Thursday, September 28, 2006

Duke lacrosse: Is this year's Chronicle serious?

Last Spring Duke student’s newspaper, The Chronicle, did some fine reporting on what was then called “the Duke lacrosse case;” something we now recognize was a vicious hoax that’s injured many innocent people and whose full damage we can't yet tally.

Now another year's news and editorial teams are at The Chronicle giving us their latest on the case/hoax. Beneath the headline, “Research reveals impact of lax scandal on Duke's image,” we read:

For months, allegations of rape surrounding the men's lacrosse team splashed across the headlines of the country's most prominent publications, from Newsweek to The New York Times.

But according to research recently acquired by The Chronicle, most alumni and the larger public have since rebounded from the negative impact of the controversy, giving Duke an overwhelmingly positive favorability rating.
Research acquired by The Chronicle? What could that be?

And how did The Chronicle acquire that research in time to publish it just as Duke’s trustees are arriving on campus for a weekend meeting?

The Chronicle doesn’t say, but it does disclose this:
Commissioned by the University's office of public affairs, the study was drawn from two sets of data collected in late April and mid-June to analyze the effects of the controversy on public impressions of Duke.

Researchers compiled data from 786 and 801 telephone interviews conducted in April and June, respectively.
OK, we now know the "research" was commissioned by the University’s office of public affairs.

But The Chronicle doesn’t say how it got its hands on the “research.” I guess journalists have to protect their sources.

Still, did The Chronicle uncover the “research” it reports as a result hard-nosed digging? Or was The Chronicle fed a selective leak from an “anonymous source high up in the Brodhead administration?”

The Chronicle leaves its faithful readers in what I've heard the University’s office of public affairs Senior Vice President John Burness call a “quandary.”

The Chronicle moves on and reports :
"The overall conclusion that we came to was that this ultimately was not an issue of Duke University's reputation," said Brian Hardwick, vice president for Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, the firm hired to conduct the research.

The study showed that as early as late April, alumni-and to a lesser extent, the public-displayed strong approval of Duke despite the negativity of March's media blitz.
Strong approval? What does that mean?

The Chronicle provides many statistical data of which these seem strongest and most relevant regarding Duke alumni:
Although there was a greater than 5 percent margin of error for some statistics, the "directional trends" in the data between the two months confirmed the study's conclusions, Hardwick added.

In the April results, 97 percent of alumni respondents rated Duke in the "Top 2 Favorability" choices-meaning they felt "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" toward the University.

By June, the Top 2 Favorability among alumni rose to 98 percent.
But alas, The Chronicle gives no breakdown between the percentage of alum “very favorable” and the percentage “somewhat favorable.”

Why not?

If The Chronicle “dug,” did it fail to uncover that information? If it relied on source “feeding,” did its source decline to provide the information? Did The Chronicle even ask?

We have no answers to any of those questions.

And what do "very favorable" and "somewhat favorable" mean in the context of Duke and the hoax?

I know many alum who are "somewhat favorable" about Duke and think Brodhead "threw the lacrosse team under the bus." They're "somewhat favorable" about Duke even as they're appalled by the faculty's failure to assert reason and wise leadership in the face of a wildly improbable hoax.

I also know many alum who are "very favorable" about Duke but think the trustees need to replace Brodhead because, among other things, he "threw the lacrosse team under the bus." They also worry about the faculty's failure to assert reason and wise leadership in the face of a wildly improbable hoax.

And what’s this The Chronicle tells us about favorability among alums rising from 97 to 98 percent?

In a “research study” The Chronicle reports has a “greater than 5 percent margin of error for some statistics,” was there any real difference between 97 and 98 percent?

Was “the [rise] to 98 percent” anything more than a source/PR hype point The Chronicle swallowed “whole hog and biscuit,” and afterwards “passed” to readers?

The Chronicle reports at least one top Duke administrator felt some sense of relief when he learned of the “research.” :
"I must confess, I felt some sense of relief," said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, of the earliest results. "On one level, you're encouraged, and on another level, I don't think you can ever feel, after what happened, complacent or confident."
The Chronicle goes on to report Duke President Richard H. Brodhead’s reaction to the “research” :
"People have voiced a wide range of feelings to me very candidly," President Richard Brodhead said. "I have found, however, a wide level of recognition that the University is taking this seriously and in a balanced way. And I was interested to see that reflected in the research."
”People have voiced a wide range of feelings to me very candidly.”

People have also asked Brodhead some very important direct questions, which he won’t answer. Here are a few of them:

Why, President Brodhead, did you say nothing on May 18 when racists repeatedly screamed “Justice will be done, Rapist” at a Duke student, Reade Seligmann, as he walked to the Durham County Courthouse?

Why, President Brodhead, did you say nothing on May 18 when racists in the courtroom shouted death threats at Reade Seligmann? You haven’t forgotten “Dead man walking.”

Why, President Brodhead, have you said nothing critical of the Raleigh News & Observer for its publication and distribution of over 200,000 copies of the “vigilante poster” containing face-photos of 43 white Duke lacrosse players; the distribution occurring after the N&O learned that the posters would add to the very serious physical danger the players faced?

Why, President Brodhead, your silence in the face of racism and danger directed at Duke students.

Why, President Brodhead, your silence now when you were so quickly and unconditionally apologetic to a 911 caller whose identity we were told you didn’t know; and whose accusations were disputed then as they are now?

What, President Brodhead, Vice President Burness and Chronicle staffers, are polls telling you about those questions?

Update: KC Johnson has another fine post today. KC looks at what Brodhead calls "the balance" he's shown when discussion lacrosse matters (KC refutes that claim). KC also demonstrates the imbalance in other aspects of Duke's response to the hoax


Anonymous said...

John you are forgetting these people live in "Durham in Wonderland!" They do not ask tough questions in that land, only those that will make them look good. And, they have the money to hire any PR company that wish to raise their approval rating from 97 to 98 percent. Here is my question, if Duke's approval rating was 97 percent why did they feel the need to hire a PR firm? How much did it cost them getting that 97 up to 98?

Too many questions, no answers! This is what I call "playing with mirrors." I know many alumni who will contradict those statistics, but one deserves very special mention. This Duke alumnus actually moved away from Durham because he was so ashamed of the way Duke handled the lacrosse case. He said “I did not want to be there and be asked everyday what type of a school I graduated from.”

So, President Brodhead, go ahead hire PR firms to produce fake approval ratings for you; go ahead strategically get those fake statistics published in the Chronicle just as the trustees are arriving on campus; go ahead and ignore what the alumni is really telling you; but be aware of this: before too long, the disapproving noises will get so loud that even you will not be able to ignore them. It is high time you start acknowledging what really happened at Duke, the truth (and nothing-but-the-truth).

Anonymous said...

Why is Brodhead's 50%-ish rating reported as a positive but the coach's 50%-ish rating reported as a questionable?

Anonymous said...

I understand that "Durham residents" participated in the survey. Maybe Brodhead wants to turn Duke into "City of Durham University."
He is certainly heading in the right direction...

DukeGradNCResident said...


We alumni can have a great affinity for Duke and yet find areas of the University highly deserving of constructive criticism. In my opinion the current caretakers of the University have let the school down in many areas, including:

1) The Administration lost control of the Lax Hoax from the get go. A la Katrina, as the flood waters were rising, the Administration was assuring the Duke community there was nothing to worry about.
2) Roughly 15% of the Duke Arts & Science faculty have condemned a group of Duke students without bothering to gather the relevant facts first. The Administration has responded in tepid fashion to this unwarranted condemnation.
3) Attempts to bridge the gap between the academic and athletic aspirations have been laughed at and rebuffed by a significant number of the faculty. Without understanding how 10% of the student body is spending its time outside of class, how can faculty ever be expected to be even-handed in their criticisms of the athletic program? There is clearly vast room for improvement in integrating the academic and athletic departments. Vanderbilt has pulled it off with great success. The Duke administration has abdicated its responsibility to bridge the academic/athletic department gap.
4) Duke’s social climate has become a caricature of itself as lampooned in Rolling Stone this summer. With self-absorbed faculty such as Karla Holloway chairing “campus culture” initiatives, no wonder campus life is stagnating.
5) Duke has failed in protecting its students. We read over and over about assaults on students being responded to in an untimely manner. Yet somehow the University has been successful in working with DPD in busting hundreds of students over minor nuisance infractions, even to the point of having them handcuffed and dragged out of bed to jail.
6) Finally, we know elite students are thinking twice about attending Duke given all the attendant negative publicity generated by the issues highlighted above.

It’s delusion for the Administration to publish a survey that suggests the University’s image has only suffered marginal damage this year. We concerned alumni look forward to our alma mater getting its internal house in order and spending less time on flattering surveys.

straightarrow said...

Perhaps all you Dukies will take umbrage with this, but it definitely sounds like Duke has another set of trained monkeys running the student newspaper.

What could be more desirable than a trained pet that extolls your virtues, even if you are bereft of such.