Thursday, December 20, 2007

The N&O's Duke Hoax Role

On Apr. 11, 2007 North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared three former Duke students innocent of all charges brought against them by a Durham grand jury. He said there was never any credible evidence of their guilt.

Yet on Mar. 27, 2006 when Durham DA Mike Nifong first spoke publicly about the case, tens of millions of Americans were already convinced three white members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team had brutally beaten and gang-raped a young black mother hired to dance at a team party.

They were also convinced the rest of the team were heavy drinking, rowdy, privileged whites who’d formed a “wall of silence” and refused to cooperate with police in order to protect their gang-rapist teammates.

But with no credible evidence of any crimes, how did so many people come to believe such elaborate and vicious falsehoods?

And wasn’t it Nifong who made-up and peddled those falsehoods?

In that case, how could millions have been hoaxed before Nifong had even started speaking publicly?

To answer those questions and others related to the Hoax, we must understand the Raleigh N&O’s enormously important role in launching and sustaining what was then called “the Duke lacrosse rape scandal.”

The following excerpt is from a July 2006 JinC post:

We now know that the three Duke lacrosse captains who rented the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. voluntarily gave the police statements; submitted to “rape kit” testing; offered to take lie detector tests; and even helped police identify and locate others who were at the party.

But the Raleigh News & Observer’s Mar. 24 story reporting the lacrosse players had submitted to DNA testing - the story the N&O says “broke” the Duke lacrosse case - made no mention of the captains’ cooperation.

The N&O's Mar. 25 front-page, hugely sympathetic, anonymous “victim” interview story also said nothing about the captains’ cooperation. In fact, the N&O told readers authorities had "vowed to crack the team's wall of solidarity."

The N&O followed that with a statement that it granted anonymity to “victims of sex crimes," dispensing altogether with any qualifying “alleged," just as, in its Mar. 24 story, it said seven times the woman was "the victim" or used the possessive "the victim's," never qualifying any of the seven with “alleged.”

The N&O's Mar. 24 and 25 stories captured the nation's attention. People bought into their portrayal of the accuser as a hard working student and mother who was brutally gang-raped, beaten and strangled as she sought to earn money to support her two small children.

They also bought into the N&O’s portrayal of the Duke students as her victimizers who were even then refusing to cooperate with police.

The N&O’s reporting in those and similarly biased and inflammatory stories it published the next few days so poisoned the public’s mind that when Ruth Sheehan's Mar. 27 N&O column ("Teams' silence is sickening") appeared, it was seen by many people as a righteous expression of "community outrage," instead of what we now know it to have been: a McCarthyite screed attacking the students for doing nothing more than following the advice of their counsels.[…]
When Nifong spoke publicly on Mar. 27 he was adhering to a fraudulent “storyline” already scripted and published by the Raleigh N&O.

It was the N&O, not Nifong, which first inflamed the public with falsehoods that sustained “the Duke lacrosse rape case” for more than a year.

And contrary to the myth hyped by its apologists, the N&O did not “correct its initial mistakes within a few days.”

In many cases, the N&O compounded them to the disadvantage of the Duke lacrosse players who only wanted the public to learn the truth of what happened on the night of Mar. 13/14.

For example, the N&O withheld for weeks information it had on the accuser’s criminal background. That information directly contradicted claims the N&O reported in its Mar. 25 story. The information was exculpatory for the lacrosse players.

Much worse, the N&O withheld for thirteen months statements the accuser made to N&O reporter Samiha Khanna on Mar. 24 which were also exculpatory for the players. You can read about them here in an Apr. 12, 2007 N&O story in which the N&O, for the first time, disclosed them to readers and other news organizations.

And yes, Apr. 12, was the day after AG Cooper had declared the three young men innocent.

But the Apr. 12 story wasn’t the N&O’s “last word” on its now discredited Mar. 25, 2006 story

This past Sunday N&O executive editor for news John Drescher, referring to the Mar. 25 story, told readers:
"I wish we had held that story for a day and done more reporting on the accuser, her statement and her prior run-in with the law."
While some will react to Drescher’s concession with “tail wagging,” sensible people will ask questions:

If failure to hold "that story for a day" was the reason for the N&O’s disgraceful Mar. 25 story's errors, why weren’t they corrected within a day or two of publication?

Why are we only now getting this concession twenty-one months after the N&O published what it had to know at the time was in many respects a deliberately fraudulent story?

And what about Ruth Sheehan’s statements reported this year in the Yeager/Pressler book It’s Not About The Truth?

Sheehan now says she wrote her Mar. 27 “Team’s Silence Is Sickening” column based on information N&O staffers told her they’d gotten from Nifong.

Mike Nifong an anonymous source for Sheehan’s column?

Dreacher’s said nothing about that. Why not?

If the N&O's coverage of the case was satisfactory after a few days what are we to make of its publication on Apr. 2 of the "Vigilante" poster and on Apr. 9 the "Swagger" story and on Apr. 16 the "Mother, dancer, accuser" story?

And yes, Apr. 16, 2006 was the day before the Durham grand jury voted to indict Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

I hope you agree we need to expose the myths that have grown up around the N&O's Hoax coverage.

We need to compare what the N&O told us “back then” with what we’ve subsequently learned it knew at the time and withheld from us.

We need to take a looK at what the N&O published with bias and a play to the "race/class/gender" crowd. The N&O publication of tax value of the Seligmann's home, for instance.

I’m planning a series of posts for January and February that aims to do those things and more.

Tomorrow I want to tell you about the series.

I hope you’ll come back and read the post: A New Look At The N&O’s Hoax Coverage.


Anonymous said...


One thing that might be useful for the N&O series is a list of players and their position within the organization.


Anonymous said...


I hate to be a pest about this, but it was not a "hoax." It was a cold-blooded FRAME. WORDS HAVE MEANING! PLEASE USE THEM CORRECTLY!

Walter Abbott

Anonymous said...

Many of the earliest, most inflammatory comments, were made by Cpl. David Addison (since promoted by Durham to Sgt.).

There simply must be some way to crack Addison's "Wall of Silence" to learn who was feeding him his lines.

It had to have been either Gottlieb or Nifong. If Nifong, then Nifong's statements, through a stooge proxy, Addison, would have begun well before the Fong's first acknowledged statements on Mar. 27

Anonymous said...

The News and Disturber has always played to the lowest common denominator - sex, violence, and race. Sells papers in a shrinking industry. They lead the charge against NC State BB Coach V soon after he beat the untouchable Dean at UNC. It's the paper which intentionally prints half-truths regarding NC legislative member ethical violations. I long ago stopped my subscription and haven't missed it once. May the new year bring even fewer subscriptions!

Anonymous said...

Write on, John. The excellent D in W blog had a blind spot for the N&O role in enabling the frame. It's true that Joe Neff did some excellent reporting, an attempt to repair the awful damage done by the late March-early April 2006 coverage. Neff has received credit for his excellent work and deserves it. Others there, however, deserve no credit and lots of blame.

Anonymous said...

Just as the only hope for genuine change in Durham is the impact of the civil suits. The only hope for change at Duke is the civil suits.

The only hope the press will ever be held accountable for their mistakes/"crimes" is civil suits.