Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A suit, two stories & a slime

This is a 1,2, 3 post.

1 – The Raleigh News & Observer’s story of the recent filing of a suit on behalf of former Duke coach Mike Pressler against the University

2 – The Durham Herald Sun’s story of the same suit filing.

3 – Some brief commentary.

1 - From the N&O under Anne Blythe’s byline:

Mike Pressler, the Duke University men's lacrosse coach fired amid the 2006 rape allegations, has filed suit against the university despite a settlement agreement reached in the spring.

In the complaint filed in Durham on Friday, Pressler alleges that Duke's chief spokesman made disparaging remarks about him to a New York newspaper after the settlement was reached, comments that violated the agreement.

Neither Pressler nor his lawyer, Jay Trehy of Raleigh, could be reached for comment Friday night.

After learning that the suit was filed, Pamela Bernard, Duke's vice president and general counsel, promised to fight the claim.

"Mr. Pressler, aided by his attorney, reached a fair and final financial agreement with Duke University in the spring of 2007," Bernard said in a statement issued late Friday. "We are disappointed that he is now trying to undo that agreement with an unfounded claim against Duke. We will address the matter through the legal process and insist on honoring our existing agreement."

The details of Duke's settlement with Pressler were not disclosed in the spring. Pressler was fired amid allegations that three members of his 2006 Duke team gang-raped an exotic dancer.

Pressler is now the head lacrosse coach at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., an NCAA Division II school.

He spent 16 seasons at Duke building a powerhouse team that won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships, earned 10 NCAA tournament berths and made an appearance in the 2005 NCAA Division I championship game.

Since losing his job, Pressler has spent much time crisscrossing the country promoting his book, "It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered."

The book was Pressler's first extensive comments about a sexual assault case that crumbled.
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2 – From the H-S under Ray Gronberg’s byline:

Former Duke men's lacrosse coach Mike Pressler filed suit against the university this week, alleging that the school violated the terms of a confidential settlement arising from his forced resignation last year.

Pressler and his attorneys allege that Duke violated the agreement by allowing university spokesman John Burness to twice make comments disparaging the former coach.

One of the comments appeared in an April 9 article published in Newsday, a New York newspaper. It quoted Burness as saying that coaches are responsible for the behavior of their teams and that the difference between Pressler and his successor, current lacrosse coach John Danowski, was "night and day."

The other comment appeared in a June 7 Associated Press article and quoted Burness as saying that after the controversy sparked by what proved to be false rape allegations lodged against three team members, a coaching change was essential so the team could move forward.

Pressler's lawsuit -- filed Thursday in state Superior Court in Durham -- alleges that Duke officials have made other defamatory and disparaging comments about him since the March settlement. It asks a judge to void the deal and hold a jury trial on the former coach's wrongful-termination claim.

Duke officials say they will fight.

"Mr. Pressler, aided by his attorney, reached a fair and final financial agreement with Duke University in the spring of 2007," university General Counsel Pamela Bernard said. "We are disappointed that he is now trying to undo that agreement with an unfounded claim against Duke. We will address the matter through the legal process and insist on honoring our existing agreement."

Pressler coached Duke's men's lacrosse from 1990 until his ouster on April 5, 2006.
He lost his job after a stripper accused three of his players of raping her. The allegations were false, and state Attorney General Roy Cooper later exonerated the three players, David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

Pressler has maintained that his ouster -- officially a resignation -- was a public-relations ploy by the university.

He was forced out the same day that Durham court officials released a search warrant targeting another player, Ryan McFadyen, who after last year's ill-fated team party sent team members an e-mail saying they should hold another party, invite strippers and then kill and skin them.

Supporters of the players have said the e-mail was not a threat, but instead a joke based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel called "American Psycho" that was assigned reading in classes taken by several lacrosse players.

But school President Richard Brodhead responded by canceling the team's season, announcing Pressler's ouster and ordering an investigation of the team.

Conducted by a committee co-chaired by Duke Law School professor James Coleman, the investigation subsequently found that the lacrosse team's disciplinary record was "noticeably worse than the records of all other athletic teams" at Duke, although its transgressions were minor and usually alcohol-related.

It was clear that "responsible senior leadership on the part of team captains [was] too often missing," and that players who voiced "deep respect and admiration" for Pressler nonetheless defied him, the committee said.

But Coleman's committee also found that senior administrators in Duke's student affairs and athletic departments did little to warn the coach when players were accused of misconduct. On the few occasions they did, Pressler disciplined his charges. Sanctions often required extra running from players, but occasionally included game suspensions.

Pressler's lawsuit -- filed by Raleigh attorneys Jerome Trehy Jr., Donald Strickland and Jesse Rigsby -- said Duke officials conceded last June that they had ousted him "without cause." The two sides subsequently negotiated a confidential settlement.

News of the deal emerged in June. Burness' comments to AP staff writer Aaron Beard appeared in a story reporting it. The full quote attributed to Burness was, "Coach Pressler is an excellent coach and did a great job building the Duke men's lacrosse program. Unfortunately, last spring it was essential for the team to have a change of leadership in order to move forward."

The Newsday story was an April 9 column by sportswriter Steven Marcus. The full text is no longer available online, but excerpts indicate that Burness told Marcus, "One of the things we certainly have come to understand in this case is that the coaches in general in each of our sports are responsible for the behavior of their teams."

The excerpts also include the "night and day" comparison of Pressler and Danowski.
Pressler's lawyers couldn't be reached for comment. His lawsuit is the second in as many weeks filed in connection with the lacrosse case.

Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann on Oct. 5 filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city, police, former District Attorney Mike Nifong and two officials with a DNA lab they accuse of conspiring with Nifong to hide exculpatory evidence.

The three players have already reached a confidential settlement with Duke University.
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Commentary: At the risk of inviting a lawsuit, I’ll go ahead and say the differences between the N&O and H-S stories are “night and day.”

H-S reporter Gronberg dug and worked the story to get facts and let readers hear from both parties; Blythe took what Duke "handed" her.

Blythe was one of two N&O reporters bylined on the paper’s March 24 and 25, 2006 stories which repeatedly said the then anonymous accuser Crystal Mangum was the victim. The March 25 “anonymous interview” story was deliberately fraudulent. Among other things it promulgated the falsehood the players were refusing to cooperate with police while withholding news the N&O had that they in fact were cooperating.

And what did you think of the closing words of the Blythe/N&O story: “Pressler's first extensive comments about a sexual assault case that crumbled?”

But there never was a sexual assault case that crumbled, was there?

Allowing that Blythe has a bias against the Duke lacrosse players she did so much to publicly and falsely trash and frame, wouldn’t you think some editor at the N&O would've said to her: “Sorry, Anne, we can’t slime the players anymore. Let’s end your story with something like: ‘Pressler’s first extensive comments concerning a case in which the Attorney General declared the players innocent and the district attorney was disbarred and jailed.’”

Why didn't any of the N&O editors who worked Blythe's story do that?

The H-S's Gronberg has done a lot of very good reporting lately. I’ll be linking to some of his stories later this week.

Hat tips to Gronberg and his metro editor, Dan Way.

There’s more I could say, but you deserve a turn.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ray Gronberg has come on strong of late to restore some professionalism and credibility to the Herald-Sun. His investigative reporting is top-knotch and much appreciated.

It would be a fascinating story to understand fully the perplexing willingness of Bob Ashley and his reporters at the H-S, including particularly, John Stevenson, to turn a blind eye to Nifong's obvious prosecutorial misconduct. The Press is depended upon to hold our public officials accountable for their actions. But in the Duke case, the local media, led by the Herald-Sun, failed miserably at this function.

Fortunately, some good journalists, like Ray Gronberg, have stepped forward to address this important need.

Anonymous said...

Ray is one of the good guys.

scott said...

Neff, and only Neff, has earned the right to report on the lacrosse frame / hoax on behalf of the N & O.

I'm not discounting the error he made when he claimed that the N & O has a policy of not using anonymous sources (they clearly do; the horrific article on March 25, 2006, written by Khanna and Blythe was completely anonymous), but Neff is so much better than anyone else on the N & O staff on this story that no one else should be anywhere near the beat.

I guess Blythe and the editors on this latest story had their fingers in their ears when Cooper declared the lacrosse players innocent and that Nifong had not only insufficient evidence to bring a case, but a complete lack of evidence.

The mainstream press is so disappointing in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

The credulous Blythe is more repeater than reporter.

-TombZ

Anonymous said...

I don't think you need to be concerned about inviting a lawsuit. I don't believe you ever knowingly write anything you know is a lie. You are very precise and very careful, quick to correct even minor mistakes.

On the other hand, I believe neither the press in general nor the N & O in particular are anywhere near in the clear (off the hook, out of the woods) as far as legal actions are concerned. They have liability (which they apparently still don't understand), hopefully one day they will be held to account.

Ex-prosecutor said...

dfs

Anonymous said...

I don't think the N&O had acopy of the actual suit when Blythe wrote the story. If it had she would not have said, "Mike Pressler, the Duke University men's lacrosse coach fired amid the 2006 rape allegations, has filed suit against the university despite a settlement agreement reached in the spring."

bill anderson said...

Good job, John. It is clear to me, with the Barry Saunders column, that the N&O has reverted to its old ways again. (I guess the Biblical adage of the dog returning to its vomit really is true....)

I have sent several emails to Ted Vaden and Melanie Sill, and receive the same canned replies of "Saunders is an opinion writer, blah, blah, blah." These are evil people, pure and simple.

Last year, they were responsible for Pressler and his family having their lives threatened, yet the N&O's leadership apparently believes it has not savaged the coach enough. We cannot dialog with people who:

1. Are extremely cruel,
2. Are extremely dishonest,
3. Who don't care about right and wrong,
4. Have no conscience.

Anonymous said...

John

Today at Editor's Blog Ms Sills is taking about her Russian newspaper visitors. You might want to go there and bive them an education in real proffesionalism

Anonymous said...

John, I have to disagree somewhat with your statement that Ray Gronberg has been doing some good reporting lately. Mr. Gronberg has been doing good reporting for years, he just wasn't assigned to anything you were reading or commenting on until lately. He used to report for the Chapel Hill version of the Herald and moved "up" to Durham.

Anonymous said...

John, here is the reply I finally got from Ms. Sill on here editors blog to the question as to if Ms. Blythe or Barry Saunders had the actual suit in hand before they wrote their articles. (see editor blog)

10/18/07 at 14:45
Mike,

I have had other duties occupying my time. Here is the answer to your question.

We reported Friday night online and in Saturday's print editions that the suit had been filed. We did not have a copy in hand at that point, which is why our coverage did not go into detail on the suit's claims. We got copies on Monday; Saunders' column (published Tuesday) quotes from the lawsuit, which we also posted on our Web site.


According to your blog, Anne's article was

Published: Oct 13, 2007 12:30 AM Modified: Oct 13, 2007 05:46 AM

Seems to me see Anne's article gives the impression that she had read the suit, See this from the article:

In the complaint filed in Durham on Friday, Pressler alleges that Duke's chief spokesman made disparaging remarks about him to a New York newspaper after the settlement was reached, comments that violated the agreement.

Strange?

Anonymous said...

John here is what i wrote on Ms. Sill's blog:


10/19/07 at 11:27
Thank you for your reply Ms. Sill.

Now can you tell me the exact source of this passage from Anne's Saturday article?

"In the complaint filed in Durham on Friday, Pressler alleges that Duke's chief spokesman made disparaging remarks about him to a New York newspaper after the settlement was reached, comments that violated the agreement."

Did she get it from another paper, gossip or someone at the court house? If she got it from other news sources, say the HS, why is there not an acknowledgement to that source?

Mike

JWM said...

Dear Mike,

I've been following what you've be doing re: N&O.

You have my respect. You've made an important citizen journalist contribution.

I plan to post briefly later today on it on the main page and invite you to summerize on the thread what you were doing and how you assess outcome to date.

If you comment, I'll mention it in a main page Talking post.

Are you OK if I ID you as a JinC Regular?

I'll ID you: Mike in Houston.

Let me hear from you.

Best,

John