Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Duke lacrosse: the Washington Post spins for Nifong

Andrew Cohen, the Post's law columnist and CBS's Chief Legal Analyst defends DA Nifong the only way possible. He does not have facts, so he criticizes the media for bias and gullibility. (Gee, I thought only right-wingers did that.)

The Media Rush to Duke's Defense

There is no balanced coverage in the Duke case. There is just one defense-themed story after another.

As one example of this problem he sites the recent Newsweek story on the case and its description of the team response to the DNA dragnet which was based on one lawyer's (Bob Elkstrand) account. Here is Cohen:
Given that Elkstrand hardly is in a position to offer anything but his own spin, what is his self-serving, client-serving description doing leading off a lengthy news-analysis piece? No amount of "on-the-other-hand" attempts at objectivity by the magazine ("It is possible, almost three months later, that the players are maintaining a conspiracy of silence," the article continues after its love-fest with Elkstrand) makes up for the fact that the first impression of the long piece comes, uncontroverted, from the defense team.
That is true, but Cohen ignores critical facts that support Elkstrand's account and that are essential to understanding the new tone in the coverage. First, no player DNA was found on the accuser. Second, the team did not fight the broad DNA dragnet as they could have. Finally, all the players denied that any sex took place. Hence, they expected the DNA to exonerate them. Elkstrand may have waxed poetic, but his basic account is bolstered by other, verifiable information.

Cohen also flounders when he tries to describe the role Newsweek plays in the public discussion of the Duke case:
Of course, the story by Newsweek, which often sets the news agenda for the rest of the week, was widely imitated on cable television and in the blogosphere, where experts were happy to discuss what a disaster the prosecution was, what a fool Nifong was and how unjust it was that the charges hadn't already been dropped.
As anyone who has followed the case knows, Newsweek was playing catch-up. Cable news, newspapers, and bloggers had already reported and analyzed most of the elements in Newsweeks story. It is possible that Cohen really believes that newsmagazines still "set the news agenda" for cable, bloggers and others. Or it is possible that he simply wanted to discredit those other media by dismissing them as derivative. In either case his assertion understates just how weak the prosecutor's case is. The questions did not arise because a lawyer spun Newsweek. A host of independent reporters and bloggers have found one flaw after another in the case and news coverage.

Moreover, Cohen does not discuss Newsweek's first big story on the case which was pro-prosecution, anti-lacrosse team, AND FILLED WITH UNTRUTHS. Part of the reason Newsweek needed to do this new story was that they had reported bad information the first time. They did so because they trusted Mike Nifgong and they got burned. (Date rape drug, etc.)

Cohen should work for Slate because this line is unworthy of the Washington Post:

The case against the players didn't publicly get weaker last week -- so far as I know -- but the appearance of the case did, which is precisely what defense attorneys wanted to occur in the court of public opinion as pretrial proceedings lead us either to a trial, a deal or a dismissal.
It is, however, a sentence worthy of an employee of Mary Mapes old haunts. The case got weaker because the defense found a new account from the accuser: this one had five rapists and four dancers. Even worse for Nofong, one of his ace investigators challenged this assertion at a defense press conference and ended up looking like a fool when Joe Cheshire released the relevant documents.

That is another point Cohen ignores. For all his posturing about "defense spin", the real problem for Nifong is the information found in his own documents. The police reports make the accuser look bad and no defense attorney has to say a word for people to see that. The DNA and medical tests are what they are. How can there be a brutal gang rape with no DNA transfer or severe injuries?

At the end, Cohen cuts to the chase. Nifong does not have a weak case. Oh, my no. This is all about race and class:

I suspect race and money and access to the media have a lot to do with it. I have often wondered how media coverage might be different -- how the cynical, skeptical skew would turn -- if the alleged victim in the case were white and the alleged defendants black.
That is where this whole mess started. Cohen underplays just how the vilified the players were in the beginning: rich, racist, jocks at a southern university abusing a poor, black single mother. He says nothing substantial about that earlier coverage. Now, however, he is appalled that the defense wants to rebut some of the most egregious errors.

Cohen also is very quiet about the political context for Nifong's actions. He is all in favor of letting it play out in court, but what if it is a political prosecution, a show trial so Nifong could win a primary election? I guess he thinks that those are the breaks. What is a bankrupt family or two? Small price to pay so Andrew Cohen does not have to think while he grinds out columns and stories for the Post and CBS.

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