The Raleigh News & Observer’s repeatedly said it didn't use anonymous sources when reporting the Duke lacrosse story. I know that’s preposterous but it has. (See, for example, here, here and here. )
Now there's strong evidence that one of the anonymous sources the N&O used last March to publicly frame the lacrosse players was then DA Mike Nifong.
Recall that in front-page stories on March 24, 25, 26 and in a March 27 news column by Ruth Sheehan, the N&O laid out its deliberately fictional Duke lacrosse script about a frightened young black woman brutally beaten and gang-raped by privileged white male Duke lacrosse players whose racist teammates had formed "a wall of solidarity" to prevent the police from identifying their gang-rapist buddies.
Nifong’s never mentioned in any of those stories or Sheehan’s column.
But when Nifong first began speaking publicly about the case on the afternoon of March 27, he followed exactly the fictional script the N&O had been shilling to the public and the rest of the media for four days.
Now Sheehan admits that a major portion of the N&O's fictional script was provided to N&O journalists by Mike Nifong.
In fact, Sheehan says Nifong and “people” at the N&O who were in touch with him were the actual sources for her March 27 column attacking the players and demanding the lacrosse team be "shut down" until the players cooperated with police.
Don Yeager, in his recently released It's Not About the Truth (Threshold Editions, 2007), quotes Sheehan:
"I think on Saturday [March 25] we had the interview with the alleged victim. It was on Sunday I called into the office. I already had a column in the can because I run on Mondays.A little further on Yeager writes:
But I called in about this story and they told me that there was another story with Nifong talking about how there was this wall of silence.
That's when I decided on that Sunday to write my first column about the case. [...]
I have to write a column about what people are talking about. And everybody was talking about it. It was so outrageous, the stuff that was in the paper. Her story, Nifong's recounting of it. Oh, my God. It was just like , . , you couldn't even believe it." (ellipses in Yeager) (pg. 154)
As she wrote, Sheehan made clear that in her mind the stories bubbling up from Nifong's office and the Durham Police Department were true. She was not alone. (pg. 155)Yeager then tells readers Sheehan added:
"Back during that period, no one was telling us that the players had been cooperative," she said in a January 2007 interview. "I know now that was not true. If I had known that then, I would have never written what I did. I would have thought what is Nifong talking about? That's not a wall of silence then. How is that a wall of silence?"(pg. 155)The N&O’s March 25 "anonymous interview" story refers to “authorities [who’ve] vowed to crack the team's wall of solidarity.”
It then continues: "We're asking someone from the lacrosse team to step forward," Durham police Cpl. David Addison said. "We will be relentless in finding out who committed this crime."
But neither that March 25 story nor any N&O Duke lacrosse story that appeared before March 28 mentions Nifong or some variant such as “the DA’s office said” as a news source.
No one at the N&O has challenged Sheehan's account of calling the paper on Sunday, March 26, and being told by journalists there details of what Nifong was providing the N&O.
In the N&O's recent report of Yeager’s book, staff writer Jim Nesbitt didn't even mention Sheehan’s account.
I posted on Nesbitt’s story here. I raised questions about why the N&O’s story said nothing about Yeager's reporting on Sheehan’s column or any other part of the N&O’s framing of the lacrosse players last March.
I emailed Nesbitt and asked why that was the case. I offered to publish his response in full.
I received no reply to my email or to phone messages I left for Nesbitt and other N&O staffers.
Sheehan’s disclosures to Yeager are, as far as I know, her most detailed public statements identifying Nifong as a source for her March 27 column.
I'm not aware of Sheehan ever before publicly disclosing Nifong spoke to journalists at the N&O by at least Sunday, March 26, and perhaps earlier. Or that journalists at the N&O used what Nifong told them to convince Sheehan to write her column viciously and falsely attacking the players. (Sheehan has since apologized for the column. - JinC).
But Sheehan's statements to Yeager are not the first time she's blamed Nifong for her May 27 column.
Last June 19 she wrote a column saying she'd been wrong to base her March 27 column on what Nifong had said.
I posted on her column the same day asking among other things how Sheehan could blame Nifong for her column when he didn’t begin speaking publicly about the case until AFTER her column had run.
I sent Sheehan an email asking that question but never heard back.
Well, we finally have the answer.
And that leads to a new question: Does the Pulitzer Committee award a prize to an anonymous source and a newspaper for working together to produce stories that led to monumetal injustices, harmed innocent people and damaged race relations in a community where most people were trying to improve them?