Friday, August 03, 2007

Letter to AJR Editor re: Hoax

Readers Note: The lead article in the Aug/Sept. American Journalism Review is Justice Delayed , AJR managing editor Rachel Smolkin’s 8,000 word assessment of the media’s coverage of the Duke lacrosse case.

As JinC Regulars know, I’ve been critical of Smolken’s article, particularly the portions concerning the Raleigh News & Observer.

I’ve just sent Smolkin the following electonic letter.

I’ll post if she responds.

If you wish to contact her, the email is:

It’s important that Smolkin, a journalism leader, hear from news consumers.


Dear Editor Smolkin:

I blog as John in Carolina and post often concerning media coverage of the Duke Hoax.

There’s no mention in Justice Delayed that the Raleigh News & Observer’s March 24, 2006 story which “broke” the Duke lacrosse case referred seven times to Crystal Mangum as “the victim” or with the possessive “victim’s” without once using a qualifier such as “alleged” or “reported.”

Why didn’t you mention that?

The N&O’s decision to repeatedly and without qualification tell readers and other news organizations in the first Duke lacrosse story they’d read that Mangum was “the victim” was a deliberate prejudgment the paper knew would cast the lacrosse players as her victimizers.

That deserved mention. AJR readers also deserved to know the N&O’s explanation for why it acted with such bias.

You fail to mention that by no later than March 26, 2006, and perhaps before, the N&O was using then DA Mike Nifong as an anonymous source. The N&O’s use of Nifong is documented here and here.

Why didn’t you report and discuss the N&O’s use of Nifong as an anonymous source?

Why didn’t you examine and discuss the impact the N&O’s use of Nifong as an anonymous source had on its Duke lacrosse coverage?

Did Nifong’s involvement with the N&O influence its decision to make no mention in its early Duke lacrosse coverage of the players’ extensive cooperation with police; and to instead promulgate the malicious and dangerous lie that the players were not cooperating?

Did the N&O ever tell you when and in what detail it first reported on the players' cooperation? I’ve never gotten a specific answer to that question despite asking it of many people at the N&O?

The N&O’s never told readers about Nifong’s early involvement in its coverage.

Shouldn’t you have asked N&O executive editor for news Melanie Sill why it hasn’t?

Some N&O staffers now make the false claim that in its Duke lacrosse coverage the paper never used “anonymous or unnamed sources” (Is there really a difference?). See, for example, investigative reporter Joe Neff’s recent remarks at the National Press Club.

In truth, the N&O frequently used anonymous sources, most notably in its March 25, 2006, “anonymous interview” story in which, without verification, it published Mangum’s false claims she was a gang-rape victim of drunken, racist, white males.

There was even one N&O story in which it referred to so many anonymous sources that it took to referring to them as “neighbors,” “family members,” and “former classmates.”

Yet you say in Justice Delayed:

[N&O executive editor for news Melanie Sill said,] "People we would normally just go interview were having press conferences, or wouldn't talk, or would only talk in a leaking situation." But top editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable.
Why didn’t you examine and discuss the N&O’s use of anonymous sources as well as its false claim that it didn’t use them?

Why did you just pass the claim on to AJR readers as though it were true?

In this post I documented and discussed your failure to mention the N&O’s decision to withhold for thirteen months from readers and other news organizations critically important news that was exculpatory for the players.

I’m referring, of course, to the N&O’s admission the day after the NC Attorney General had declared the players innocent that it withheld from the March 25 “anonymous interview” story statements Mangum made during the interview.

Those statement included her assertion the second dancer had also been sexually assaulted at the lacrosse party but didn’t report it for fear she’d lose her job. Also, that the second dancer would “do anything for money.”

Why didn't you tell AJR readers the N&O tailored its March 25 "anonymous interview" story in such a way that it fit neatly with the false story Nifong began telling the public two days later?

Why didn't you discuss the impact the N&O’s news suppression and cover-up had on the case? For example, the problems Nifong would've had on March 27 explaining why he wasn’t accusing the players of raping both dancers? Or why the request his office made to the court on March 23 that it order DNA testing of the white players made no mention of an assault on the second dancer?

Your failure to even mention in Justice Delayed the N&O’s withholding and then covering up for thirteen months critically important and exculpatory news is somewhat like a person writing a history of baseball and failing to mention Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees.

There is much more about the N&O’s Duke lacrosse coverage that’s very significant, and which you either ignore or get wrong. I’ll be in touch with you soon about some of that.

For now, I want to put the matters I’ve already posted on before you and do the following:

1) - Urge you to correct in the next issue of AJR the important factual omissions and errors noted here.

2) - Invite you to respond to this letter. I’ll publish your response in full at my blog.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.


John in Carolina


Anonymous said...

Excellent letter and excellent questions. I sincerely hope you get a response.

Anonymous said...

Send this letter to all members of the McClatchy board of directors.