Friday, October 26, 2007

The Chronicle’s Burness Gush

The Chronicle has editorialized in response to the announced departure next June of John Burness, Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs and government relations. The editorial’s here.

What follows are excerpts from the editorial in italics interspersed with my comments in plain.

The Chronicle began:

Now that everything is almost said and done, John Burness will go down in the books as something like the Brett Favre of college communications. […]

The Chronicle’s wrong: Everything isn’t “almost said and done.”

There’s a great deal we need to hear from Burness regarding his role and that of others in the University’s bungled and shameful response to the Hoax.

The senior administrator's departure is without a doubt a tremendous loss to the University. Sandwiched in between back-to-back national basketball championships in '91 and '92 and the most recent lacrosse case, Burness has masterfully overseen the communications of Duke as it has risen the ranks and come to international prominence. […]

Folks, just so there’s no misunderstanding: Burness didn’t play on either the ’91 or ’92 championship teams. He’ll tell you that himself.

Burness is a very talented man who’s done some good things for Duke. I’ll be posting soon concerning a few of them with which I’ve had first-hand experience.

But The Chronicle’s gushing doesn’t obscure in thoughtful people’s minds some very important questions.

Those questions concern Burness’ actions during the attempted frame-up and his actions to date as Duke’s leadership has tried desperately to avoid disclosing and explaining just what it did and didn’t do during the time President Brodhead said “whatever they did was bad enough” and “the facts kept changing.”

Further along The Chronicle says:

Burness made his mistakes. Communication, as this board has said many times before, was often a core failure of the University during the past year. The "right" statements were made in the lacrosse case, but they were rarely made in the correct or timely way so needed. For this, Burness does indeed deserve much criticism.

What’s The Chronicle talking about when it says the “right” statements were made but “rarely …in the correct or timely way?”

The Chronicle editors know there were critically important and dangerous times when the University should have spoken out and didn’t.

There wasn’t ANY statement when the “CASTRATE” banner waved

There wasn’t ANY statement when the “Vigilante” posters circulated on campus.

There wasn’t ANY statement when Nifong and DPD told what President Brodhead and senior Duke administrators knew were lies that inflamed already hate-filled people on the faculty and in the community against the Duke students?

There wasn’t ANY statement when racists directly threatened Reade Seligmann both outside and within the Durham County Courthouse.

What share of the responsibility for those shameful silences does Burness bear?

The Chronicle should have gotten an answer to that question and others before it declared Burness “something like the Brett Favre of college communications.”

Brett Favre’s always looked out for the team and been at his best in the toughest games. That doesn’t describe Burness the last 18 months.


Anonymous said...


I gather The Chronicla feels the Burness departure is a loss for Duke.

When the inmates run the asylum, they are probably correct.


kbp said...

Thanks John

I thought, at the very minimum, that comparison to Brett Favre was comical. I've never seen Brett selectively abandon any members of his team.

Anonymous said...


Check out your friend KC Johnson.

He says the Chronicle "hit all the right notes."

KC was gushing over the Chronilce's gushing.

Do you know why he's doing that?

Or can't you say?

Great post.

Jim in San Diego said...

Mr. Burness has done something virtually no one else within the Duke faculty or administration has done. He has communicated, even with those with whom he disagreed.

He responded to communications from, among others, KC Johnson, who is in a very good position to evaluate Mr. Burness' overall performance. (KC does not "gush" about Mr. Burness, by the way).

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Mr Burness was no hero when heros were needed. Few were. However, Mr. Burness deserves credit for what he did do, because it was so unusual, and remains so unusual, at Duke.

Anonymous said...

Jim in San Diego:

"However, Mr. Burness deserves credit for what he did do"

Burness stood silent while the students went through hell. No one was looking for heroes, just someone with a minimal amount of self decency. He failed miserably.

He is an overweight mouthpiece who was too stupid to know when to stop making dispaging statements.


Anonymous said...


Sorry. Should read "disparaging"