Duke Lacrosse: Assessing the News & Observer
The coverage of the Duke lacrosse case by the cable shows has been abysmal. As shocking discoveries go, that ranks right up there with seeing the sun slide over the eastern horizon in the morning. Much more interesting has been the performance of the Raleigh News & Observer
. Initially, they took a page out of the Howell Raines playbook and “flooded the zone” on this case. Clearly they were striving to be the paper of record for this auto de fe. Sadly, their eager beaver reporters can crank out thousands of words on the story, but they so not seem to read very well. Their accounts have uncovered red flags aplenty, yet the N&O has shown little interest in pursuing them.
Blogger John in Carolina
has done yeoman’s work sifting through the N&O’s coverage and finding discrepancies. For example, on May 27
they ran a story on the man who drove her to the party. As JinC points out, his story conflicts on many points with the account given to the paper by the accuser’s father. If you just read the N&O
you would never know that.
Nor would you know that the driver demolished the image of the accuser carefully crafted by the N&O’s
first story on her. On March 25
the paper went to great pains to portray the alleged victim (AV) in sympathetic terms. Of special note is how they portrayed her “dancing career”:
The accuser had worked for an escort company for two months, doing one-on-one dates about three times a week."It wasn't the greatest job," she said, her voice trailing off. But with two children, and a full class load at N.C. Central University, it paid well and fit her schedule.This was the first time she had been hired to dance provocatively for a group, she said.
Her driver, however, paints a difference picture:
Taylor had known for a while that his guest was a dancer. He and a male friend had watched her perform at clubs in Smithfield and Hillsborough.
The trained professionals at the N&O just let that pass.
In the same March 25 story the AV told an interesting tale about how she came to report the crime:
She hesitated to tell police what happened, she said Friday. She realized she had to, for her young daughter and her father. "My father came to see me in the hospital," she said. "I knew if I didn't report it that he would have that hurt forever, knowing that someone hurt his baby and got away with it."
We now know that she cried rape hours earlier—long before any visit her father made to the hospital.
The N&O has been aggressively negligent in scrutinizing the conduct of DA Nifong and his investigation. For instance, on March 24
they covered the 46 player perp walk that Nifong organized. In that story their reporters cited the warrant and gave this description of the 911 call:
The victim went to the Kroger grocery store on Hillsborough Road and called police at 1:22 a.m. March 14, the warrant says.
That statement is completely false. The AV did not call 911; a security guard did. The call did not report a rape; it reported that the AV was passed out in a car. But Raleigh’s Woodward and Bernsteins are unconcerned about lies in a court document.
Nor are they troubled by the fact that Nifong has a pattern of misleading statements in warrants. Stuart Taylor raised this issue on May 1 in his National Journal
Many a media report has said that the Duke emergency room found "signs, symptoms, and injuries consistent with being raped and sexually assaulted vaginally and anally." But that is the state's characterization, in a March 23 sworn statement, of still-secret "medical records and interviews." The only specific assertion attributed to the forensic sexual-assault nurse -- that "the injuries and [the accuser's] behavior were consistent with a traumatic experience" -- says nothing about rape. A sloppily drafted report? Or sly distortion? Time will tell.
Subsequent revelations show that Taylor’s skepticism was entirely warranted. The SANE exam recorded none of the grievous injuries that Nifong’s warrant hinted at.
Further, the extraordinary DNA dragnet could only be justified if the DNA tests could provide powerful evidence for Nifong’s case. The DA promised that the tests would "immediately rule out any innocent persons." Yet when the tests revealed no matches between the lax players and samples taken from the rape exam, righteous townie Mike Nifong smugly whispered, “no matter, I don’t need it.”
He was right about that. All he need was an ID by the AV. To get that, he needed three different photo array sessions, each of them terribly flawed. The watchdogs at the N&O know that, but they just rolled over so the Durham DA could scratch their tummy. (Hey—he gave them great photo ops with two separate perp walks.)
Their blind loyalty is all the more puzzling given these two stories:Durham DA Blames His Office For Mistaken Dismissal Of Child Rape CaseDurham slayings remain unsolved, evidence untouched
There is one more item a truly investigative press would be digging into. When Nifong was riding high, the press was in a tizzy over an email sent from a lax player’s email account. Here is what Time magazine
reported on April 14:
Defense lawyers say they fear their clients are being targeted in a setup or sting operation possibly perpetrated by law enforcement. The lawyers have advised the players not to trust or respond to any e-mails sent to each other, one attorney tells Time.
The explosive allegations stem from an e-mail message sent in the last few days to several players from the e-mail address of another player, stating he was going to tell the police a crime occurred and implicate key players. The player denies he sent it. This comes after the recent revelations of the now infamous email sent by a Duke player hours after the alleged crime, in which he joked he was going to have more strippers over and "kill the bitches'; defense lawyers do not dispute that message's authenticity, though they insist it has no bearing on their clients' culpability. "The police said [the new e-mail] came from a confidential informant, but we have reason to believe it came from the police, hoping it would make all the players nervous," says one defense lawyer. "That didn't work." A spokesperson at the Durham Police Department would not comment on the allegations of a setup, and said she would not forward TIME's inquiries to any of her superiors over the holiday weekend. No one at the Durham County District Attorney's Office could be reached for comment Friday.
It seems to me that we have 3 possibilities here:
1. The defense lawyers lied.
2. Some one hacked into Duke’s email system and sent the email.
3. The Durham police sent the email.
Two months later and we still do not know who sent the email. More telling, the N&O does not seem to care. They give no indication that this matter is important. Contrast their indifference on this story with the effort that went into their April 9 story “Team has swaggered for years
.” The N&O had nine people work on a 1,900 story recounted the arrests of various lacrosse team members and the opinions of neighbours who disliked them.
We see, then, the bizarre news judgment at work in Raleigh. Possible police malfeasance in a high profile case—no big deal. Highlighting “preppy arrogance” and misdemeanors—spare no effort.
The N&O’s coverage of Duke lacrosse matters for to reasons. First, local media frames the story and does much of the research for national media. The cable talking heads spend a lot of air time yammering about what appears in that day’s Herald-Sun or News & Observer.
More importantly, the N&O’s handling of this story shows that PC liberalism still reigns over newsrooms throughout the country. Two years after Rathergate, editors and reporters still operate with blinders they do not know they wear. More telling, mainstream press pundits (Kurtz, Rosen, etc.) have let them get away with it.