Sunday, September 02, 2007

Newsweek’s Thomas Shouldn’t Cluck

Newsweek’s assistant managing editor, Evan Thomas, has written his take on the Stuart Taylor/KC Johnson book, Until Proven Innocent.

It includes this:

By and large, the press did not let the facts get in the way of a good race-class-sex- violence morality play. Thanks in part to the reporting and guidance of Taylor, a NEWSWEEK contributing editor, NEWSWEEK was the first major publication to pick apart the prosecution's case, in an article on June 29, 2006.
I won’t get into whether Newsweek was “the first major publication to pick apart” Nifong’s case.

But I will put a question to Thomas : Why did it take Newsweek so long to start picking apart Nifong’s case?

By June 29 many bloggers and journalists had been shredding Nifong's case for months, with Taylor and Johnson among the leading shredders.

Folks, read this excerpt from a Thomas Sowell column, after which I make a few comments:
Media irresponsibility is one thing. Irresponsibility by an agent of the law is something else -- and much more dangerous.

Prosecutors are not just supposed to prosecute. They are supposed to prosecute the right people in the right way. In this case, prosecutor Michael Nifong has proceeded in the wrong way.

Having an accuser or a witness pick out the accused from a lineup is standard procedure. That procedure not only serves to identify someone to be charged with a crime, it also tests the credibility of the accuser or witness -- or it should, if the lineup is not stacked.

A lineup should include not only people suspected of a crime but also other people, so that it tests whether the accuser or witness can tell the difference, and is therefore credible.

But the stripper who claimed to have been raped by members of the Duke lacrosse team was presented with a lineup consisting exclusively of photographs of members of the lacrosse team.

In other words, whoever she picked out had to be a lacrosse player and would be targeted, with no test whatever of her credibility, because there was no chance for her to pick out somebody who had no connection with the team or the university.

Apparently District Attorney Nifong was no more wiling to test the accuser's credibility than was the TV talk show hostess who went ballistic, though credibility is often crucial in rape cases.

Mr. Nifong went public with his having DNA evidence collected.

Then, after the DNA failed to match that of the accused, the students were arrested anyway and their bail was set at $400,000 -- in a community where a youth accused of murder had bail set at $50,000.

When a prosecutor acts like he has made up his mind and doesn't want to be confused by the facts, that is when the spirit of the lynch mob has entered the legal system.

When this happens on the eve of an election for the prosecutor, it looks even uglier.

If the young men accused of rape are in fact guilty, they need to be proved guilty because they are guilty, not because an election is coming up or there is racial hype in the media or a legally stacked deck.
Sowell’s column appeared on April 24, 2006, a week after two Duke students had been indicted and at a time when Nifong was still seeking to manufacture evidence to indict a third student.

Sowell’s column is an outstanding example of what many bloggers and journalists knew and were reporting and commenting on by the end of April 2006.

With due respect for them, it wasn’t hard to realize what Nifong was doing. It never is when a prosecutor makes claims that are contradicted by the evidence, and then goes against the evidence.

Instead of cluck-clucking about being “first,” Thomas should ask himself: Why did Newsweek only begin to “pick apart the prosecution case” three months after Sowell and others were exposing and shredding it? What were Sowell and the others doing that Newsweek didn’t do? What does Newsweek need to change?

When Thomas has his answers, he ought to share them with Newsweek’s faithful subscribers. They pay the bills; they deserve to know. The rest of us would like to know, too.

Sowell’s column is here. Seventeen months out from its publication, I can't see anything he got wrong.

I posted on Sowell’s April 24 column last Novermber: “Sowell: Right early and now.”

Last June I posted on Newsweek’s “pick apart” story: “Duke lacrosse: Newsweek abandons sinking Nifong.”


Anonymous said...

One important point re: the ridiculously high bail - that's all up to the judge....completely. As a young lawyer, I clerked for a judge and he and I spoke about bail amounts often. The judge who set the bail clearly did so for political reasons. Bail is only designed to ensure that the defendant show for hearings and the trial. A 400k bail in a sex assault case is so out of bounds it is laughable.

Anonymous said...

If this case had not so much damage to ALL the lacrosse families then this entire 18 monhs would be laughable. But unfortunatly these families lived through this nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, correction, 18 months not monhs..