Sunday, August 13, 2006

Duke lacrosse: Raleigh N&O’s public editor’s double copout

It was widely expected Raleigh News & Observer public editor Ted Vaden would follow the N&O company line regarding a single dating error in reporter Joe Neff’s excellent 3,700 word story, "Lacrosse files show gaps in DA's case."

Neff’s story detailed procedural irregularities and very likely “forced” evidenced that were part of DA Mike Nifong’s pursuit of indictments against three Duke lacrosse players. (“Any three studentswould do; there could be no wrong choice.” as Duke Law Professor James Coleman has said.)

As blogger such as KC Johnson and Liestoppers have demonstrated, once the dating error is corrected, Nifong’s investigative conduct actually looks even more suspect.

But the N&O has ignored all of that. It’s spent the last week trying to convince the public Mike Nifong isn’t such a questionable fellow after all, and the single dating error is a huge deal.

The N&O’s been acting like it was March and April again when it was telling readers the accuser was “the victim” and distributing more than 160,000 copies of its infamous “vigilante” poster.

Vaden’s column today will gladden the hearts of all the reporters and editors who have worked so hard to cast the accuser as a young dancer, student and mother brutally beaten, gang-raped and strangled by three lacrosse players while their teammates stood by and then later refused to help principal investigator Sgt. Mark Gottlieb identify their rapist teammates.

But Vaden’s column will disappoint people who agree with Coleman that Nifong needs to step aside and let an ethical special prosecutor take over the case, something that would allow for a review of the actions Neff reported on in his story.

Vaden ignores the issues Coleman has raised and that Neff’s story substantiated. Vaden ignores the information KC and Liestoppers provided.


And it’s not Vaden’s only copout this week. He did a double copout this week as you'll see when you read the following comment which I’ve just left at his blog.

I also plan to leave the comment of the thread of Vaden’s Sunday column once he posts it.

Dear Ted,

I just finished reading your Sunday column. I made some initial comments in this post:

I plan to post further on your Sunday column in a few days. I’m traveling now so blogging is difficult.

However, it’s important you look at the following again. It does not relate to Neff's excellent story.

Instead it relates to a part of the N&O's biased, inaccurate, and inflammatory Duke lacrosse coverage which helped turn what should have been a thorough and fair police investigation into a witch hunt followed by investigative and legal travesties.

In the Mar. 24 story in which the N&O "broke" the lacrosse case, the N&O seven times referred to the accuser as "the victim" or with the possessive "victim's," never once preceding any of them with the conditional qualifier "alleged."

Why did the N&O make the deliberate decision to tell readers seven times that the woman was the victim?

Doing that cast the people she was accusing - the Duke lacrosse players - as those who victimized her by gang-rape, assault, robbery, and strangulation.

Why did the N&O decide to frame the players that way?

I’ve asked you these questions before, Ted, but you refuse to answer. And I’m not aware of a single word of criticism you’ve made in your column about the N&O seven times referring to the accuser as the victim.

Exec editor for news Melanie Sill has told readers the N&O’s calling the accuser the victim is routine practice.

That’s not true.

Ted, I did a customized search of the N&O’s archives for the month of January, 2006, using only the entry word “rape.” I found many articles but not one in which a rape accuser was ever just called “the victim” during the investigative or pre-adjudication phase of a case in which the rape charge was disputed.

I’ve now read in the NY Times stories totaling over 7,000 words concerning the Duke lacrosse matter. Not once did the Times refer to the accuser as victim, even with a conditional qualifier such as “alleged.”

No doubt the Times is doing what a newspaper editor told me his paper does in cases where a rape is alleged: “We try to use ‘the accuser’ or “the woman.’” He went on to say avoiding the use of “victim” when a rape charge is disputed pre-adjudication was a matter of fairness to the accused.

Just the other day, Ted, I sent you another post containing all of the information in this email and more.

I invited your reply and offered to publish it in full at JinC.

Recall I ended the post:

Please speak to the N&O's exceptional and deliberate treatment given both the accuser and the lacrosse team in your Mar. 24 article.

Please also tell us how Editor Sill’s statement fits with those journalistic ethics you often write about.

I'll publish your response in full.
Here for JinC readers’ information is the email response you sent me:

As you note, Melanie Sill is the person here who made the comment about "victim" being used routinely. I don't believe I have done so. I suggest you take up your inquiry with her.

Ted Vaden
You copped out, Ted.

Your copout to my questions is similar to your copout today in your Sunday column.

What happpens now, Ted?

Do you write a column saying you won't comment further on Duke lacrosse matters until you've "heard all the evidence at the trial?"




Anonymous said...

Big shocker.

As was the puff piece in the so-called "Durham" section.

Even more ditto for Dennis Rodgers column yesterday.

What an embarassment.


Anonymous said...

keep the heat on! No one should be allowed to forget what Nifong and his cronies have done to these innocent boys.

Anonymous said...

Vaden is an embarrassment to the McClatchy group and to North Carolina journalism.

jrw said...

Vaden's Sunday column was as close to an apologia for the N&O as one can get without calling it that. Vaden is the N&O's counterpart to CNN's Larry King -- he lobs softballs. It isn't nice to rankle the natives.

As for Dennis Rogers, what you're seeing is the natural progression of a columnist into irrelevance. The same thing happened to the late and much beloved Charlie Craven, then the N&O's premier local columnist, in the early 1970s. He was reduced to writing about pool hall characters.

Sometimes these folks hang on too long. The same will happen to the hapless Ruth Sheehan, but at an accelerated pace. She started with less mojo than Dennis and went downhill from there.

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