Tuesday, May 29, 2007

INNOCENT: N&O’s Neff Misspeaks (Post 2)

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

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007
Readers Note: Yesterday I posted: "INNOCENT: Neff Misspeaks at Press Club"

While serving on a Duke lacrosse case panel at The National Press Club, Raleigh N&O investigative reporter Joseph (Joe) Neff claimed his paper has a strict policy against the use of anonymous sources. In fact, the N&O has no such policy.

Neff also told the audience, described as mostly young journalists, that the N&O didn’t use a single anonymous source or unnamed source in its Duke lacrosse coverage.

That’s not true. The N&O made frequent and sometimes critically important use of anonymous sources in its Duke lacrosse coverage. I cited some examples in the above referenced post.

I sent Neff an email with a link to the post. I invited him to correct the record and offered to post his correction.

If you’re new to the story or just want to review it, please read “INNOCENT: N&O’s Neff Misspeaks at Press Club.” Doing so will help you understand the post that follows which is an email exchange

I plan to post again on this matter. I’ll also share with you what I hear back from Neff.


Today I received the following email from Neff:

Dear John in Carolina,

Would you have the courtesy to identify yourself to this reporter so I know with whom I am corresponding?

Thank you.


I’m about to send Neff with the following email:

Dear Joe:

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I had time today to listen and transcribe your Press Club remarks.

I’ve checked and rechecked my transcription. While I may have a word or two wrong, I’m confident that what follows in italics is a very accurate rendering of what you said:

“One of the things that I think really helped our paper throughout this story is we have a really strict policy against the use of anonymous sources and we did not use a single anonymous source or unnamed source in our – uh – I think as of now we’ve written 541 articles by – with at least 19 different bylines on it and what that (Neff pauses)

It was really frustrating in the initial couple of weeks when it was so competitive and no other newspaper and no other radio or TV station felt compelled to – they were going with 'sources close to the prosecution' or 'we have learned' or 'Nightline has found out' and they would just put stuff out there.

Now some of it we knew because we were told off the record, but we won’t use it, but some of it was absolute nonsense –ah – ah – so it allowed us to get beat on some very small things, but in general by not using anonymous sources, we were really saved – ah – from putting some –ah- some bad stuff in the paper.” (Moderator moves to another matter)
Joe, if you find what you think are errors in what I’ve told JinC readers you said, please call them to my attention so I can review them, and make whatever corrections are necessary.

As to my identification: check the two years worth of JinC archives you can easily access from my main page. They’ll tell you a lot about me.

Now, what about what you said at the Press Club about the N&O's use of anonymous sources?

We surely agree a reporter’s reliability is very important, and is especially important when the reporter is an investigative reporter.

So I ask you again to consider correcting the record.

As I promised yesterday, I’ll publish in full a statement you make correcting the record.

I hope you do.

There are other even more important parts of the N&O’s Duke lacrosse coverage that need examination. I want to move on to learning about them and reporting what I learn to JinC readers.

For example, why did certain N&O journalists decide on March 24, 2006 to withhold from the rest of media and its readers the critically important and exculpatory news that during the N&O’s interview with the “anonymous accuser” she claimed “the second dancer” had also been sexually assaulted, but hadn’t reported the assault for fear that doing so would cost her her job? Or that the "anonymous accuser" said “the second dancer” would “do anything for money?”

Can you tell us why the N&O withheld that exculpatory news for thirteen months; and only reported it on April 12, 2007, the day AFTER NC Attorney General Cooper had declared the framed students innocent?

Do people at the N&O ever discuss what might have happened if the N&O at some point - say in mid-April when Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were arrested in their dorms, hand-cuffed and taken to the county jail – had published what Crystal Mangum actually told you on March 24, 2006 instead of your deliberate and malicious fraud about the frightened young black mother, the three white Duke gang-rapists and all their drunken, racists lacrosse buddies who were covering up for them with a "wall of solidarity?"

Please correct your “no anonymous sources” claim and move on to answering the questions asked here.

The victims most brutalized in this case – the players and their families – deserve answers.

And so do N&O readers and many millions of Americans who care about truthful reporting and justice.

A final matter: can Newsobserver.com “post” the Press Club audio tape? I think visitors to the site would appreciate the N&O doing that.

Again, thank you for your response today. I look forward to hearing from you and posting your response.


John in Carolina


Joe T. said...

Keep pursuing the truth, John. We're all watching.

AMac said...

"Do people at the N&O ever discuss what might have happened if the N&O... had published what Crystal Mangum actually told you on March 24, 2006 instead of your deliberate and malicious fraud about the frightened young black mother, the three white Duke gang-rapists and all their drunken, racists lacrosse buddies who were covering up for them with a 'wall of solidarity?'"

It seems clear to me that that the bolded "you" and "your" in the quoted sentence should refer to the antecedent "people at the N&O," rather than to the recipient of the email, Joe Neff.

To my knowledge, Neff only became involved in reporting on Hoax-related stories at a later point.

Certainly, Neff can be asked about the conduct of others at the N&O--his employer, and the institution that he self-identifies with. He should not be accused of bearing any direct or personal responsibility for the actions of other people.

JWM said...

To Joe T,

Thank you for the encouragement. I always appreciate your brief, pithy comments.

To AMac,

I wish you had said you added the emphasis to "you" and "your" in my sentence which you quoted.

That said, the use of personal pronouns by individual journalists and readers when discussing newspaper stories is common practice, and not usually taken to mean that a particular journalist is responsible for a particular story or a particular action by the paper.

Neff himself, in his remarks at the Press Club, a number of times used the first person pronouns "we" and "our" when talking about N&O actions.

In the sentence you cite I used second person pronouns "you" and "your."

In each case, Neff and I were following customary conversational practice when talking about a newspaper's actions.

You say it seems clear to you that the "you" and "your" you put in bold should refer to the antecedent I used: "people at the N&O."

It does.

I look at your comment as what the Brits call "a one off."

You've been an informed, keenly observant and articulate commenter who has added a lot to JinC. You've often helped shape my thinking or pointed out things I missed or just wasn't aware of.

I hope you keep commenting.

Joe T and AMac, thank you for your comments.


AMac said...


Thanks for your response (and the blush-inducing compliments too of course).

Yes, I definitely bolded the pronouns in the 8:54am comment, to make my point--not to imply anything more.

It seems to me that Neff has done more than any other journalist to present many facts clearly, thus playing an instrumental role in unraveling the Hoax--to the extent that this has happened, that is.

He's in the unfortunate position of working for an organization with a distinctly checkered record in this regard. This blog has done an outstanding job in highlighting the N&O's early roles in facilitating the false charges. Regrettably and inadvertantly, you have also provided The News and Observer with opportunities to repeatedly demonstrate the high-handed arrogance that typifies American newspapers in this Internet Age.

Perhaps, someday, an editor or publisher will decide to respond seriously to the substance of your questions. Perhaps that will transpire before the intervening delay further stains the paper's reputation. I don't know.

At any rate, the questions you ask Neff are fair enough. I think it's also fair to note the ambiguity between Reporter Neff (as characterized by his work product) and N&O Representative Neff (as seen through the totality of the paper's performance).

Be that as it may, you may be stuck with me as a reader and commenter for a while yet.

Jason Trumpbour said...


I agree with Amac who has described the true situation far better than I could. You are asking some good questions. When I found out that the secret the News and Observer had been guarding for months as if it were the third revelation of the Virgin Mary at Fatima was that Mangum had told them the other dancer had been raped, I was sick. That information would have had a huge impact on public perceptions early on and might have saved everyone a lot of grief. However, these are questions that should ultimately be directed at others in the News and Observer organization. I hope Joe responds and gives us his take, but go easy on him. We should be grateful to him for following the story where it took him and telling us everything he found.

As for your anonymity, I know you John and you are a swell guy. That should be all that Joe needs to hear. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm betting that because you don't provide your actual name and address that he will refuse to answer any questions to an "anonymous" blogger. Amazing that so many people are complete cowards and unwilling to turn the light of truth on their past deeds. Keep Fighting, but I for one don't hold out much hope that anyone is going to admit anything.

johnsville news said...


I added a comment to your post at Johnsville. Stay after Neff. Like you pointed out, how can Cousin Jakki not be considered an anonymous source?

They even got her/his sex wrong.

TruthHurts001 said...

I'm disappointed that Neff is trying to be cute in his non-response.

He obviously misspoke, the N&O certainly DID use anonymous sources, he should simply correct the record and move on.