Wednesday, June 20, 2007

INNOCENT: The N&O’s “Duke deal” story

"... 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 the front-page of today’s Raleigh News & Observer we see the headlines:

Duke deal shields faculty
Some spoke out after rape claims
Under reporters Anne Blythe and Eric Ferreri bylines with reporters Benjamin Niolet and Joseph Neff listed as contributors, the story begins:
Duke University's settlement with exonerated lacrosse players gives legal protection to faculty members, some of whom have been under siege for speaking out in the wake of the gang-rape allegations.

Neither side would disclose the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, but Duke's faculty chairman, Paul Haagen, informed professors that one provision is that all faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case.

That news sparked another round of vitriolic messages from e-mailers and bloggers still exercised over a student newspaper ad signed in the spring of 2006 by 88 Duke professors, who decried a campus culture of racism and sexism.

As Duke shut the door on lawsuits by the players in the lacrosse case, the Durham County sheriff on Tuesday slammed shut District Attorney Mike Nifong's access to the courthouse where he has worked 29 years. Orlando Hudson, the county's chief resident Superior Court judge, entered an order suspending Nifong with pay.
The N&O story is really two stories lumped together: the Duke settlement and matters related to it, and Nifong’s immediate legal and related difficulties.

I’m going to ignore the portions of the story dealing with Nifong and focus only on the N&O’s reporting of the “Duke deal” which reeks of a pro-Group of 88 bias and is, I believe, sloppy with at least one very important fact.

The N&O’s pro Group of 88 bias is obvious in the headlines:
Duke deal shields faculty
Some spoke out after rape claims
But Duke isn’t paying out money to exempt Professors Steve Baldwin, James Coleman and Michael Gustafson and Coaches Kerstin Kimel and Mike Krzyzewski for “speak[ing] out after rape claims.”

Duke’s paying out for statements and actions by certain faculty, including some Group of 88 members, which many legal theorists believe were potentially libelous.

There’s no problem with Duke faculty speaking out about "rape claims." We all know that.

But you can’t libel people, even if they are white male Duke students.

A less biased and more accurate headline would have been:
Duke settlement protects faculty from liability claims
Now let’s look at this paragraph:
That news sparked another round of vitriolic messages from e-mailers and bloggers still exercised over a student newspaper ad signed in the spring of 2006 by 88 Duke professors, who decried a campus culture of racism and sexism
Here we go again, folks.

The messages are “vitriolic?” Blythe, Ferreri, Niolet and Neff don’t say how they determined that. They don’t even say whether they read any or all of the massages.

Mightn’t some of the messages have been informed, fair-minded and properly critical?

And who are these latest e-mailers? Are they anything like the overwhelmingly civil, informed and caring e-mailers (a few haters and trolls mixed in) I’ve been hearing from the last fifteen months?

Does the N&O know whether these latest "e-mailers and bloggers" are the kind of people who were and remain concerned by statements and actions of certain faculty?

Does the N&O know whether the people writing "vitriolic" message are concerned by the same or similar statements and actions I'll bet the University Counsel and Trustees had in mind when they agreed to what was almost certainly a very hefty financial settlement?

Following the subhead - Duke's reasoning - the story continues:
Duke, too, is struggling to restore its image, and that, legal experts say, is one reason the university would settle such a case.
Another reason was to avoid the potential liability that Haagen assures his faculty colleagues they no longer bear.

The N&O, with four reporters working the story, failed to provide readers with even one example of a statement or action by a Duke faculty member that Haagen, a law professor, could tell readers Duke had in mind when it paid out to spare certain faculty from libel suits and itself from the odium of employing such faculty.

And if Haagen had been reluctant to cite examples, it wouldn’t have been hard for one of the four reporters to locate attorneys who have followed the case, and could have cited statements and actions by certain faculty that were potentially libelous.

But that’s not the kind of reporting you’d expect in a strongly pro Group of 88 story, is it?

There are other examples of bias further along in the story, but I’ve made my point.

Now let’s look at the reporters’ sloppy treatment of at least one very important fact.

To do that let’s look again at the story’s first two paragraphs:
Duke University's settlement with exonerated lacrosse players gives legal protection to faculty members, some of whom have been under siege for speaking out in the wake of the gang-rape allegations.

Neither side would disclose the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, but Duke's faculty chairman, Paul Haagen, informed professors that one provision is that all faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case.
The agreement announced Monday, we’ve previously been told, involved the three members of the Duke lacrosse team who were indicted as part of an attempted frame-up and their families.

There has been no report that Monday’s agreement also involved any of the other forty-four team members or their families.

If they were not involved in Monday’s settlement, what’s to stop one, some or all of the forty-four from bringing a libel action against one or some Duke faculty, and possibly Duke?

If the forty-four were somehow included in Monday’s settlement, the story doesn’t report that.

If the other team members were not involved in Monday’s settlement, than what the N&O should have reported is that faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case by David Evans, Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and their families, but not by the other forty-four members of the team or their families.

I’ll send lead reporter Anne Blythe a link to this post and request she at least clarify the matter of just who released Duke faculty from liability.

I'll offer to post her response in full.

Here's another link to the N&O story.

20 comments:

humboldtblue said...

JWM,

I have not seen the print version of the paper, but my experience tells me that the "Duke deal shields faculty" could (and I emphasize could) be due to space concerns. It sounds trite, but headline writing is not as simple as it sounds, and there are space restrictions that copy editors must take into account. Now as for the online version, space is obviously not a concern, but most papers try to keep the print and online versions consistent.

I too was amused at the "vitriolic" line, yet another ambiguous repeat of the threats the 88 are supposed to have received, and yet, no one can seem to provide even the simplest detail.

Anonymous said...

Thank you John for the latest.

Here is a road map to who-is-who among the group of 88.
Duke group of 88

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that the other families stay after the truth in their own court cases. That's the only way Duke will have to answer for their wrongs. And, maybe then daylight will shine on Brodhead and others where they cannot hide. They need to go.

Anonymous said...

John,

This was a big day for you. Three comments. Good job. It looks like your audience is growing. Usually, you get somewhere between zero and two comments. Do you give each of your grandchildren a dollar to post a comment?

Anonymous said...

Is the nasty troll someone connected to a newspaper?

Anonymous said...

Re: Anon 10:02

John,

Keep up the pressure on the News and Disturber. It is getting to them. I love it!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:02

Lay off John.

He's not perfect but he does a good job.

You seem very cranky and uptight.

Did you forget to take your enema today.

E. Z. Fleet

Anonymous said...

Anon -

I suspect JinC's grandchildren are too well behaved to be some of these commentors.

And they're probably smart enough to comment more if paid a buck each.

-AC

humboldtblue said...

10:02 is probably the same supercilious ninny who decided that because John runs his blog as he pleases, he must therefore be savaged on the Chronicle threads.

10:02, if you wish, you may direct your simple-minded comments to me, for I have no qualms about rolling about in the mephitic ooze of anonymous blog commentary.

Anonymous said...

I don't comment at the Chronicle message board since I have no connection to Duke but I read it and I must say, this JiC obsessed fan is actually pretty funny. Nuts but funny. I bet a lot of new people found JiC because of that thread he/she/it kept bumping with the same inane comments.

notanon said...

Thank you, JiC. The story that went up (and then almost immediately was pulled) from the N&O homepage made me ILL.

This "deal" only confirms that Brodhead, the BOT, Burness, and the 88/89 knew there was liability.

Anonymous said...

It is curious that Duke sought legal protection for the G88 after denying it to the lax 3.


Brant Jones

Anonymous said...

These Duke Group88 people are an abomination period. To them, everyone else is some sort of low brow fascist Neanderthal, but not them. They are above it all. They are above the law, responsibility, or good common sense. Ugh!

Anonymous said...

Duke and the Duke88 ". . . don't need no stinking lawyers."

Anonymous said...

8:00a.m. stated 44 families have not settled, and some of them may sue, why would you erase this?

JWM said...

To HB,

Your point about headlines is not trite but the heads I referred to were in both N&O’s online and its West print edition.

Yes, the reporters really tipped their hands with “vitriolic.”

Talk about singing from the company songbook.

To Anon @ 7:25,

Thank you

To Anon @ 7:42,

Do they ever need to go. I hope soon to write systematically about what I think Duke needs to do to make necessary changes.

To Anon @ 10:02,

I’ve left your comment:

"John,

This was a big day for you. Three comments. Good job. It looks like your audience is growing. Usually, you get somewhere between zero and two comments. Do you give each of your grandchildren a dollar to post a comment?"

up so people can get an idea of what a troll like you is like.

I deleted your other comment further down the thread because it was so vicious an attack on other people.

You must be living a very unfulfilled life to be trolling when there’s so much worthwhile people can do.

To Anon @ 10:26,

You ask concerning Anon 10:02: "Is the nasty troll someone connected to a newspaper?"

I don’t know.

Trolls usually bring their anger to a blog and what they spew frequently doesn’t have much to do with the blogger or the blog where they spew.

It has to do with what they already were before they came to blogs.

To Anon @ 10:29,

Thanks for your nice words. I do plan to keep the pressure up.

To Anon @ 10:36,

When I think of Fleet I usually think of Navy friends or Churchill who was twice Lord of the Admiralty.

But there is that other Fleet. I just hope for the troll that everything comes out all right in the end.

Anon @ 11:57,

Troll dragging in my grandchildren tells us all about the kind of person troll is.

To HB @ 1:09,

Thanks for the offer to help. But I’d rather, in most cases, use the delete button and not do a lot of explaining.

The comments I’m making here are something of an exception I don’t plan on repeating but I want up because I’ll soon be talking to some folks about blogging and this thread and the comments already deleted will be useful material.

To Anon @ 2:32,

I’ve only looked at the Chron. once. My guess is it probably helps this blog a little but not much.

To notanon @ 3:22

Thank you for your nice words.

Yes, the N&O story was terrible; and, yes, I think Duke settled so quickly because it knew how vulnerable it was.

To Brant Jones @ 7;55,

Curious, indeed. An excellent point.

Anon @ 2:16,

Indeed

Anon @ 2:18,

They do and they will.

Best to you all,

John

JWM said...

To Anon @ 3:04,

You say; "8:00a.m. stated 44 families have not settled, and some of them may sue, why would you erase this?"

If that's what Anon @ 8:00 a.m. had actually stated I wouldn't have deleted the comment.

But troll used shout caps to say the 44 families would sue because the are RICH (very few of them are; they include parents who are school teachers, firefighters, etc), WHITE (only 43 families are; one is African-American. In any case given what the players and families have been through what kind of a person would say they would sue because they are WHITE?)and UPSET (in the context following RICH and WHITE shouts troll was using UPSET as a mock).

I hope that clears things up.

John

Anonymous said...

John, you've been one of the real stars in bringing out the truth throughout this ordeal. Thank you, and please keep up the great work.--Bob Hyde, Duke '67

Anonymous said...

from 8:00 a.m.
So sorry, rich, white, upset was from the main stream media as a spoof; the comment about suing, was as serious as a heart attack!

Anonymous said...

John,

I commented about the Chronicle message board. Since you said you really hadn't looked, I checked. That thread ended up with 100 comments but about half were from your "fan."

On an entirely different thread about Paula Mclain, posters have taken to task the "child" who is mad at you for spamming the board and being a pot banger. Then they have an amusing exchange about pot bangers and the term.

"Hell hath no fury like a scorned potbanger." Her pots must look like "crushed autos at the junkyard." "You could start the Baja Marimba Pot Bangin' Band. I love the distinctive Durham potbangin' sound!" Suggestions for a camp for young aspiring potbangers, a pot distributor or recycling center in Durham, etc.

So see, I'm not the only one who thinks this angry little soul is at least worth a laugh.

That's why I read that message board, there are some clever people over there.

Like the poster who titled their post about one of Nifong's resignations, "Et tu, Brodhead?"