Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Suggestion For The N&O

In a recent Sunday column, Raleigh News & Observer Executive Editor for News Melanie Sill asked readers to suggest how the N&O could better serve them. Here’s part of what Sill said:

Suggestions help serve our community in all kinds of ways, from major coverage themes to useful information. Keep 'em coming.
Sill's question isn't really a tough one, is it?

I’ve just left the following comment on the thread of Sill’s column posted at the Editors' Blog.


Dear Melanie,

I suggest N&O editors at the Editors’ Blog answer readers’ questions.

Here’s a copy of a comment with questions I asked Deputy Managing Editor Linda Williams which she’s never answered. Following my comment and questions to Editor Williams, I say a few more things to you.


Dear Editor Williams:

Historian and blogger KC Johnson, co-author of Until Proven Innocent has said this about Columnist Barry Saunders:

"The reaction from some quarters [to impending civil suits against Durham] was predictable.

The N&O’s Barry Saunders penned a race-baiting column falsely asserting that Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty had “hired themselves a stripper.” This false claim, and Saunders’ other taunts, only bolstered the falsely accused students’ case against Durham, by showing the continuing harm to their reputations—something Saunders might have wanted to consider before he wrote.

And Saunders, hyper-sensitive to the slightest of perceived slights against African-Americans, appeared to be unconcerned with his own perceived slight against the religion of the falsely accused players.

But, of course, this is the same Barry Saunders who previously eviscerated media coverage of a gang-rape allegation—when the defendants were black NCCU students. Their accuser (whom Saunders mocked) didn’t show up for a probable cause hearing, prompting dismissal of charges.

But the mere filing of charges, according to Saunders, caused long-term damage to the students’ reputation: ‘I saw the two dudes’ pictures in the paper. I’m not saying they looked guilty, but let’s face it. It’s hard to look innocent when your mug shot is splashed on television or in the paper in connection with some horrific story.’ (To remind Saunders, the mugshots of Seligmann and Finnerty were “splashed”—over and over and over again—on national television and on the cover of Newsweek.)”

(end of Johnson blog quote)

I'm sure you know, Editor Williams, that Executive Editor for News Melanie Sill says Saunders meets N&O standards.

And I don't know anyone who disputes that he does.

But what many people are asking is why a race-baiter like Saunders “meets N&O standards?”

Just a few years ago the N&O made what it said was a sincere apology for its long history of race-baiting. The N&O promised readers it would no longer race-bait.

But soon after that, the N&O launched its deliberately false, racially-inflammatory Duke lacrosse coverage.

By withholding relevant news and promoting the lie that white lacrosse players hadn’t cooperated with police, the N&O helped bring about the indictments of three innocent white men.

But the N&O knew the white men had cooperated with police.

I don’t believe you would have promoted the falsehood that the players hadn’t cooperated with police if they’d been black men instead of white men.

I’m not wrong about that, am I?

The N&O withheld for over a year the exculpatory news that Mangum told you on March 24, 2006 that Kim Roberts had also been raped at the party, but didn’t report it for fear of losing her job. You also withheld the news that Mangum said Roberts would do anything for money.

You wouldn’t have withheld such critically important news for over a year if Mangum had been a white woman and David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann had been black men indicted by a white DA like Mike Nifong using grand jury testimony by two white cops like Benjamin Himan and Mark Gottlieb, would you?

After Duke University expressed concerns that publishing the “Vigilante” poster with face photos of 43 white Duke students on it would add to the danger those students were already facing, the N&O published the poster anyway. The N&O didn’t even tell readers what Duke had said.

If, in similar circumstances, NC Central University expressed concerns that publishing an anonymous “Vigilante” poster with face photos of 43 of its black students the DA and cops were saying were involved in the brutal beating and gang rape of a young white mother who was a student at Duke, would you have gone ahead and published the poster anyway?

I think the answer is obvious. Of course not. The N&O would never do something like that to a group of black males. Even your worst critics don’t believe you’d do such a thing to a group of black men.

But suppose you had.

And suppose people like Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Community Activist Victoria Peterson, Professors Houston Baker, William Chafe, Karla Holloway, Irving Joyner and Tim Tyson. Mayor Bill Bell, Journalist Cash Michaels and NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber reacted to what you did.

Imagine they issued a statement denouncing the N&O for doing something which “reeked of racism every bit as ugly and dangerous as the racism often found in Southern newspapers in the last century.”

What would you have said in response?

What if those people – all of whom often proclaimed their commitment to civil rights – demanded the N&O apologize to the players, their families and the community and fire the people responsible for publishing the racist “Vigilante” poster?

What would you have told your fellow N&O editors they should do?

Who were the N&O journalists who decided to publish the “Vigilante” poster? Do any of them still work for the paper? If any do, what does that tell the community about the N&O?

I know what my answer is but I’d like to hear yours first.

Editor Williams, I hope you don’t have any problem agreeing with this: At the N&O, race still matters.

I also hope you agree with this: Whites have been too passive in accepting “back of the bus” treatment from the N&O. We should demand the N&O once-and-for-all stop playing one race against another and treat people of all races fairly.

Thank you for your attention to my comment. I look forward to your response.


John in Carolina


A veteran MSM news editor like yourself, Melanie, knows I’ve asked Williams very important questions which are on the minds of many N&O readers.

For more than 18 months, readers have been asking when did the N&O learn of the extraordinary cooperation the players provided police; why was there no mention of the players’ cooperation in your March 25 story; and when and in what detail did the N&O finally report the players’ cooperation?

More recently, informed readers have asked why the N&O withheld for thirteen months critically important news exculpatory for the indicted players? I'm talking about what Crystal Mangum told you on March 24, 2006: that Kim Roberts had also been raped at the party but hadn't reported it for fear of losing her job.

Whose interests were served by the withholding of that news?

And then there are all the questions growing out of Ruth Sheehan’s admission that Nifong served as an anonymous source for her March 27 column, “Teams Silence Is Sickening.”

I hope you and the other editors will accept my suggestion and start answering questions. Even Public Editor Ted Vaden thinks you ought to answer them.

I look forward to an honest and substantive response instead of either the usual name-calling or silence.

Thank you for your attention to this comment.


John in Carolina

PS – Did Joe Neff ever retract the false statements he made May 22, 2007 at the National Press Club?


Anonymous said...

Hey John, I can see why the N&O are really beginning to dislike you. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Let's hope that at some point the N&O actually answers your questions instead of simply responding to them.

Anonymous said...

Gooly, JinC, you must dislike MS to make her so tired - think of all the long words she'll have to sound out!

Responsibility, Justice, Equality - all hard hard words.


Jim in San Diego said...

In PC World, such questions are never asked. Thank you for getting them on the record.

Also in PC World, such questions are never answered. These will not be, either.

Anonymous said...

Thia post should be linked to from the Liestoppers site.

Joan Foster said...

I'll suggest just that to the Moderators. John, outstanding, absolutely OUTSTANDING post!

Anonymous said...


still waiting for the N&O answers

Anonymous said...

Johnny: I LOVE it! You NEVER give up. Melanie, editor Williams and the rest at the N & O were counting on America's typical short memory and the passage of time to render all of their egregious behavior forgotten. You have not allowed this. Your posts are just getting better and better. I can think of no one who could pick up the mantle more effectively in KC's absence. Incidently, your Churchill posts are very entertaining and enlightening. What a leader.