Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The N&O, Newsweek & plagiarism

A few weeks ago I posted N&O Lashers Out at Newsweek. The Raleigh News & Observer’s managing editor, John Drescher had attacked Newsweek for claiming to be “the first major publication to pick apart [Mike Nifong’s] case.”

Drescher went on to level at Newsweek one of the most serious charges one news organization can level at another. He accused it of plagiarism.

Here are Drescher's exact words contained in his post, Newsweek Stretches On Duke Lacrosse , at the N&O's Editors' Blog:

"A more accurate description would be it was the first national publication to read The N&O’s coverage, re-write it and pass it off as original reporting."
While nasty, heated arguments are common within and between MSM news organizations, journalists rarely go public with them as Drescher and the N&O have in attacking Newsweek. And rarely with as serious a charge as plagiarism.

I commented and asked questions on the thread of Drescher post.

I’ve heard nothing from Drescher but the N&O’s executive editor for news, Melanie Sill, has responded twice on the thread: once to me and once to another reader.

Drescher's failure to respond to me and other readers and Sill's responses reveal a lot about the N&O, its journalism standards and its treatment of informed readers asking important, fact-based questions.

I hope you to do the following: Below are my comment and questions to Drescher; Sill's two responses; and some reader comments responding to Sill.

Please read them, after which I ask you two questions - one very simple and the other more complex - and invite your responses.

Now let's begin with my comment and questions:

Comment from: John in Carolina [Visitor]
09/20/07 at 15:22

Dear Editor Drescher:

Because you don't have a hyperlink option I'm including this URL which contains hyperlinks for the comment which follows.

http://johninnorthcarolina.blogspot.com/2007/09/n-lashes-out-at-newsweek.html

You say:

"Newsweek can beat its chest all it wants to and claim it 'was the first major publication to pick apart the prosecution’s case.'

A more accurate description would be it was the first national publication to read The N&O’s coverage, re-write it and pass it off as original reporting.

As I said in a JinC Sept. 2 post, Newsweeks' Thomas Shouldn't Cluck , I didn’t want to get into trying to decide which was the “first major publication to pick apart the prosecution case.”

What I know for sure is that both Newsweek and the N&O were very late in doing that.

You were both well behind journalists such as La Shawn Barber, Thomas Sowell and Stuart Taylor, and blogs and bloggers such as KC Johnson, Lead and Gold, RealClearPolitics, and The Johnsville News, to name just a few of many.

I just looked at a JinC post from April 9, 2006, which included a comment I sent executive editor for news Melanie Sill asking why four weeks after the alleged crimes on the night of March 13/14, there were no suspect descriptions beyond “white male” and why the N&O had not asked Nifong about that and whether the accuser had been able to make a positive ID of any of her alleged attackers.

But, Editor Drescher, you’re right the N&O did have many “firsts” concerning important aspects of what was then called “the Duke lacrosse rape scandal.”

In your March 24 report which “broke” the “Duke lacrosse story,” you repeatedly referred to Crystal Mangum as “the victim” and thereby cast the Duke students as her victimizers.

That’s an undisputed N&O first and most of MSM rushed along to follow your framing of the players as the victimizers.

On March 25 the N&O was the first newspaper to report Mangum was new to stripping, even though you knew from your own reporting in 2002 of crimes she’d committed that she was strip dancing at least by then. You didn’t report that or her criminal background.

You were the first major news organization to have that information and fail to report it for weeks.

On March 25 you also had the critically important news Mangum told you that the second dancer had also been raped at the party, but hadn’t reported it to police for fear of losing her job, as well as the statement she made to you that she thought the second dancer would “do anything for money.”

You failed to report that news, so extraordinarily exculpatory for the players.

And what is worse by many magnitudes of mendaciousness, you covered it up for thirteen months as you watched the players and their families endure an horrific ordeal while you sold newspapers every day of those thirteen months.

No other major publication, not even the justly reviled NY Times and Durham Herald Sun, did anything as harmful to innocent individuals and our community as the N&O’s withholding of the exculpatory information.


One more “first and only” for the N&O and then I’m done.

On April 2, 2006 the N&O published a photo of the “Vigilante” poster large enough so that anyone, including unstable and dangerous people, could enlarge it and have face photos of the 43 white Duke students pictured on it.

The N&O published the photo after Duke had expressed concerns that doing so would add to the already considerable danger the players were facing. Did Newsweek or any Noth Carolina daily do that?

I think you can credit the N&O with a "first and only" on that. Even the justly reviled NY Times and Durham Herald Sun didn't publish such a photo.

Editor Drescher, instead of getting into an ego-driven snit-fight with Newsweek, the N&O would better serve truth, the community and its own long-term interests if you do the following:

1) Publish a detailed story which holds nothing back in explaining why you withheld for 13 months the exculpatory news Mangum gave you on March 24 and what it was like for N&O staffers to watch the players indicted, threatened, and savaged by most major publications while you were sitting on news that could have changed all that.

2) Retract your March 25 story which you told readers was about an “ordeal” that ended in “sexual violence.” You and the informed public know it was based almost entirely on lies.

3) Publish on your front-page a detailed account of how the fraudulent March 25 story was created, including an explanation of why you left out of it the news you had of the players’ cooperation with police, an explanation of how you came to get the interview with Mangum, and acknowledgment of whatever involvement Nifong and others working the attempted frame-up had to do, as anonymous sources, with the story.

4) Issue a full, unconditional apology to the players, their families, Coach Mike Pressler and his family, who were the people most harmed by your story.

5) Apologize to your readers and the rest of the media whom you deliberately misled.

6) Apologize for publishing the "Vigilante" poster and assure everyone that the people responsible for publishing it no longer work for the N&O or any other McClatchy publication.

Thank you for reading this comment.

I look forward to your response which I’ll copy and post at JinC.

Sincerely,

John in Carolina
______________________________

HERE’S EDITOR SILL’S COMMENT TO ME:

Comment from: Melanie Sill [Member] • http://www.newsobserver.com
09/20/07 at 16:52

John, there will be no further N&O response to your accusations, which include greater distortions with each repetition. We have responded repeatedly; see previous posts under category of Duke lacrosse coverage to see accusations and responses.

READER PD SMART COMMENTS IN REPONSE TO SILL:

Comment from: PD Smart via Darby via JinC [Visitor]
09/20/07 at 19:46

Dear Melanie,

I am a south African who has followed the Duke Lacrosse since its inception. I have a question for you:

Why are you seemingly incapable of responding in a reasonable manner to the post above by JinC? It is a well researched, well written and asks questions most reasonable readers would like answers to.

From what I have read of your responses to others who offer a critique (all I have seen seem too well mannered and cogent to be considered a criticism),of articles written by yourself or other N&O staffers you seem only capable of responding that they "border on harassment"!

Why is this? Surely someone as well educated as yourself must be a little more articulate that that. Your readers deserve better!

PD Smart
Johannesburg
South Africa

HERE'S SILL RESPONSE TO READER SMART:

Comment from: Melanie Sill [Member] • http://www.newsobserver.com
09/20/07 at 21:58

Mr. Smart -- We have responded politely to JinC's accusations numerous times. Please refer to posts under the Duke lacrosse category. Thanks.

READER WALTER ABBOTT RESPONDED TO SILL:

Comment from: Walter Abbott [Visitor]
09/21/07 at 06:44

Melanie,

You have done no such thing.

Your "response" merely has been to say that your early reporting "could have been better" and that the reason you withheld exculpatory information from the 3/25/06 story was that "you couldn't confirm it."

For the record, the exculpatory information was that Crystal Mangum told your interviewer that Kim Roberts was also raped.

Had you put that in the story, everyone would have known from the get-go that Mangum's wild tales were flakey. She told everyone she talked to a different story.

And you knew this.

Yet because you and your newspaper chose to print lies, a lynching almost took place, three men's lives were put on hold for a year, and Durham's taxpayers are on the hook for a lot of money.

You and your newspaper have a lot to answer for. And you will, sooner or later.

Folks, at this place on the thread I posted again with what a reader will later referto as an "enumeration of facts that support arguments from JinC." But I'm skipping over it so you can read readers' comments. You can easily access my "enumeration" if you wish to read it. JinC

NOW READER Truthhurts001 COMMENTS:

Comment from: Truthurts001 [Visitor]
09/21/07 at 14:12

Melanie, your insistence that you have already responded to John's questions is akin to Bill Clinton's insistence that he "did not have sex with that woman".

It's transparently false, and it reveals an ugly cowardice to confronting the truth.

These are valid questions that deserve answers.

Character is defined NOT by the fact that one makes mistakes, but HOW one takes responsibility for those mistakes, atones for those mistakes, and readily accepts the consequences of those mistakes.

Your mantra "mistakes were made, now let's move on" is nothing short of pathetic. Your efforts to escape accountability are shameful.

The world is watching, and your character is on display for everyone to see. So far, you're failing the character test.

NOW READER JSWIFT ASKS A QUESTION:

Comment from: JSwift [Visitor]
09/22/07 at 11:11

Melanie,

I have asked this quesion before, and you have never answered it.

How did Samiha Khanna learn the identity of the accuser in the Duke case? Did she receive a tip from a source you chose not to identify? If so, why do you protect a source that fed you incorrect information?

Why does a source that provides false information deserve protection?

AND D in WASHINGTON SAYS:

Comment from: D in Washington [Visitor]
09/30/07 at 19:13

From Melanie Sills in response to JinC:

"09/20/07 at 16:52

John, there will be no further N&O response to your accusations, which include greater distortions with each repetition. We have responded repeatedly; see previous posts under category of Duke lacrosse coverage to see accusations and responses."


I see an enumeration of facts that support arguments from JinC.

The response, in contrast, does no such thing and demonstrates some degree of intellectual dishonesty that I find disingenuous.

If N&O is going to complain that attribution as an original source was not given by Newsweek, then the claims that N&O plagarized and was scooped by other sources is valid by the same argument, the definition of "major national publication" notwithstanding.

Please enumerate and explain "greater distortions with each repetition." Facts, if they exist, should support your arguments. I'm pretty sure though, the JinC is factually correct.

The N&O editorial staff continues to pat itself on the back when really the only saving grace was Neff's reporting.

*****************************************

Now the two questions for you, with the easy one first:

1) After reading this post it's not hard to see why MSM journalists are held in such low regard concerning trustworthiness, is it?

2) The more complex question is this: The N&O has decided it's future is on the Internet with more interactive journalism, including the Edirors' Blog drawing readers to N&O sites so it can generate the advertising revenue it needs to survive.

But with the N&O's executive editor for news and its managing editor reporting, commenting and treating readers as you've seen here, how did the N&O and its parent McClatchy Company ever convince themselves they have much of a future on the Internet?

What's your answer?

5 comments:

がんこもん said...

John,

Superlative reporting as usual. To the questions:
1. From your evidence, yes, it is easy to see why mainstream media is held in such low repute.
2. Since the dawn of the Media era with the twin events of Vietnam and Nixon's resignation- both driven by reporters, the media has largely been unchecked. Power does indeed corrupt, and those who hold such poweer can convince themselves that they have expertise in areas where they have none.

Remember Hitler's conviction that he was indeed the great military leader his propaganda claimed. This conviction eventually led to the Nazis losing the war. Think of people like the Hollywood limousine liberals, who don't know what it is like to have a real life. Living in fantasy, they believe that the fantasy is the reality, and that their empty-headed pronouncements on events of which they have no knowledge or expertise somehow is more valid than the statements of a trained military leader.

Journalists are amongh the least-trained of any of the professional disciplines. they have no real expertise in politics, history, military studies, international relations, economics, or any real discipline. All they have is the ability to write. Yet they consider themselves qualified to pass judgement on all manner of events. It should be no surprise, therefore, that even after this display of rudeness that the N&O should expect to succeed on the Internet amnongst bloggers of your high standard. And when they fail, they will blame it all on the vast right-wing conspiracy, not on their own lack of quality product and customer skills.

Anonymous said...

John: Brilliant! #1. It is not hard. #2. Because they are delusional, have been from the get go. Fantasy vs reality perception problems. However, by making that choice, they are actually hastening their demise. The internet is inhabited by those such as yourself, KC, Dr Anderson, LaShawn, Liestoppers, etc. Those who use their readers and lie to them will not be tolerated here. Next time you have occasion to question Ms. Sills try questions that require yes or no answers. Did you or did you not ----? Please keep up the wonderful work and best wishes.

Jack Rutner said...

John -

You posed good questions to Drescher and got bad answers from Sills. The previous two commentors are quite right in their general comments about the MSM. Moreover, their answers to your question 1 are probably right, and I would not disagree with their answers to your question 2. My take on question 2 is that N&O does not want to leave itself open to a slander suit. Hence, it can never admit an error such as the one it made, insofar as that kind of error might be interpreted as being an act of malice. Thus, the N&O will continue to refuse to admit error, even if it means stiffing some of their internet respondents when it comes to the issue of the Duke/LaCrosse case.

kaz said...

John:

The press has a major, major problem on its hands and no good way to deal with it short of buying the expertise it doesn't have. As your first commenter noted, the press has no grounding in what it reports about. It's similar to the current system where it requires an 'education' major to teach, but no real subject knowledge.

I guess the MSM's first exposure to distributed knowledge was the Dan Rather incident. The press found it was no longer a gatekeeper or a high priest. There were people out there smarter than them and those people were talking to each other and pulling in technical experts from beyond the limited sphere the press was aware of.

Going on-line with news is going to be very entertaining for some of us - those who like to see the inflated punctured, and painful for the ones getting punctured. The press will have to collectively get smarter if it's intending to stay in this neighborhood. Whether they grow the expertise as in days of old by an apprentice type system where knowledge is gained by working a particular beat, or rent it from others, they will not be in a position to say "because I said so" without having anything to back it up. Those who believe they can are going to be in for a short, bumpy, aund very unprofitable ride.

kbp said...

2) The more complex question is this: The N&O has decided it's future is on the Internet with more interactive journalism, including the Edirors' Blog drawing readers to N&O sites so it can generate the advertising revenue it needs to survive.

But with the N&O's executive editor for news and its managing editor reporting, commenting and treating readers as you've seen here, how did the N&O and its parent McClatchy Company ever convince themselves they have much of a future on the Internet?

What's your answer?


Covered well by others, so I'll keep my "answer" short.

LMAOROF !