Thursday, July 19, 2007

AJR’s Hoax article’s biggest failing?

The American Journalism Review tells us it’s

a national magazine that covers all aspects of print, television, radio and online media. The magazine, which is published six times a year, examines how the media cover specific stories and broader coverage trends.

AJR analyzes ethical dilemmas in the field and monitors the impact of technology on how journalism is practiced and on the final product. The magazine is published by the University of Maryland Foundation with offices in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
And at Durham-in-Wonderland, KC Johnson’s reports the AJR’s article on the:
media’s handling—and mishandling—of the [Duke] lacrosse case is now on-line at American Journalism Review. Penned by AJR managing editor Rachel Smolkin, the piece will be the cover story for the AJR’s August/September issue.
I’ve read the AJR’s 8,000 word article, Justice Delayed , twice. It’s interesting reading. I hope you give it a look.

I plan to post often concerning Justice Delayed.

Today I want to focus solely on what may be the article’s greatest flaw: it doesn’t report and discuss the Raleigh News & Observer’s decision to withhold from readers and the media critically important statements the hoaxer Crystal Mangum made on March 24, 2006 during an interview with an N&O reporter.

The N&O didn’t disclose those statements until April 12, 2007, the day after NC Attorney General Roy Cooper had declared David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann innocent and almost thirteen months after the N&O published its “report” of the interview under the front-page, above the fold, unqualified headlines:
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
That March 25, 2006 N&O story of the frightened young black mother brutally beaten and gang-raped by three white Duke lacrosse players whose privileged, racist, drunken teammates were covering up for them was the single most important Duke lacrosse news story.

It set out the fraudulent “script” for the witch-hunt and frame-up which two days later Mike Nifong used when he began speaking publicly about the case.

Without specifically acknowledging it had withheld the information from its “night of … sexual violence” story, the N&O’s April 2007 story told readers Mangum said during the March ’06 interview she believed the second dancer, Kim Roberts, was also been sexually assaulted at the party, but didn't report the attack because Roberts was afraid she’d lose her job. Mangum also accused Roberts of being willing to “do just about anything for money.”

If the N&O had disclosed that information in March 2006, what might have happened?

How would Mike Nifong have explained an N&O’s front-page report that “the victim” was saying both dancers were sexually assaulted?

There’s more.

The N&O April 2007 story reported:
When asked why she made the report, she said "Most guys don't think it's a big deal" to force a woman to have sex. She confirmed that the claimed incident occurred at a party near Duke.

Moments later, she added, "Maybe they think they can get away with it because they have more money than me."
Yet in its March 2006 framing story, the N&O told readers and the rest of media:
She hesitated to tell police what happened, she said Friday. She realized she had to, for her young daughter and her father.

"My father came to see me in the hospital," she said. "I knew if I didn't report it that he would have that hurt forever, knowing that someone hurt his baby and got away with it."
What if the N&O had honestly reported the interview in March 2006? What if it had not covered up for thirteen months information the public should have known and that was exculpatory for the players?

Why didn’t the N&O tell us that information instead of reporting the tax value of Reade Seligmann’s parents’ home?

N&O editors prefer not to discuss their thirteen month long withholding of the exculpatory information. ( For any of you wondering how long DSI’s Brian Meehan and Nifong withheld the exculpatory DNA evidence, it was eight months. )

When N&O editors have discussed the March 2006 story they’ve given bewilderingly changing and contradictory explanations that would make you wonder whether Mangum hasn’t been tutoring them in story telling.

Depending on which editor is telling the story and when, readers have been told the exculpatory information was withheld because it was “only details;” the story was “under deadline;” and even that it would have been libelous for the N&O to report the parts of the interview it acknowledges withholding.

The N&O hasn’t yet told readers why it was libelous to disclose the information in March 2006 and for thirteen months thereafter, but OK to disclose it the day after Cooper said the players were innocent.

Is not mentioning the N&O’s thirteen month long withholding and cover-up Justice Delayed’s biggest failing?

I’m not ready to say that.

But I’ll say this: Writing an 8,000 word assessment of media coverage of the Duke lacrosse case and not examining the N&O’s withholding and cover-up of Mangum's statements is like writing a history of major league baseball and not mentioning Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees.

What do you folks think?

Here's the N&O’s 3/25/2006 story (Samiha Khanna and Anne Blythe bylined).

Here's the N&O’s 4/12/2007 story (Samiha Khanna bylined; Joseph Neff listed as contributor).


AMac said...

Great post, with links that back up what you say.

AJR author Smolkin missed some important things, but she got a lot right. Getting Bill Keller and Duff Wilson of the New York Times to speak for the record was, in my opinion, a real coup. (Why they didn't mutter "no comment" instead of weaseling around their misconduct is beyond me. Maybe another case of smart people not being quite as clever as they had supposed.)

Your points on the N&O's early coverage and subsequent stonewalling show why one good review of journalists' roles in the Hoax/Frame is not enough. The media may be deeply, deeply uninterested in evaluations of their performance. But there might be a few more nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned.

MIke Lee said...

Great points all John...which leads me back to what's wrong with people in Durham. What is it about Durham and Duke and the press and everyone in the area down there.

Lots of people got this one wrong; Duke faculty, the media, the police and DA etc. Yet very few have admitted so publicly much less apologized. Even Mike Nifong did that.

Why can't the 88 Duke professors? Why can't the professionals at the N&O at least acknowledge that they might have gotten this one wrong?
Even the pathetic DPD is now defending their actions and incredibly the Baker Chalmers sham of a reprt claims the agency did nothing wrong.

What is it about Durham and Duke that very wise experienced adults cannot look at their own actions and acknowledge they made errors (or at least that the possibility exists) and apologize.

I don't get it.

The actions of those who screwed up in this case were very well summed up by John Burness who when asked if Duke should apologize asked, "For what?" A few months later the University settled with the players and the "for what" was sealed as confidential.

I guess the only people who made any errors in this whole debalce were the lacrosse team and Mike Nifong. They are the only ones who have publicly acknowledged their mistakes and asked for forgiveness. What a sad state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

It's seems everyone else, including KC Johnson, is willing to forget about this very important story.
Thanks for not turning PC, John.