Monday, November 21, 2011

The Times Again Shames Itself

The New York Times’ failure in covering the lacrosse case occurred on many levels. At the most basic level, of course, the paper’s handling of events could be blamed on the flawed and biased reporting of Duff Wilson, along with the fact-free “commentary” of Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton. At a second level, the paper’s record demonstrated a massive failure by the editors—from then-sports editor Tom Jolly upwards, to Bill Keller: once Wilson’s flaws had been exposed for the world to see, editors had no obligation to keep him on the story.

At a third level, however, the story represented a failure of the Times’ public editor, a position established in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal to represent the readers and to champion journalistic integrity from within the paper. Then-public editor Byron Calame penned two columns on the lacrosse case. The first, which appeared in spring 2006, minimized even the factual inaccuracies that had marred Roberts’ early columns. The second, which came after the exonerations in spring 2007, denied any ideological bias to the Times coverage, and declined even to speculate on why the Times had gotten the story so wrong for so long. It was left to the AJR and the Chronicle to analyze the Times’ wreckage.

Yet even Calame’s poor performance can’t hold a candle to the most recent public editor’s column from Arthur Brisbane. The subject: how the paper should cover rape allegations. In formulating his suggested approach, Brisbane consulted with three people, each of whom was described as some form of victims’ advocate. One was Claudia Bayliff, project attorney for the National Judicial Education Program. A second was Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School.

The third was . . . Wendy Murphy.

That’s right. The public editor believes that reporters at the nation’s paper of record should take guidance on how to appropriately cover sexual assault cases from a figure who informed a national TV audience that she had “never, ever met a false rape claim”; and had, in her public statements about the highest profile sexual assault case of recent years:

  • asserted, without any evidence, that “there’s a very good chance there was a payoff” to false accuser Crystal Mangum and the second dancer, Kim Roberts;
  • implied, falsely, that the unreleased 1000+ pages of the discovery file, which contained Mangum’s psychological records and was sealed upon orders of the judge, might have contained “witness statements from the defendants’ friends—statements saying that a rape occurred just as [Mangum] described”;
  • fantasized, falsely, about the existence of “broomstick DNA” in the case;
  • reasoned that, contrary to North Carolina’s open-file discovery law, ex-DA Mike Nifong had a right to withhold evidence from the defense (one of the offenses for which he was eventually disbarred;
  • deemed Mangum’s ever-changing version of events as “minor inconsistencies”;
  • claimed, falsely, that President Brodhead had publicly asserted that “many” non-lacrosse players attended the party;
  • bet,” on national TV, that one of the falsely accused players was “molested as a child”;
  • made no fewer than 18 false statements in the first nine months of the case alone.

A while back, Salon’s Alex Pareene used Murphy’s career to suggest that “there are, in the mass media, absolutely no consequences for blatant, constant lying.” Public Editor Brisbane’s column, however, reveals something even more shameful: that the public editor of the nation’s most influential newspaper could consider such a figure suitable to provide guidance to journalists.


Anonymous said...

I am glad this was pointed out but why would anyone be surprised? This is the NYT after all. What have they done lately to make anyone think that they would do anything differently? If this had happened 40 years ago, sure, outrage would have been warranted but not now.

Anonymous said...

Since one out of four women in college will be raped or sexually assaulted, I'm waiting to read about the 1,000+ cases at Duke since the Crystal Mangum fraud. Actually, I'm glad I don't have to read anything so disgusting. Thank goodness that statistic turned out to be another epic, even fantastic, lie.

Has there ever been a bigger circus-carnival-like fraud and freak show huckster than Wendy Murphy? P.T. Barnum? No? At least I tried. I did a long post on TalkLeft about changing Rape Shield Laws, but it appears to have sunk in into the quicksands of the internetz!

Quite obviously, the first thing you don't do is give the anonymous accuser a free stage in your newspaper while outting the alleged culprits. That's what Samiha Khanna did with her "Dancer Gives Details of Ordeal" article.

On another note, it was always my opinion that Tracy Cline was up to no good in the Mangum Hoax and that she may have been up to evil. Now, it appears she's completely off her rocker. Can I be sad for someone who I thought was evil? In any event, I am. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

I believe that Wendy Murphy also asserted post exoneration that Mike Nifong would write a book that would blow the lid off the case.

Notice that M. Murphy never offered her services to Mr. Nifong during his ethics trial or to Crystal Mangum during her legal problems. Ms. Murphy, like Nancy disGrace has been silent about the Duke case for several years.

skwilli said...

This blog is one lone voice crying in the wilderness. The fact that it is absolutely correct on this topic shows how vast that wilderness is. Wendy Murphy is as empty as that wilderness, on any number of topics. (I've heard her speak on both Left and Right media outlets.)

YaTadK said...

I know you lean libertarian to liberal, but you also have a lot of right leaning readers. Those readers will tell you that the NYT long ago forfeited any semblance of impartiality, so this comes as no surprise. What would be surprising is if the NYT developed standards that would would be down the middle of ideological divide between protected classes and others.

Remember, as a white male, you are lowest form of life on earth who is the source of all the worlds problems from the beginning of time. If you come in conflict with anyone from a protected class, you should have no expectation of the presumption of innocence or fairness.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you think Wendy Murphy is bad. Look up Walter Duranty and the New York Times. (I'm highly confident that Professor Johnson is familiar with this case.) But, it shows that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Sigh


Chris Halkides said...

FWIW, Wendy Murphy also embarrassed herself in the Amanda Knox/Raffaele Sollecito case, which involved sexual assault, as well as murder. Besides mangling the facts of the case, Ms. Murphy wrote, "If a guilty criminal spends enough money on PR, we can be persuaded that up is down, and a murderer is a national hero." Based on my impression of the DL case and the AK/RS case, I would argue that when a defendant attempts to make a case in the court of public opinion, it is because he or she has already been savaged by some linear combination of the prosecutor and the press.

Anonymous said...

Public Editor is a feeble excuse for a journalism job anyway. It is the newspaper equivalent of school guidance counselor.

Happily, the sap Brisbane also has other critics, including at The New Republic.

Edward C. Akel said...

Mr Johnson:
This Duke alum appreciates your commentary.

Edward C. Akel
Jacksonville, Florida