Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Comment on the Herald-Sun

Careful (or even not-so-careful) readers of the Herald-Sun cannot help but notice its recent pattern of inserting unexplained editorial judgments into “news” articles that reference either Durham-in-Wonderland or Until Proven Innocent. (Curiously, the articles in question do not mention the title of either the book or the blog.) In a way, this development represents a welcome change from the paper’s approach during 2006, when its “news” articles concealed an almost comical pro-Nifong spin behind a pretense of faux objectivity.

The most recent instance came in a Ray Gronberg article that described Bob Ekstrand’s resisting Duke’s efforts to compel testimony from him regarding exchanges he had with non-lacrosse players, including President Brodhead, Tallman Trask, Stuart Taylor, and me. (Ekstrand represents three of the former players suing the university.) In his article, Gronberg—without citing even one piece of evidence—describes Until Proven Innocent (again, without referencing its title) as “a 2007 book sympathetic to the players.” It’s quite true that both the book and the blog exposed ways in which Duke, Nifong, the Durham PD, and certain media sources (including the Herald-Sun, in behavior for which the paper’s editor very belatedly issued a half-hearted apology) mishandled the case, but Gronberg’s article doesn’t suggest that any relevant statement made in the book or blog about the lacrosse case that was incorrect. As even the H-S is fully aware, critical commentary about one side’s behavior does not necessarily constitute a “sympathetic” portrayal of the other side.

Gronberg then insinuates—but carefully does not specifically allege—collusion. In writing about how the book and blog portrayed Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, the H-S reporter notes that “Ekstrand’s most prominent contribution to the case is a theory—embraced by Johnson, Taylor, and all three of the legal teams now pursuing lawsuits against Duke and the city—that the police sergeant [Gottlieb, whom Gronberg doesn’t name] who supervised the investigation of Mangum’s claims was a rogue cop pursuing a vendetta against Duke students.” [Emphasis added]

Leaving aside the dubious claim that this “theory” constituted “Ekstrand’s most prominent contribution to the case,” I gladly would have told Gronberg had he asked me (for the record, he did not do so, nor did he contact Stuart) that I found all the evidence I needed to conclude that Gottlieb was a rogue cop in summer 2006, solely by reading the Gottlieb “notes”—the straight-from-memory report typed months after the fact by the ex-DPD officer. The document, which Gronberg doesn’t mention in his “news” article, conveniently plugged many of the holes then existing in Nifong’s case, often by contradicting contemporaneous written notes from other police officers.

And I reached the conclusion that Gottlieb was targeting Duke students by reading of his behavior in the newspaper. In September 2006, the N&O exposed the existence of and the Chronicle fleshed out the effects of the separate-but-equal arrangement in which the Duke administration and the DPD agreed that Duke students would be treated more severely than any other Durham residents for similar allegations of alcohol-related crimes. Gronberg doesn’t mention the N&O’s or the Chronicle’s reporting as my sources, even though I cited both; doing so, of course, might have reminded H-S readers of how late the paper came to this major story from its own backyard, or even of Gronberg’s own ineffective efforts to discredit the reporting of his rivals.

Both the book and the blog devoted considerable space to exposing the Herald-Sun’s shoddy reporting on the lacrosse case. As UPI noted, “When the police and Nifong demonized the lacrosse players and canonized the ‘victim,’ the media were happy to provide unskeptical coverage, as the Herald-Sun did in its March 25 front-pager quoting Cpl. Addison. And when an opportunity presented itself for journalists to do their own demonizing and canonizing, they seized it with relish. Among local papers, the Herald-Sun, the only Durham-based newspaper of significant circulation (about 45,000 in spring 2006, but falling fast) was incomparably biased in the more than 300 articles and 20 unsigned editorials it churned out in 2006, savaging the lacrosse players and downplaying or omitting altogether the ever-growing evidence of innocence.” The blog provided specific occasions of this behavior, while singling out for criticism the consistent bias of the Herald-Sun’s editor, Bob Ashley.

Ashley, by the way, returned to the H-S as editor a few months ago, after he had left the paper in January 2011.

A cynical person might suggest a relationship between the Herald-Sun’s lacing its “news” articles with unsubstantiated editorial judgments and the criticism both the book and the blog made of its (and its editor’s) substandard performance during the lacrosse case. Alas, the H-S’s new editorializing style doesn’t extend to referencing this criticism, which might give readers the context necessary to understand the publication’s current approach.

To reflect on the merits of the Herald-Sun’s record regarding the lacrosse case, it might be worth quoting from the Chronicle’s post-exoneration analysis. After struggling to find media observers who had even bothered to read the paper, Chronicle reporter Adam Eaglin interviewed with Bill Green, a former Washington Post ombudsman who then lived in Durham. Green’s analysis: “The Herald-Sun has consistently failed to presume the innocence of these three people. They leapt to judgment early and stayed with that thinking.”

Two final notes: (1) The Gronberg article did contain one potentially intriguing nugget. After falsely insinuating that Stuart and I might have concluded from exchanges with then-defense attorneys that Gottlieb was a rogue cop with a vendetta for Duke students, Gronberg reported, “Police commanders have disputed that.”

Since Gronberg doesn’t cite the police commanders to whom he’s referring, it’s not clear if he based that sentence on his analysis of Durham’s legal filings (which were never quite that definitive) or from background conversations with unnamed police commanders. If the latter, this revelation would be important indeed, since it would constitute Durham’s admission that a police officer who: (a) blindly followed orders to set up a photo array in violation of DPD policies; (b) produced a highly suspicious typewritten report months after the fact that wasn’t based on his contemporaneous written notes; and (c) behaved (at best) dubiously toward non-lacrosse students wasn’t, in fact, “going rogue” (the explanation most favorable to Durham) but instead was behaving as Durham thought a DPD officer should under these circumstances. Will Durham embrace this admission in court?

(2) Stuart passes along this comment:

I agree completely with everything in KC’s post. I would add that the only sense in which we were “sympathetic” to the lacrosse players is that we were very glad to cite the overwhelming evidence that they were completely innocent of the monstrous crimes of which they were so widely presumed guilty; that they were a very decent group of young men; and that their accusers—including many in the media and at Duke as well as Durham law enforcement officials—behaved disgracefully. We also included in our book all relevant evidence of which we knew that reflected unfavorably on any of the lacrosse players.


Anonymous said...

Is Ashley a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Is Herald-Sun a communist?

Anonymous said...

How typical of the Herald-Sun -- trying to make it look like, for a writer to actually gather facts and know what he is talking about before publishing, is a "bad" thing.

As opposed to just making it up as you go along, based on what you think your readership wants to believe.

The Herald-Sun simply will never, in a million years, live down its greatest disgrace and fiasco: that in 2006, the biggest justice story of the year fell right into their laps, and they got the story one hundred per cent WRONG.

This should have been the H-S' moment to shine, but instead the Raleigh paper had to solve the whole mystery for them, and it took Joe Neff to show us what real journalism is about.

That is why the H-S is a rag, and their petty little off-point swipes at KC only prove it.

Anonymous said...

I cancelled my sub to the Herald Sun in 2006. One of the most poorly written and poorly managed local papers I have ever had the misfortune to read. It's remarkable when a college paper (Duke Chronicle) regularly publishes outstanding material (including 2006) that makes the H-S look like it's edited by the J4N wingnuts

skwilli said...

The only colluding was between "truthiness" and "confabulation" at the Herald-Sun. A paper in Harrisburg PA just went to a 3-day-a-week delivery system. How has the Herald-Sun avoided such a fate?

Tim Wohlford said...

Thank you for commenting on this.

Anonymous said...

Is Anonymous a Communist?

Barbara Seville said...

Ashley is (or, at least, was) a Columnist.

Barbara Seville said...

"Is Herald-Sun a communist?", you ask. Interesting question. I suspect you may be thinking of the actor Woody Herald-Sun, of "Cheers" and "Natural Born Killers" fame. In which case the answer is probably yes.

Anonymous said...

The Herald-Sun is plugged into and represents the thoughts and views of Durham. The purpose is not, and as far as I can tell never was, quality journalism. Think of it as a means to circulate/disseminate 'community values' while keeping residents marginally informed of politically important events and street fairs. It doesn't even chronicles crimes in Durham, the number one problem there.

The key take-away from all of this is that everyone who either created or supported the Duke Lacrosse fraud does not feel shamed at all. Quite the contrary, everything and everyone (with the exception of a few like Nifong) is in place and motoring on. Nothing was learned in Durham, Duke, or the H-S. So they see the episode as something that proved severely problematic, much like a tornado is severely problematic, but never grappled or accepted the outrageous legal malfeasance or intense breach of ethics, decorum, and protocol they perpetrated. The mass hysteria that fueled it all still lives and thrives in Durham and at Duke.

Hence, no surprise we see the H-S in same old, same old mode. Nothing has changed. It will happen again.

Anonymous said...

Sidney Harr of the J4N wingnuts recently said that Woody Hayes is a lousy lawyer......Refereing to representation of Mangum. Harr apparently does not know the difference between a carolina barroom lawyer and a football coach. Perhaps the Herald Sun is actually Woody vann-a-again's news outlet........vann-a-again is back on sister's case, as we know.
It's a surefire endorsement and validation for DIW outstanding work and credibility when it gets poo-poo'ed by the Charmin' Times..........

Anonymous said...

Coach K, major administrator and assistant to the President, who didn't speak until the mid December hearing actually provided DNA evidence of the players innocence, will now lose the 2010 NCAA Basketball championship. He was aware that the JJ Redick team of 2006 had a similar party exactly the same weekend of the "lacrosse incident" and he made sure it was covered up just the same as Lance Thomas's indiscretion with the inappropriate purchase/loan for $97,600 of "bling", during the same championship year. The H& S didn't really follow either story, I wonder why?

Anonymous said...

The Herald-Sun, Ray Gronberg and Bob Ashley are three names that will go down in history as having lost all their credibility because of their rush to judgment.

As long as the internet lives, they will be remembered.

Anonymous said...

"....will now lose the 2010 NCAA Basketball championship"

That is possible but at this point it is far from a forgone conclusion. Due to the player being in a lawsuit and likely being advised to make no public comments, I suspect it will be a while before enough information is revealed about the situation to allow the NCAA to reach conclusions about possible rule violations or punishments.

Anonymous said...

To the 12:06

What evidence is there to prove a cover up of any of those things?

The chances of the 2010 championship being vacated are very slim at this point. And the chances of Coach K being at fault even slimmer. You are attempting to smear someone with speculation just like many attempted with the lacrosse kids.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at how people want to criticize Coach K for not setting things right at Duke over the Lacrosse fraud. It was really not up to him at all to get involved if he did not want to. Coach K, who is Catholic, donates tons of money to the local Catholic church. My guess is he can get his phone calls returned, quickly. Does his mean he has an obligation to criticize the church over priest child abuse and to right that problem? Maybe he did for all I know but the point is it is his choice, he cannot automatically presumed to have a moral or legal obligation to get involved in either case. Not his responsibility and if he was dealing with his own mess, then even more justifiable for him to say and do nothing as Brodhead and Group 88 successfully crashed and burned on their own.

Anonymous said...

Ask Mike and Sue Pressler if K was involved in recruiting them to Duke in the early 1990's; then had the stamina to not talk or communicate with his best friend until weeks after that first week in April when the guilty Coach Pressler was fired. K was most definitely a stand up Catholic and of the highest moral fiber to keep the alleged incident under raps during the big dance in '06 as the news was not leeked by the University or Durham, until the Basketball team/JJ Redick lost to LSU on Wednesday, 22 March 2006. The leek was propigated on the next morning (23 March 2006) that Dean Sue convinced the team to cooperate with Durham police by giving 46 sets of DNA and not seeking legal advice. K did make a statement after the mid December hearing in Judge Smith's Court, only 9 months after the alleged incident and the same 9 months after JJ Redick and his teammates had the identical Strip Party, but it was covered up by your ( 9/16/12 10:10 pm ) moral Catholic community oriented best friend Coach K! Oh, to the 9/12/12, 10:22 pm, which could be the same administrative coward as the last comment, these facts are not speculation, check with any of the Division 1 Athletes who were on Duke's Campus during 2006. Everyone knew about the untouchable BB team's Strip Parties as well as K's cover your ___ policy inreguard to the Pressler's Leper Treatment, the only one to suffer other than 47 lacrosse teammates. The cover up is alive and well, for a bunch of " hooligans " who lost to Johns Hopkins by 1 goal in 2005 and 2007 in the NCAA National Championship game, who knows what would have happened in 2006 if there had been no rush to judgement by the omnipotent gang of "88" and the very erudite Duke Administration? To set the record straight 33 of those 47 "hooligans" were All ACC Academics!

Anonymous said...

To the 8:01:

All you have demonstrated is that the news of other strip parties (not only the basketball team had them either) was not reported even though "Everyone knew about the untouchable BB team's Strip Parties". Of course, if K did have sufficient supernatural powers to prevent a "leek" from everyone, then perhaps he should be criticized for not donning his cape and saving the day, not only for the lacrosse players, but for all mankind.

Now where is the evidence that he covered up anything for the Lance Thomas situation? Lance, of course, comes from a family that has sufficient means to buy the jewelry, although his family might be quite put out with him for making what most would consider a foolish purchase. Just because someone bought something they could afford and is not willing to tell you about it does not mean any violation occurred. That legal case has been settled, there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and we have likely heard the last of it.