Sunday, July 16, 2006

Duke lacrosse: The Raleigh N&O's cover up has started

(Welcome visitors from La Shawn Barber and Johnsville )

Beginning Mar. 24 when it "broke" the Duke lacrosse story with a report repeatedly saying the accuser was “the victim" without ever using the conditional "alleged," the Raleigh News & Observer produced in a few days a series of stories that effectively framed the Duke lacrosse players as a lawless group that included the three brutal rapists of a young mother, whom they also beat and strangled, and their forty or so teammates, privileged white males all, who looked on while the crimes occurred and afterwards refused to help police identify their rapists pals.

The N&O’s stories, especially those published in the period Mar. 24 through Mar. 27, so powerfully biased and inflamed public opinion against the lacrosse players that when Ruth Sheehan's Mar. 27 N&O column ("Teams' silence is sickening") appeared, it was seen by many as a righteous expression of "community outrage," instead of what sensible people now know it to be: a McCarthyite screed attacking a group of college students for doing nothing more than following the advice of their legal counsels.

We know those N&O stories were part of a terrible hoax that fueled a witch hunt. And like all witch hunts, it’s claimed innocent victims and harmed a community.

But for many weeks after publication of those stories and subsequet ones like them, N&O reporters and editors boasted about them. The N&O’s executive editor for news, Melanie Sill, gushed about how proud she was that her staff had "pushed hard.” The newsroom buzzed with talk of Pulitzers and big pay raises.

It's quieter now at 215 S. McDowell Street. At least it is if you mention the Duke lacrosse case. Sill’s telling readers there isn’t much to report about Duke lacrosse.

At the Editor’s Blog, which the N&O’s parent McClatchy Company provides so Sill can interact with readers, she's ridiculing people who ask such questions as: "Why did the N&O publish the infamous “vigilante poster?” She says such people are making “a hobby” of the Duke lacrosse case. She’s even told questioning readers to go find some other blog. I’m not kidding. Read the comment thread here.

And now today, July 16, in a story under the byline of one of the N&O's lead Duke lacrosse reporters, Jane Stancill, we catch the N&O “air brushing” its March Duke lacrosse stories. Stancill and her editors tell trusting N&O readers the Duke lacrosse story really didn’t begin until April, when journalists “rushed to Durham.” What’s more, if anything went wrong, it’s all DA Mike Nifong’s fault.

Stancill’s story begins:

Journalists rushed to Durham in April to tell the world about a sordid evening at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., where a black exotic dancer reported that she was raped by white lacrosse players from Duke.

An avalanche of media coverage followed, as the confident prosecutor gave dozens of interviews and reporters ferreted out a pattern of drunken misbehavior by jocks at an elite university. […]

Early on, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong gave scores of interviews, calling Duke lacrosse players "hooligans" who were hiding behind a wall of silence. His emphatic statements fueled a national media story.
The N&O’s cover up of its role in the Duke lacrosse hoax has begun.

But before saying more about the N&O, I want to say a few things about Nifong.

Mike Nifong should be removed from office and disbarred. Those actions would be better done sooner rather than later. If there’s a way Nifong can be prosecuted, that should be done. He should also be subjected to the public scorn many of us are now directing at Duke’s faculty's Group of 88 and others like them.

But while we're working to do all of that, we must avoid the trap the N&O and others who helped with the hoax, hysteria, and injustices are setting out for us: The “Mike Nifong did it all” trap.

Nifong had many helpers. In fact, some of them are still trying to help Nifong even as they abandon him.

That’s because they know if they can keep Nifong “afloat” while they “abandon ship,” that gives them time to escape responsibility for their roles in a hoax.

So even as we all recognize, for example, that Reade Seligmann was framed and is clearly innocent, we find Stancill and the N&O editors ending their cover up story with a quote from a professor in Missouri: "The system has to play itself out. The media is not going to answer the question until the jury comes back."

Leaving Reade Seligmann under indictment denies him a chance to go to school in a few weeks. It adds to the stigma he will always carry. Reade, his family and others who care about him will continue to endure heartache.

But Reade Seligmann under indictment and awaiting trial serves to drag out the Duke lacrosse hoax. That helps give most hoax perpetrators time to “swim to dry land” where they’ll say: “Who us? It was all Nifong's fault. And Seligman? We need to hear all the evidence before we make up our minds. What kind of people do you think we are?"

That's why you don't see an N&O editorial demanding justice for Reade Seligmann. That's why, instead, the N&O gave you a cover up story today.

Another day of "justice in Durham" and "fair and accurate reporting" at the N&O.

Another day for Reade and his teammates.

Another day for their families.


I’m sending emails to:

Stancill at:

public editor Ted Vaden at

editorial page editor Steve Ford at

I doubt if it will make any difference to any of them. But I want to let them know two things:

1) Not everyone is indifferent to what they do or cheers them on.

2) Not everyone is suckered by the N&O's cover up.

Thanks for reading.



Anonymous said...

Where is the publisher of the N&O in all of this? Does it do any good to write Sill, the public editor and the editorial page editor? Would it be better to write to Gary Pruitt, the CEO of the McClatchy company?

Anonymous said...

I am thankful for every comment you write! Please keep up the pressure! Every day I am comforted by what you have to say, and how you say it. You do a great job!
Duke Lax Mom '02

Anonymous said...

You say: "The newsroom buzzed with talk of Pulitzers and big pay raises."

How do you know this information? Did you spend time in the N&O's newsroom? When? For how long? While you were there, did you ask some of the questions that have been posted here and on other blogs? What were the responses?

straightarrow said...

John, a great article. Shot through with truth and outrage at the miscreants that created this hoax. Unfortunately, they will most likely go unpunished, even though they have violated every standard of decency, morality, and in some instances legality.

I can say no more about them, for I cannot do so dispassionately nor without taking personal offense and attacking on an ad hominem basis. I just don't have enough respect for them. But a great article.

Anonymous said...

John, watch out for Melanie Sill. She may try to pull her blogs in response to Titus' gag order...

Dick said...

Is Nifong included in "the lawyers" N&O refers to in their 7/17 story? It seems the N&O wants to give impression that it is only the defense attorneys who were told to behave themselves.

Anonymous said...


Tnx for keeping the pressure on the mainstream media in this case. There is a whole lot more story than is being reported. As a duke grad and long time NC resident I’m hugely disappointed in what we’ve learned about the NC criminal justice system and the incredible weak-kneed response shown by my alma matter. My guess is the N&O wants to delay any more in depth “reporting” until the summer is over; after all you wouldn’t want to delay a reporter’s vacation. We really need to encourage the media outside the Triangle to step in and do some first class reporting since there is too much pride and hubris involved with your local papers. Heck, maybe even the Charlotte Disturber could jump in and take charge.

Anonymous said...

I am very afraid to have this go to a jury. There are many people who will convict regardless of the fact. The student in Newsweek who opined that they are "guilty of something"...even if it is of being white, is not alone. Hopefully the jury will not have 12 of these individuals.

Anonymous said...

I say briefly: Best! Useful information. Good job guys.