Monday, May 28, 2007

INNOCENT: N&O’s Neff Misspeaks at Press Club

"... these three individuals [David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann,] are innocent of these charges."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007
On May 22 The National Press Club hosted a Newsmaker’s panel: "The Duke Lacrosse Case: A Rush To Judgment and Journalism's Future."

Panelists were National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, who with historian and blogger KC Johnson is writing a book on the Duke Hoax; Rem Reider, editor of The American Journalism Review; and Raleigh News & Observer reporter Joseph (Joe)Neff.

I’ve been unable to find any MSM reporting on the event but I found one blogger, La Shawn Barber, who attended and reported on it.

If you’ve followed the Duke Hoax, you know La Shawn was one of those who early on questioned false accuser Crystal Mangum’s claims. La Shawn’s Hoax reporting and commentary have been among the best out there.

But for all that she’s done right, as I read La Shawn’s Press Club post, I found myself questioning something she reported.

According to La Shawn:

Neff said … that his paper has a strict policy against using anonymous sources.
How could that be right? The N&O frequently uses anonymous sources for both important and trivial news stories.

Most of you know, for example, the N&O’s March 25, 2006, story ( "Dancer gives details of ordeal. A woman hired to dance for the Duke lacrosse team describes a night of racial slurs, growing fear and, finally, sexual violence" ) relied heavily on an interview with Mangum, who was granted anonymity.

In its story which we now know was a fraud, the N&O informed readers the accuser was granted anonymity because the N&O did that for “victims of sex crimes."

The N&O’s March 25 story was picked up that day by the AP and the networks, and reported across America by thousands of news outlets.

The N&O's “anonymous interview” story framed the lacrosse players in the public’s mind as a gang of drunken white racists which included three rapists of a "frightened young black mother" and the rapists’ teammates, who were all covering up for them with “a wall of silence.”

Did Neff forget the March 25 front-page, above the fold fraudulent story was based on an interview with an anonymous source?

What about those N&O news stories that relied on information provided by anonymous sources including the accuser’s father, other relatives, her former husband, neighbors and friends? For example, “Father: Injuries were telling” (Apr. 5) and “Mother, dancer, accuser” (Apr. 16). ($ req’d)

Has Neff or anyone at the N&O forgotten that, alone among major North Carolina newspapers, the N&O published on April 2 a photo copy of the anonymously produced “Vigilante” poster AFTER Duke expressed concerns that doing so could endanger the players?

How could Neff have said what La Shawn reported he said?

I purchased an audio tape of the panel session from the Press Club (C-SPAN didn’t tape the event). You can order a tape by calling the club at 202-662-7598. The cost is $20.00. It’s sent via US Postal. The quality’s excellent.

I’ve listened to the tape.

La Shawn had it right. Joe Neff said what she reported.

In fact, Neff went into detail about what he said was the N&O’s refusal to use anonymous sources when reporting the “Duke lacrosse case.”

That from the man many people say is the one N&O reporter “you can trust.”

Neither Taylor nor Reider questioned Neff’s bogus claim when he made it, or at any time that’s recorded on the tape.

And Neff’s claim wasn’t questioned during the Q&A.

Yet surely most of the people in the room, including the audience that at one point is referred to as mostly “young journalists,” knew Neff’s claim was bogus.

What to do?

I'm sending Neff the email below inviting him to correct the record.

I’m going to send Taylor and Reider links to this post, and invite their comments.

I’ll let you know what I hear back.

I’m sending La Shawn a link for her information. Be sure to take a look at her post. Everything I read there checks out with what I heard on the tape.

Tonight and tomorrow I’ll work to find a radio blogger who’ll “post” the audio tape so you can listen for yourselves. Keep your fingers crossed. Better yet, do you have a suggestion as to how we can get a tape out on the net?

I’ll post again on other statements the panelists made. It was a very interesting discussion.
Dear Joe,

Blogger La Shawn Barber, who covered the National Press Club panel session, reported you said the N&O doesn’t use anonymous sources.

I’ve listened to the panel session audio. La Shawn has it right.

I posted on what she reported and what I confirmed. I also provided JinC readers with examples of the N&O’s use of anonymous sources which in the Duke Hoax case were an essential for the launching of the witch hunt and the public framing of the Duke students.

For all we know, Joe, the N&O’s use of those anonymous sources might even have encouraged “the Nifong/DPD team” which did the “investigative and indictment” part of the framing of David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

Here’s a link to my post:

I hope you correct the record. If you do, I'll publish what you say.

I also hope there’s a way you can let the young journalists who were at the session know that what you told them was a significant misspeak.


John in Carolina


Anonymous said...

You must have misunderstood - their policy is against anonymous blogging.

Silly blogger, get out of your PJ's and hie thee to J-school!


Anonymous said...

As is so often the case, you have misinterpreted or misunderstood an element of the journalistic process.

Mangum wouldn't really be consider an anonymous source in this case. The N&O didn't hide who the information was coming from (the accuser), it merely adhered to a widely accepted policy of not naming her.

An anonymous source refers to someone who is not identified at all. "Deep Throat" would be the classic example of this - he could have been anyone (though we, as readers, assume he was someone in a position to reasonably comment on Watergate) he could have been Kissinger or Reagan or Mark Felt.

Take the time to learn these things before making these comments, Jim.

JWM said...

Anon AC,

Please, not J-school.

Anon Jim,

Even if for discussion sake you allow the accuser in not really an anon source (and mind you, I'm not saying that's the case), you still have the problem that "friends," and "a neighbor" are anon sources as is an anonymously produced "Vigilante" poster. And have we ever learned who was the source of the "news" that the "accuser" had earned an "A" in a "hard course" at NCCU?

I hope you keep checking in. There's more to come.

Thank you both.


DukeEgr93 said...

I suppose it is a question of whether he meant anonymous - as in the paper would not identify them (such as CGM in the early stages), or anonymous - as in the paper could not identify them (such as anonymous tips)...

Anonymous said...

Good catch, John.

Walter Abbott

Anonymous said...

2:26am Anon: "Take the time to learn these things before making these comments, Jim."

Uh, it's "John in Carolina"

Also, the N&O prints several hundred wire stories each week prominently featuring "administration officials."