Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Chronicle & “off the record”

Readers note: On August 5 I posted To The Chronicle’s New Editor . The post is republished below.

In the post I asked questions of The Chronicle’s new editor, David Graham.

Graham’s response, which he labeled “off the record,” follows the post.

Since I’d never had any contact with Graham prior to our exchange, I sent him an email explaining why his “off the record” without prior discussion and agreement between us was problematic. That email follows Graham’s.

I end this post with some further comments.



Readers Note: Trinity junior David Graham is the new editor of The Chronicle. In a recent article he introduced himself to the Duke community and outlined what he hopes The Chronicle will accomplish under his editorship. If you haven’t already done so, I hope you take a look at what Graham wrote.

I've just sent Graham the following electronic letter.


David Graham, Editor
The Chronicle

Dear Editor Graham:

I read with interest your July 25 article, Living up to the billing.

I wish you well as you begin your editorship. The goals and Chronicle services you highlight are impressive and important for Duke. I support them with just a few exceptions.

I’ll share one of those exceptions with you now.

You say:

For those of us who write for The Chronicle, it was also a very exciting time, as we competed and rubbed elbows with top-notch reporters and got to follow a story of national interest. At the same time, it became almost a single focus for us, consuming much of our time and the pages of this paper.

But with Nifong out of office, charges dismissed and most of the loose ends of the case tied up, both Duke and The Chronicle are ready to move on.
Ready to move on?

The Chronicle? OK, you're the editor.

The Allen Building? For sure.

But Duke?

As the last academic year was ending, Duke students took ads in The Chronicle calling on the Group of 88 to explain why they did what they did and to apologize. About 1,000 students endorsed a full-page ad that asked President Brodhead to finally stand up for them.

I wonder whether many of those students weren’t thinking of things like Brodhead’s silence on May 18, 2006 when racists, including members of the New Black Panther’s Party who openly boast of carrying guns, shouted threats, including death threats, at Reade Seligmann.

Brodhead has never explained why he didn’t speak out then and hasn’t since.

Has The Chronicle ever reported on Brodhead’s silence? Or the silence of all but a few faculty then and since? What about the silence of every trustee then and since? And then there's The Chronicle's own editorial silence.

We can agree, Editor Graham, there was a time many American universities abandoned their students when they were threatened by racists. But that stopped during the Civil Rights marches in the 60s.

Is there even one university which in the last 40 years has abandoned a student as Duke under Dick Brodhead abandoned Reade Seligmann on May 18, 2006?

If there is, how did that university "move on?"

Beginning on March 24, 2006 and for many days thereafter, the Durham Police repeatedly told the public about horrific crimes they said were committed at a party hosted by Duke students.

We don’t know why the police did that. We haven’t even identified and held accountable the police supervisors who approved the false statements the police spokesman was making.

We do know DPD’s repeated and shocking lies about Duke students stirred tensions and angers in the community, thus making Duke/Durham a more dangerous place. While that was true for all of us living here, it was and remains especially true for Duke students.

Shouldn't President Brodhead and "Dick's senior team" get some answers from DPD before they and The Chronicle decide "There's nothing to see here. Move on. Go back to your classrooms. If anything turns up, Sgt. Gottlieb will send us all an email?"

Editor Graham, I don't want this to get too long, so I'll move on now myself.

I look forward to your response, which I’ll publish in full at my blog. It's read by a good many members of the Duke community as well as some journalists and authors.

I’ll also be in touch in a week or so with other concerns generated by your column.

Again, good wishes.


John in Carolina




[Off the record] I guess I'm curious as to what sort of response you were
seeking. I believe the coverage that we provide throughout the school
year will speak for itself and would caution against any reading of the column
that would suggest that we won't aggressively report on issues related to the case.

I hope you enjoy and are enlightened by it and imagine I'll be hearing
from you about it as we go along.


David Graham
Editor, The Chronicle
President, Duke Student Publishing Company



Dear Editor Graham:

Thank you for your prompt but problematic response.

Why did you lead with "off the record?"

We never agreed your response would be "off the record."

If bloggers and journalists went along with university administrators, faculty and others who began their responses with "off the record," what would happen to informative reporting?

I hope Chronicle staffers don't let administrators, faculty and others begin their responses with "off the record" and then treat the responses as such.

I hope you agree I shouldn't, either.

Because this is our first exchange, I'll delay publishing your response until 2 PM tomorrow so as to allow time to hear anything you feel I've not taken into account that I ought to have.


John in Carolina



Graham is young, but not so young that as the editor-in-chief of a college newspaper he can’t be expected to know you don’t drop “off the record” before your answer and expect it to count for anything with reporters seeking information for their readers.

If that kind of “off the record” was allowed to count, journalists from the high school level on through the top ranks of the profession could regularly and easily be compromised with “information dumps.”

Yes, some of that goes on but people concerned with news reporting, be they advisors to high school newspapers or editors at major newspapers, fight it.

I was ready to see Graham’s “off the record” as what the Brits call a “one off.” I hoped he’d respond to my second email with something like: “Sorry. It was a busy day. Now on the record …..”

Graham’s initial “off the record” and his subsequent failure to respond are troubling.

I’m going to send Graham a link to this post. I hope he agrees that what I expected from him is no more than he expects from every Chronicle reporter and editor.

Heaven forbid that it’s not.

I'll invite Graham to respond and will publish his response in full.

I’ll keep you posted on what I hear back.



Insufficiently Sensitive said...

What I read from his initial essay, and from his condescending response to JinC (off the record,huh?), leads me to the conclusion that his approach to journalism is "we'll tell you all you need to know" - much like the top-down MSM. A license to steer public opinion, rather than examining and publishing all the facts.

He doesn't seem likely to follow in the footsteps of his distinguished predecessor. I hope he proves me wrong.

Anonymous said...


"I hope you enjoy and are enlightened by it and imagine I'll be hearing from you about it as we go along."

Make sure you accept David Graham's invitation to comment on his promised "aggressive coverage".


JeffM said...


People respond to reporters off the record all the time, and it is honored. I know; I have done it.

I think it is simple courtesy to honor a request that a response not be quoted. I also think that it is fair in that case to say that you got no response when what you clearly asked for was a publishable response. Quite honestly, if I responded to a query of yours with the request that you not publish it and you did publish it, I would never respond to any query from you again.

Tell me: if someone says that he is telling you something in confidence, do you always feel yourself free to violate that confidence?

Jack said...

John, as you are a Duke alumnus, I can appreciate the place your alma mater holds in your heart; this affection and dedication is certainly the basis for your diligent and thorough attention to the awful travesty that was visited upon the school, the Lacrosse team, and a few players in particular. I admire your efforts, the thoroughness of your inquiries and how pointed you often are. As these events unfolded over the past year and some months many, many disturbing characteristics of Duke university came to light – the radical elements in the faculty and administration, the disgraceful abandonment of students in a time of dire need; the complicity with the Gang of 88 by most of the faculty, and more of the student body than one might expect; there is considerable resentment toward the students and the university in the Durham community and the media picked up on it, and using their own bias, made for a disgraceful display of pre-judgment, political correctness, and racial and class tension. My impression of the Chronicle’s position during this period is that the editors were less than strident in their support of the players, they never made too much noise about rushing to judgment, failed to express with the appropriate outrage the despicable behavior of the radical elements in the university, and on and on. There were a few columns here and there, I recall one young woman, since graduated, who made some very pertinent remarks, and tried calling out those she felt had failed in their responsibilities. But in the main, the Chronicle was a flaccid organ, if you’ll pardon the marginally tasteless pun. It should come as no surprise that this Mr. Graham failed to respond as you would have hoped – an individual meeting your expectations for the position would never have the position!

As I have noted before, every time a new angle of this fiasco is examined, another uncomfortable, objectionable or distasteful aspect of Duke University is revealed. While these issues may not be unique to Duke, it is Duke in the spotlight, and to that I say these problems are far deeper and more entrenched than you may want to believe. Your alma mater has been hijacked by some very nasty people, with a very specific agenda, one that is contrary to the alumni and parents who send their children and $45,000 a year. And they have more control over the direction of Duke than all the bloggers and posters and other concerned citizens across America.

Anonymous said...

"rubbed elbows with top notch reporters" Like who would that be? Certainly not the Duffer and like ilk. All the reporters, I saw at the time (I was recouperating from surgery and spent a lot of time watching this case) were of the Nancy Grace variety. They were out to hang these guys as best they could and made outrageous statements.

JWM said...

To Insufficently Sensitive,

Your sensitivity seems very sufficent.

I share your hope that Graham proves you wrong.

BTW - I've appreciated your comments here and at other places.

I count you as a citizen journalist opposed to "same old/same old" from MSM. You come to places like this for facts and opinion with the seperation between the two obvious.

Is that right?

To Ken in Dallas,

I do appreciate Graham's invitation.

I hope you'll join me as we go along.

You've commented here often and added to this blog.

I've never said, "Thank you."

Now I just did.

To Jeffm,

I plan to respond to your comment in a seperate main page post tomorrow.

For now, I'll just say I'm stumped as to whether you really are a reporter or a Troll or just a person like President Brodhead who struggles with situations in which the facts keep changing and whatever people have done is bad enough.

In any case, your comment is useful.

To Jack,

Thank you for a well-organized, fact-based and thoughtful comment.

I've noted similiar previous comments which I think have been from you.

My failure to respond to them is not a reflection on the merit of what you've said.

You're making some very important points.

I plan to give them a better response this weekend on the main page.

Please look for it.

And if I haven't done it by Sunday night, feel free to remind me on a comment thread.

To Anon @ 9:59,

The Duffer is one of the worst of them.

I hope you've made a full recovery from that surgery.

But "hanging" in a hospital bed watching Nancy Grace?

The pain must have been something awful.

Thank you all.


Insufficiently Sensitive said...

(from JinC): "I count you as a citizen journalist opposed to "same old/same old" from MSM. You come to places like this for facts and opinion with the seperation between the two obvious."

To JinC: spot on, and I'm honored you see it so. However, I'm not much of a journalist (a grumpy old engineer in fact), though if I had the time to research stories I might some day try it. I've developed a reliance on such blogs as yours, since the MSM has largely dropped journalistic ethics in favor of steering public opinion by means of savagely biased news stories in coordination with a single political party.

There's still good journalism here and there (KC Johnson pointed out today's Stanford Daily article on Duke LAX, and the Duke Chronicle got off some good ones too over the last 16 months), but like a miner one has to do a lot of sorting and rejecting of waste before processing the remaining stories that pass the assay.

Selective omissions are the key it seems, hence you're quite right in pressing this new Editor on his intentions toward actually covering and informing the public of any further mis- and malfeasances by Duke's Administration and faculty. They have not atoned one millimeter for their blatant sins (their craven non-disclosure settlement was a fraud against their endowment), and could stand lots more sunlight. Per the Stanford Daily: "it was a vocal minority of faculty members and administration enablers, rather than an athletic team, that was out of control".

Anonymous said...

John, from the moment I read young Mr. Graham's initial essay and saw that he had closed down the message boards, I gave up on the Chronicle. I feel for Kristin Butler, if she's writing for the Chronicle again this year. Graham seems like a syncophant for the administration, so Ms. Butler may find any articles critical of Duke or the BOT are heavily edited. What a shame- almost wrote "sham"- Freudian slip, perhaps?
Texas Mom