Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nifong N&O Anonymous Source (Post 2)

Some JinC readers have questioned my report that the Raleigh News & Observer used then DA Mike Nifong as an anonymous news source last March when it ran a series of false and racially inflammatory stories trashing and publicly framing 46 white Duke students who played on the school’s Men’s lacrosse team. ( “ Nifong an N&O anonymous source (Post 1)” )

The readers have noted a source for my report, N&O news columnist Ruth Sheehan, has a less than outstanding reputation for reliability.

I won’t dispute that.

But there’s a great deal more than just Sheehan’s statements that supports my report.

I’d like to tell you about it.

I began tracking the story of Nifong as an anonymous N&O news source last March when the N&O first reported Crystal Mangum’s lies and the false claims the players were not cooperating with police. I heard people say the N&O was using Nifong as an anonymous source but I didn’t feel I had enough credible evidence on which to base a report.

I did repeatedly point out last Spring that although the media was saying they were only reporting what Nifong was telling them, in fact what he began telling them publicly on March 27 was exactly what the N&O had been telling readers and the rest of media since the N&O “broke” the lacrosse story on March 24.

But I didn’t say Nifong was an N&O anonymous source for some of the N&O’s March 24 through 27 stories framing the players even when Sheehan said in a June 19, 2006 column he was the source for her March 27 column attacking the players:

“Say all you want about the media's rush to judgment. But the truth is we report on allegations and charges out of district attorneys' offices every single day. And when a DA, especially one with Nifong's reputation for being a quiet, behind-the-scenes guy, comes out not only saying that a rape occurred, but that it was a brutal gang rape, in which the woman was strangled and beaten, you had to figure he had incontrovertible evidence.”
What I did then was just remind readers’ Nifong’s public statements followed Sheehan’s column. So how could she use what he said as an excuse? I didn’t add: “unless Sheehan used Nifong as an anonymous source?"

I didn’t add that because I was concerned that when confronted with the obvious implication of what she was saying, Sheehan might back off and say something about being under deadline and a little confused about time sequences. She might have said what she really meant was Nifong’s statements had influenced her when she wrote her April 3rd column about the lacrosse team and called for its coach, Mike Pressler, to be fired.

But my hesitation about using Sheehan as a source confirming Nifong’s anonymous involvement in the N&O’s framing of the players disappeared with the publication of Don Yeager’s book, It’s Not About the Truth, which he wrote in collaboration with Pressler.

Yeager quotes Sheehan repeatedly on the use she and the N&O made of Nifong as an anonymous source at least by March 26, if not before.

Yeager tells us Sheehan said ” …I called in [to the N&O on March 26] 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.” (p. 154)

Yeager quotes other statements Sheehan made the leave no doubt Nifong was an N&O source. You can read some of them in this post.

Yeager also describes Sheehan on March 26 preparing her next day’s column: “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.” (p.155)

There are at least three reasons why I have no doubt Yeager quoted Sheehan accurately and she can’t disown what he says she told him:

1) - Yeager, a veteran reporter, must certainly have taped what Sheehan said, retained those tapes and been very careful to quote accurately from them;

2) - It’s now common practice for publishing houses to require that interviews of the sensitivity the one(s) Yeager conducted with Sheehan are taped so it/they can be reviewed by the publishers’ attorneys for liability issues.

I believe Yeager, Pressler and their publisher, Simon & Schuster, would’ve been very careful to quote Sheehan accurately in any case; but they were no doubt particularly careful because at the time the book was being prepared for publication Nifong was the subject of State Bar ethics charges; three lacrosse players were still under indictment; and Pressler’s suit against Duke was still active.

3) - Sheehan has not disputed anything Yeager attributes to her.

So as reported in a previous post and now here we have Sheehan on the record and not disputing the record. We have her saying that by March 26 other journalists at the N&O reported to her what Nifong was telling them; that what her journalist colleagues said Nifong told them was of sufficient detail and emotional power to convince her to forgo a column she’d already written and instead write a column based on what she was told Nifong said.

To all of that we can add the fact that in the three months since Yeager’s book's been released, no one at the N&O has disputed anything in his account of what Sheehan says she was told when she phoned the N&O on March 26.

The N&O own May 4 story reporting the book's publication doesn’t dispute anything attributed to Sheehan. It doesn’t even mention her although Yeager not only quotes her as using Nifong as a source but on many other matters related to the paper’s Duke lacrosse coverage and bloggers.

When I emailed the story’s reporter, Jim Nesbitt, asking him specifically about what Yeager said about Sheehan’s March 27 column, Nesbitt never responded nor did he respond to phone messages.

I hope, folks, you all now see why after 16 months I felt I had enough evidence to go with my report and why I’m standing by it.

I don’t have any doubt that no later than March 26, 2006, and perhaps earlier, the Raleigh News & Observer was using Nifong as an anonymous news source.

That no doubt helps explain why so much of its Duke lacrosse coverage was false and racially inflammatory.

Nifong and the N&O need to level with the victims of those stories - the players, their families and decent people who trusted the N&O to tell them the truth.

Folks, what do you all think?


AMac said...

Very careful presentation of evidence that the N&O used DA Nifong as an anonymous source during the crucial early days--when the view of the case began to become fixed in so many people's minds.

The links appear to check out and support the points that are made.

Surely editors and reporters at the N&O have opinions and insights to offer on this question.

Anonymous said...


"Folks, what do you all think?"

I think there's a lot of bad people in Durham.


Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of bad people in Durham.


There are some bad people in Durham, just like in Dallas. But, Durham had a particularly weak set up in the beginning. Our local paper had just been sold to a chain that was not at all interested in quality journalism, but only in recovering from the fact that they overpaid for the property.

The competing paper, the News and Observer had just lost its Durham editor, Jim Schiffer, to an internal transfer. Schiffer's replacement was not ready for a big story. The N&O needed an experienced hand in Durham and didn't have one. The N&O, because of inexperience at the front line management level and an interest in only the prurient at the top levels, bought into the Mangum/Nifong metanarative. In short, they believed, because they wanted to believe. Not because good reporting lead them to the conclusion. To the N&O's credit, once more experienced reporters got on the case, the quality of reporting changed for the better.

The national media, like the N&O bought in to the Mangum/Nifong metanarative because it coincided with their pre-conceived notions of race and privilege. Nothing in cable's history leads me to believe anything else. The New York Times owns the Wilmington, NC paper. They should have the resources to check out stories in North Carolina that touched back to Long Island. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the NYT failed so miserably. Other than to say that Jason Blair wasn't their only weak reporter, and Howell Raines wasn't their only weak editor.

Are there bad people in Durham? Yes. Are there bad people in Raleigh? Yes. Are there bad people in New York City? Yes. If the name was changed from Duke to SMU would things have turned out differently? I hope the answer is yes. But, I cannot say that for sure.

Walt in Durham
Wishing his adopted hometown wasn't so good at giving itself a black eye.

LaRrY said...

So does this mean that nifong knew about the accusations long before he actually said he found out about them on the copy machine? I always thought that nofong may have lied about when he learned about the "lies" from CGM and actually saw his opportunity earlier than everyone claims. Can anyone believe that a DA wont know about a claim of a major crime fromt he beginning of the claims? Nifong would have thought it dont matter what shelton reported that it was all a hoax, shut him up and lets move forward with the claims made by CGM. Betcha nifong told chalmers to shut up shelton and that is one reason chalmers was missing from this case so mmuch. Nifong called the N&O and lied to them because he needed the publicity for the primary. He planted the story. He planned these lies long before the NTO was "accidently" left on the copy machine. This is one more reason the feds need to come in and clean up this case. The lies contine to flow. Civil rights continue to be abused. Keep up the good work J in C.

Anonymous said...

John in Carolina is correct about the N&O role in the frame. The superb Professor Johnson, of the Durham-in-Wonderland site, tends to give the N&O a pass on its early inflammatory role because of Joe Neff's first-rate work. Neff was excellent, but his terrific reporting doesn't entirely make up for editor Sill, Khanna, Blythe and others for their performance in March 2006. The N&O relationship with Gottlieb and Nifong needs to be completely exposed.

Anonymous said...

"Folks, what do you all think?"

A whole lot of people wanted the story to be true so much they were willing to do or say damn near anything to railroad three young men into a conviction. Duke's execrable admin, the dangerous DPD, the rent-seeking DAMN, the Damned MSM, many cable yahoos, potbangers, rad/lib faculty and academics... the list of the truly guilty is very, very long.

But, especially including the N&O,
"They knew. We know they knew."


Anonymous said...

Sweetmick says : I'm disappointed in KC's poorly disguised attempt over the past several months to rehabilitate Ms. Sheehan. Any objective review of her early work shows how she helped shaped first impressions amongst blacks in the country, and in the media. And those first impressions still remain as evidence and proof with the "something happened" crowd.
Her apology notwithstanding, Ms. Sheehan revealed a lot about herself when she commented on Rae Evans' prescient declaration of war on "60 minutes", that Nifong had picked on the wrong families and would pay every day of his life. In her discontinued N&O blog, she called Ms. Evans "arrogant" for making that statement. I'd bet that Ms. Sheehan is a more kindred spirit with the "something happened" crowd than with the "innocent" crowd.

Anonymous said...


I think you're right about Sheehan's true allegiances, but perhaps she does deserve some credit as one of the few to attempt anything close to an admission of wrong or an apology. By recognizing those few, and to some extent applauding their statements, we may not be discouraging others to step up and do the right thing, no matter what their politics are.


Anonymous said...

TombZ: Point well taken.