarnished doesn’t look good. Times readers learned that:

  • Nifong cares little about prosecutorial discretion: “If she came in and said she could not identify her assailants, then we don’t have a case,” but “if she says, yes, it’s them, or one or two of them, I have an obligation to put that to a jury.”
  • Nifong believes in-court IDs months after the fact are superior to contemporaneous photo lineups: “You can’t always tell from a photograph,” since “the only real time that you’re able to say if you have a misidentification is to put the person in the courtroom with the other people.”
  • Constructing a lineup confined to suspects was OK, because, Nifong mused, “What is a lineup? What if I have no idea who did the assault?”
  • Nifong referred to the accuser as “my victim.”
  • Nifong contended that, summarized the Times, “the defense attack on the DNA report revealed a ruthless strategy aimed at vilifying him and intimidating a victim of a brutal assault. ‘The whole point was the vilification of the district attorney, I believe.’”
  • Despite having the file for months, Nifong pled ignorance about the file’s contents: “When you’re going through these pages,” he said, “and you’re numbering them and making copies, you’re not reading and understanding what’s on every single page.”
  • An excessive workload explained Nifong’s failure to turn over the exculpatory DNA evidence: “You know, it’s not the only case I have right now. I have two. The other one’s a quadruple homicide [which arrived in his office in mid-October].” (The Times didn’t mention that this excuse was the third different one offered by the D.A.)

Emily Bazelon of Slate considered just one of these quotes (Nifong’s claim that the accuser, rather than the DA, would effectively decide whether the case moves forward) “so basic a misunderstanding of his own job that it raises questions about whether he is even qualified to hold it.”

A few months ago, Bazelon’s colleague at Slate, Jack Shafer, held up the Times’ Wilson-led, transparently biased coverage as an example of flawed coverage, and offered suggestions as to how a paper could acknowledge that it got the early story wrong and then move on. The Barstow-led articles continued the Times practice of ignoring the interplay between politics, Nifong’s strained finances, and the decision to bring the case, and the pieces could have offered quotes from critics of Nifong unrelated to the defense. But the two articles at least ended the Times’ position on this case as a journalistic laughingstock.

As the Times shifted from a pro-Nifong bias to appropriately neutral articles, two other newspapers with national reach hit Nifong hard. USA Today published a biting editorial stating that the case “shows the danger in making snap judgments and should give pause to anyone who cares about fairness in the legal system.”

The editors accused Nifong of having “shamelessly exploited the racially charged atmosphere in the middle of an election campaign,” bringing charges on flimsy evidence, and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence.

As a result, “Nifong's performance raises so many troubling questions that it's time for the North Carolina Bar Association to investigate and for Nifong to step back from the case. If he won't go voluntarily, a judge should replace him.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times--a paper with considerable influence among conservative circles in the Capitol--unequivocally endorsed a federal investigation into the case. It concluded that Nifong is “losing a case and, if he's not careful, potentially his career.”

From the beginning, the editors noted, the “case seemed odious.” They cited the procedurally flawed lineup and Nifong's refusal to drop charges against Reade Seligmann even after Seligmann produced evidence that proved his innocence. Then came the Meehan testimony, coupled with what the Times considers Nifong's absurd claim that he forgot to turn over the exculpatory material.

Before the February 5 hearing, the editors observed, “Mr. Nifong might come under investigation himself. There have been several ethics complaints filed with the state's bar association and now Rep. Walter Jones is asking the Justice Department to step in. As opposed to Mr. Nifong's case, there seems to be enough evidence for that investigation to move forward.”

Let's hope AG Gonzales was listening.

[Note: For those in the Boston area, I'm scheduled to appear from 5-6pm on WRKO, to discuss the case.]


Anonymous said...

Don't know how you do it, Professor Johnson. May the book be a NYTimes Best Seller. It would be poetic justice. Perhaps The Times is changing face on the story. This happened at the N&O following the inflammatory and awful coverage of late March. Joe Neff personally came to the rescue. If only the top editors would apologize for and correct the earlier coverage....

Anonymous said...

The conduct of the Times over the past nine months has been atrocious and dishonest. The low point was Duff Wilson's promotion of that abomination of a report that Mark Gottlieb wrote. For a paper of the stature of the Times to absolutely endorse perhaps the most abusive and dishonest criminal prosecution of recent years is a low point for that paper.

By the way, today I sent a not-so-nice email to Salena Roberts for her pathetic and dishonest column. Of course, I know I won't hear back from her, but at least I had the satisfaction of telling her that she dishonored not only her profession, but also her alma mater, Auburn University.

Keep in mind that you and Stuart more than anyone else held the Times' feet to the fire and forced a change in how they do things. Barstow is one of their major league reporters; Wilson is the second coming of Jayson Blair.

Also, not only did the Times not want to get caught on the losing side, but because Wilson is black, they did not want another potential Jayson Blair problem. This would have been a PR disaster for the Times' brass, and who knows what would have happened after that.

Putting Barstow on the story at least gives the Times the chance not to look absolutely stupid when the hammer comes down.

Anonymous said...

I found a pro-accuser blog that hasn't given up the ghost:

It's interesting to see the contortions that non-objective folks can put themselves through. When I first heard about the case, I figured the jocks were guilty. After deluging myself with information about it, I think they are innocent, and that this case is a travesty. Not everyone can be swayed by evidence, though.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding work, KC Johnson.

Duff Wilson's reporting has been atrociously bad. Barstow appears to be a far superior reporter.

I found it interesting that the Times' title for the Sat's article used the word "abandon" rather than drop.

Anonymous said...

12:51 am Earl Hofert

Thanks for the link to abyss2hope, earl. I just made a comment, we'll see if she allows it to post...

Anonymous said...

Please, try to understand me. I am a scholar of (at best) mediocre value. Were Shakespeare alive, he would whip my worthless butt for having dared to comment on his immortal works.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, I've got the best gig of my life. I was the PRESIDENT of a university which, in better times, would not have hired me to wash its restrooms.

Please don't judge me. People expected me to care about some sucker Lacrosse students, falsely accused. What are you people, nuts?? As long as I keep getting my $300,000 salary, why should I care whether HALF of my students would get beaten up, or raped by my best buddy Mike My-fong, or anything?

I believe that there is no truth, no values, no ethical foundation to anything. All I care is keeping my own - if you will - butt safe. If you believe I have different responsibilities, you are certifiable lunatics, and I gently invite you to look up a different university in which to get indoctrinated in Marxism. If you don't like me, tough cookie. I'll always find some other sh!tty students to pay taxes out of which my huge salary is being paid.

Thanks for reading my honest thoughts to the end.

Anonymous said...

KC - just checking in before going to bed. Again, it will take a stadium for all the people attending the book signing. Vegas grandmother.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with the people in charge of hiring talent at the NY Times? There must be plenty of hard-working, honest AA reporters they could hire. Why do they continually end up with incompetents like Duff Wilson and Jayson Blair on the payroll?

Anonymous said...

These great blogs give me information on every subject except one. Where is the accuser? Is the county paying her room and board? Who is the father of the new child? Will Medicaid and the taxpayer have to pay for her hospital ? Has she seen a lawyer to advise her not to tesify? (perjury?) Bob

Anonymous said...

Great reporting KC. If a vigorous, swift and complete investigation had been carried out by the police and if the prosecutor had moved swiftly we wouldn't be discussing this case publicly. We still do not have much information about what the lax players and others told police what actually occured. Who else was at the party and have they been investigated? The rectal DNA got there somehow? How much effort have the police made to find out what other people might be involved. I there someone else out there who did assult the victim? Did the accused have any sign of injury from the supposed struggle. Exactly what have lax players done in the past(details) and what has Duke done to curb the of campus activities of all Duke students? Can you profile the accusor more completely. What kind of a mother is she? Who takes care of her kids?. What events took place at the Platinum club? What is her arrest record? What information might Nifong have to support the remaining charges? I haven't read of any other misconduct by Nifong. We haven't heard much about relations between Durham police and Duke students. They must have po'd them really bad motivate this vendetta.
If the charges aren't dropped soon don't you think that more of the details will leak out. Have any of the the party attendees spoken out with any details of what went on. You would think that someone who was there would spill some of the facts. Lets get on with it. I don't have time to read blogs about it forever.

Anonymous said...

For sure, the New York Times, and in particular, Fluff Wilson deserves the Jayson Blair Memorial Almost Pulitzer Prize. But let's not forget that other shining beacon of investigative reporting, the Washington Post. Lynne Duke wrote about "The Duke Case's Cruel Truth," on 24 May, and this article is still a fanstastic read that typified the early media exploitation and belies why we have MSM in the first place. It's to sell, uh, no, it's all about freedom of speech.. er something like that, isn't it?

Just for review, her so often quoted hook: "She was black, they were white, and race and sex were in the air." Need we say more? Or is that kinda maybe everything we really need to know about this case if you're from the school of PT Barnum?

Anonymous said...

WRKO can generally be heard
over the Internet too. I'm
assuming that you'll be on
the Howie Carr show.

Anonymous said...

Like Earl Hofert, I at first thought something had happened at the party.

I began having doubts,. at least with Nifong, when he refused to meet (or send someone) with Seligmann lawyers about an alibi. So fundumentally wrong. What could justify not looking at an alibi and making sure an innocent man is not charged?

Anonymous said...

7:26 am,

The Lax party was a lame event scheduled during spring break when the Duke campus was otherwise empty of students. One dancer showed up so hammered she couldn't even perform, while the other one put on a pretty good show. Since the dancers were unable to keep their act together, the party broke up. Prior to the party ending, two of the accused Collin and Reade had already left the scene. The second dancer threatened to call the police over an exchange of words. Given the DPD had a zero tolerance policy for Duke students, and the Duke lacrosse coach had told the team to tone down its partying, the party-goers quickly left the buchanan St. off-campus house. A few days later while bowling (they were still on spring break) the players learned Precious was making a claim of being assaulted at the party. In terms of the players and their predisposition to commit violent crime, an internal duke study showed while they had a few inconsequential brushes with the law, their overall deportment was within the norm. So basically this whole story is about a hoax perpetuated by a dishonest DA.

Anonymous said...

7:22 AM Anon:

These great blogs give me information on every subject except one. Where is the accuser? Is the county paying her room and board?

Good questions that have been on many people's minds, but, alas, KC hasn't been able to ferret out that info yet (apparently).

Bill Anderson:

We had a commentor w/ in the last day or two who wondered why we weren't as inflamed about Iraq as we are the DukeLAX Hoax, and you answered him very well as I recall.

Looking at the N&O letters today, it would appear that the locals' major concern at the moment is the shooting of a lady's dog by Raleigh LE while the dog was chained on the porch. (I'm not suggesting that that's an inappropriate thing to be concerned about.)

There was one good DukeLAX letter from a local:

Where's justice?

The Duke lacrosse rape allegation case provides the public with an important civic lesson about our legal system. From the very first days it was apparent that this case would be under a microscope -- from nonstop nationwide cable reporting to local coverage. I would have expected the district attorney to make legal decisions and public statements with the utmost care. Yet from the moment Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong inappropriately inflamed the situation by calling the lacrosse players "hooligans" he has made mistake after mistake, compromising his case and justice along the way.

Week after week and month after month go by, leaving us wondering about how the wheels of justice work. The N&O reported Dec. 24 that Nifong has refused to discuss the case outside of court, yet he gave a three-hour interview to The New York Times.

If this is what the public gets from its District Attorney's Office when the nation is watching and the defendants have the financial resources for the best legal counsel, then we should pause and think what this civic lesson is teaching us. What then do we get for justice when the media are not watching and the defendants have few if any resources to assist them in a trial?

Harvey Johnson


Anonymous said...

Bill Anderson:
"The conduct of the Times over the past nine months has been atrocious and dishonest."

Every time I have had personal knowledge, or researched a story covered by the Times, I've found the Times rarely gets much right.
I believe Duff Wilson stated, after writing his story, he didn't have an opinion of the guilt or innocence of the Duke 3.
More likely the overwhelming evidence went against what he needed to believe.

Anonymous said...

Chicago writes:

KC, Can you be heard online on that Boston station? Please let us know. I will be listening for sure if so.

Anonymous said...

An editorial are asking why give a interview with the NY Times? It's the people of Durham he deserve answers.

They also ask for Nifong to resign.

Anonymous said...

9:49 yes you will be able to hear the show. Just go to link on the bottom the KC's post and it will bring you to the site. Look for the listen live button, then sit back and listen, I know I will be.

Anonymous said...

KC 3 things I forgot with my last post.

1. another great piece. I will be tuning in tonight.

2. I didn't notice the Times pieces were done by the same peole but in reverse order.

3. the WRAL is conducting a poll on whether the Duke case should contine, so far 80+% says NO.

Here is the link if anyone would like to cast a vote. poll=1

Anonymous said...

10:03 AM Anon:

Thanks for the link to the Wilmington Star! LOL, the editorial is a lot harsher than you let on:

Disgraceful Nifong Should Depart

Good job, Wilmington Star! But they may have published a story that might inadvertantly give Nifong yet another excuse for no DNA :) -

Exotic Dancers Spray on Latex Coverings

The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. | Topless dancers in Alabama aren't really topless - dancers are spraying themselves with skin-colored latex.

Under Alabama's strict law regulating exotic dancers, any skin that would normally be covered by a modest bikini must be swathed in an opaque covering. But the law doesn't specify what kind of material must be used, so, in the legal sense, a nylon swimsuit and spray-on latex are virtually the same.

The state, which already was defending against a lawsuit filed by strip clubs challenging the law, says it reluctantly went along with the clubs rather than having a federal judge follow through on his threat to throw out the entire statue as unconstitutional.

Fred Patterson, who works on the Birmingham's vice and narcotics squad, said some clubs were covering dancers with latex long before the agreement was filed.

"You can get it that matches your skin color," said Patterson. "The only thing I hear from the girls is that it can be kind of irritating."

Maybe she had full latex on? Hmmm, this is Bill Anderson's old stomping grounds, too... ;>)

Anonymous said...

To GPrestonian:

Body coverings?!? It's FRAUD, I tell you. I can guarantee you that it was an Alabama fan that came up with that regulation. Auburn fans would not have wasted their time on "exotic dancers." What about it, War Eagle?

I'm also trying to see if there is a link between Nifong and University of Alabama football. Right now, things are a bit fuzzy, but if I use Nifongian investigative techniques, I'll bet I can come up with a match!! Maybe Brian Meehan can help me.

Anonymous said...

Chicago writes:

I just threw up in my mouth a little when I saw this picture of Nifong hugging a lady with Victoria Peterson in the background.

scroll down a little bit, and make sure the toilet is close.

Anonymous said...

To Chicago and others posting links:

You have to hit the return key to divide the links, as the part that is past the margins will disappear otherwise.

Not that I want to see pictures of Mikey and Victoria, but I still think I need to let you know. Of course, my technical knowledge stops there, as I still have not figured how to properly use the html tags....

Anonymous said...

10:43 Chicago:

I coulda gone all day without seeing that, but hey, you warned us!

I notice that the pic is part of a Herald-Sun countdown of Top 10 Stories of 2006, & this one is #4 - Top 10 stories of 2006 - No. 4: District attorney race hotly contested

Presumably they've already published #'s 10-5, with 3, 2, &1 to follow thru Sunday.

Gee, do ya think that Nifong is hoping that the double murder, the only other case he's working on (that caused him to forget to produce the exculpatory DNA tests ;>) beats out DukeLAX in the countdown? The H-S wouldn't dare... or would they!?

Anonymous said...

With Duff Wilson, "stupid is as stupid does." The only reason his articles are so slanted towards the accuser is because he is black. He is ignorant of basic laws and the Constitution. His racism shows clearly through each article that is written. He is just like the black attorney Bernie Williams on Greta last night. He still says he thinks this case should go to trial so all the evidence can come out. All the evidence is out, yet he thinks the black accuser should get her day in court. Why, because she is black. "Stupid is as stupid does". To judge a case purely on color and ignore all evidence and facts is STUPID.

Anonymous said...

Is there any possiblilty that Duff Wilson of the NYT is related to Linwood Wilson of Durham DA's office?

Anonymous said...

11:40am WJD:

I think that Duff & Linwood are twin sons of different mothers (w/ apologies to Dan Fogelberg & Tim Weisberg :).

Anonymous said...

11:46pm Cedarford:

You're on a roll, Cedarford!

Ijust read an online article about the Dallas DA's office, the new DA is cleaning the house of many experienced prosecutors before he takes office Monday, saying that some would stay if they 'agree with his philosophy'. He, his campaign manager, his attorney, and a local State rep delivered the pink slips to the outgoing DA for him to deliver the news personally.

He's promised to change the way that the DA deals with criminals - defense attorney for a number of years, has no prosecutorial experience. First Dem DA since Henry Wade in 1986, also first black Dallas DA ever.

Identity politic, anyone?

Anonymous said...

We do not need to look for Jayson Blair - we have Duff wilson.

Anonymous said...

Kemper said...

I talked with my Bar Counselor friend tonight, he made it clear Nifungu knows about the Oct Bar meeting and that Nifungu has been interviewed by Bar Attorneys, note he did not say in the NY Times article if the Bar had talked to him. Remember the Jan 16th meeting of Bar Disciplinary committee is coming up that's when the shit will hit the fan. He WILL be disbarred, after a long process, by June for sure. Put that in the bank. It will take time, but he is a dead man walking. Federal indictments will follow. He is going to be an example to others, he has no life line, and the Republican US Attorneys are going to kill him. Just the facts, Book'em Dan'O.

10:52 PM

Anonymous said...

From Cedarford:

"Fighting the disease that underlies the lacrosse case involves far higher rotten fruit in the American tree than Nifong, even some cancer that has burrowed under the bark."

11:46 AM

Thank You Cedarford, the fruit of intolerance, prejudice, and personnel gain are indeed much higher on the tree and harder to harvest. However, over the past year I have become more convinced that one of the most powerful ways to insure our "freedoms" in this electronic age is through the use of blogs such as this one. The immediate pressure a paper can feel for plagarism, lies, or false assertions is coming from bloggers not editors and not the legal system. In fact bloggers are the new news editors. Wilson of the NYTs has been called out about his reporting by KC and others. His reporting may now become akin to Jayson Blair and perhaps now, to borrow a phrase, he justly deserves the NYT's top honor of "Sensational Reality Enhancer" ? Of course the same can be said about the various Durham area papers. The TV media is just as bad - there is no such thing as "fair and just" coverage as the facts often tend to get in the way of the story. The infotainment news shows such as Nancy Grace while fun to watch are generally outright lies and manipulations.
The only immediate way for the American public to hold our news media and legal system accountable is through blogs such as this one. Imagine what would have happened in this case if bloogers like KC, Liestoppers, et. al. weren't speaking out non-stop about the abuse of the legal system, the slanted news media, and the complicity of the Duke administration. The defendents may have prevailed as they have excellent legal counsel, however the root cause of politics, prejudice, subversion of the legal system, and academic dishonesty by Brodhead and the Group of 88 may have never been fully exposed to the white hot light. In my mind these are the "higher fruit" and will impact how future cases are handled. I believe that this non-case will go down as a landmark case studied for years by law students. This is the "higher fruit" delivered to the American public not by the NYTs, ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, or CNN but by the glaring pure white light of bloggers reaching for what's on the top branch of the tree.

Orange Lazarus

Anonymous said...

Completely agreed, Orange Lazarus.


Anonymous said...

Cedarford, I went back and read your kind comments in the other thread - thanks. I just hope that "88ing" comes into the lexicon as a constant reminder of shame for the group of 88.

I think we both agree that the root cause of the problem is what needs to be addressed and that the Fong is just the poster boy.

Winston Churchill said it best:

"People occasionally stumble upon the truth, but generally pick themselves up and carry on."

Lets hope that when this case is over, the media and legal system are not allowed to "carry on" in a business as usual manner. Being a free society with consitutional legal system does not mean there will not be abuse or mistakes made, but it does mean we will acknowledge and correct those mistakes and injustices. The State of NC and the NC Bar has now been given this opportunity - lets hope they accept their responsibility ?

Orange Lazarus

Anonymous said...

Radio show coming up on
Avi Nelson is filling in for Howie
Carr who is apparently on vacation.

Anonymous said...


Guess what, Wendy Murphy was involved in one of the "witch hunts" of which Rabinowitz wrote, the Fells Acre case in Massachusetts. Of course, Murphy was one of the promoters of the false charges. I know everyone is shocked to hear that Wendy Murphy took part in the false accusations and convictions of people who received life sentences for "crimes" that never occurred.

You can read about the case on the following link:

Wendy Witch is not in this article, but the case was a sham. Now she is promoting other shams. Maybe the Bar Association needs to go after her.

Anonymous said...

11:26--how do u know duff wilson is black?

i've got 5 calls into the Times, and I've not gotten an answer yet

suggest u tell me who your source is, or start reporting


Anonymous said...

I don't think Duff Wilson is black. Assuming this is the same Duff Wilson, he appears to be a white person.

Anonymous said...

Its not Duff of the NYT - although, Duff is fairly light skined.