Monday, December 31, 2007

N&O Series Notes (Post 1)

Readers Note: As I've told you, I'm planning a series of posts to start in mid-January that will take a fresh look at the Raleigh News & Observer's Duke Hoax coverage.

As part of researching for the series I'm reviewing posts. I came across the following one this morning. I plan to reference it in the series because it helps expose the "N&O got better after a few days and then provided outstanding ocverage" myth.

I thought you might be interested to read it now for that reason andbecause it has a certain timeliness regarding Duke and suits.

The post was published June 20, 2007, two months after NC Attorney General Roy Cooper had declared the players "innocent."

It was titled: INNOCENT: The N&O's "Duke deal" story. The offer I made at the end of the post to lead reporter Anne Blythe to publish a response was never acknowledged.

John
_________________________________________

On the front-page of today’s Raleigh News & Observer we see the headlines:

Duke deal shields faculty
Some spoke out after rape claims
Under reporters Anne Blythe and Eric Ferreri bylines with reporters Benjamin Niolet and Joseph Neff listed as contributors, the story begins:
Duke University's settlement with exonerated lacrosse players gives legal protection to faculty members, some of whom have been under siege for speaking out in the wake of the gang-rape allegations.

Neither side would disclose the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, but Duke's faculty chairman, Paul Haagen, informed professors that one provision is that all faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case.

That news sparked another round of vitriolic messages from e-mailers and bloggers still exercised over a student newspaper ad signed in the spring of 2006 by 88 Duke professors, who decried a campus culture of racism and sexism.

As Duke shut the door on lawsuits by the players in the lacrosse case, the Durham County sheriff on Tuesday slammed shut District Attorney Mike Nifong's access to the courthouse where he has worked 29 years. Orlando Hudson, the county's chief resident Superior Court judge, entered an order suspending Nifong with pay.
The N&O story is really two stories lumped together: the Duke settlement and matters related to it, and Nifong’s immediate legal and related difficulties.

I’m going to ignore the portions of the story dealing with Nifong and focus only on the N&O’s reporting of the “Duke deal” which reeks of a pro-Group of 88 bias and is, I believe, sloppy with at least one very important fact.

The N&O’s pro Group of 88 bias is obvious in the headlines:
Duke deal shields faculty
Some spoke out after rape claims
But Duke isn’t paying out money to exempt Professors Steve Baldwin, James Coleman and Michael Gustafson and Coaches Kerstin Kimel and Mike Krzyzewski for “speak[ing] out after rape claims.”

Duke’s paying out for statements and actions by certain faculty, including some Group of 88 members, which many legal theorists believe were potentially libelous.

There’s no problem with Duke faculty speaking out about "rape claims." We all know that.

But you can’t libel people, even if they are white male Duke students.

A less biased and more accurate headline would have been:
Duke settlement protects faculty from liability claims
Now let’s look at this paragraph:
That news sparked another round of vitriolic messages from e-mailers and bloggers still exercised over a student newspaper ad signed in the spring of 2006 by 88 Duke professors, who decried a campus culture of racism and sexism
Here we go again, folks.

The messages are “vitriolic?” Blythe, Ferreri, Niolet and Neff don’t say how they determined that. They don’t even say whether they read any or all of the massages.

Mightn’t some of the messages have been informed, fair-minded and properly critical?

And who are these latest e-mailers? Are they anything like the overwhelmingly civil, informed and caring e-mailers (a few haters and trolls mixed in) I’ve been hearing from the last fifteen months?

Does the N&O know whether these latest "e-mailers and bloggers" are the kind of people who were and remain concerned by statements and actions of certain faculty?

Does the N&O know whether the people writing "vitriolic" message are concerned by the same or similar statements and actions I'll bet the University Counsel and Trustees had in mind when they agreed to what was almost certainly a very hefty financial settlement?

Following the subhead - Duke's reasoning - the story continues:
Duke, too, is struggling to restore its image, and that, legal experts say, is one reason the university would settle such a case.
Another reason was to avoid the potential liability that Haagen assures his faculty colleagues they no longer bear.

The N&O, with four reporters working the story, failed to provide readers with even one example of a statement or action by a Duke faculty member that Haagen, a law professor, could tell readers Duke had in mind when it paid out to spare certain faculty from libel suits and itself from the odium of employing such faculty.

And if Haagen had been reluctant to cite examples, it wouldn’t have been hard for one of the four reporters to locate attorneys who have followed the case, and could have cited statements and actions by certain faculty that were potentially libelous.

But that’s not the kind of reporting you’d expect in a strongly pro Group of 88 story, is it?

There are other examples of bias further along in the story, but I’ve made my point.

Now let’s look at the reporters’ sloppy treatment of at least one very important fact.

To do that let’s look again at the story’s first two paragraphs:
Duke University's settlement with exonerated lacrosse players gives legal protection to faculty members, some of whom have been under siege for speaking out in the wake of the gang-rape allegations.

Neither side would disclose the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, but Duke's faculty chairman, Paul Haagen, informed professors that one provision is that all faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case.
The agreement announced Monday, we’ve previously been told, involved the three members of the Duke lacrosse team who were indicted as part of an attempted frame-up and their families.

There has been no report that Monday’s agreement also involved any of the other forty-four team members or their families.

If they were not involved in Monday’s settlement, what’s to stop one, some or all of the forty-four from bringing a libel action against one or some Duke faculty, and possibly Duke?

If the forty-four were somehow included in Monday’s settlement, the story doesn’t report that.

If the other team members were not involved in Monday’s settlement, than what the N&O should have reported is that faculty members have been released from liability related to the lacrosse case by David Evans, Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and their families, but not by the other forty-four members of the team or their families.

I’ll send lead reporter Anne Blythe a link to this post and request she at least clarify the matter of just who released Duke faculty from liability.

I'll offer to post her response in full.

Here's another link to the N&O story.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

John-
thanks for your post. Just a point of clarification - I believe the article was from 2007 not 2006.

JWM said...

Dear Anon @ 1:55 AM,

You're right.

The error is corrected now thanks to you.

I always appreciate "editors," especially those willing to work on holidays.

I hope 2008 is wonderful for you.

Best,

John

Anonymous said...

"As Duke shut the door on lawsuits by the players...." was simply MoveOn.Duke thinking. As with all the guilty parties, the N&O would like to put their wrongdoing behind them. As you predicted and the new suits show, they are as wrong as ever.

RedMountain said...

John,
I also look forward to your N&O series, you have been a consistant critic and much of that is well deserved, in my opinion.

Still, I think the most damaging article in this case (in the long term) was the Rolling Stone article of 1 June 2006 (Sex and Scandal at Duke). When I speak of damage here I am referring both to the reputaion of the Lacrosse team as well as the reputation of Duke as an institution of education and learning. As far as the actual case against the accused, most now know the problems with the local media coverage, and the rush to judgement as well as the factual mistakes, errors, and telling omissions that were favorable to the prosecution. The reasons and motivations for doing so are the things I would hope you are going to attempt to explain in your upcoming series.

Other than one extremely long comment from a Duke student on the Rolling Stone blog that I am now unable to link to, I don't remember many that attempted to refute that article with well reasoned counter arguments. As a result I believe the reputation Duke has suffered on a national basis has not been repaired.

Anonymous said...

Redmountain:

"As a result I believe the reputation Duke has suffered on a national basis has not been repaired."

I believe you fit John's description of a troll.

Good bye.

Ken
Dallas

RedMountain said...

Ken,
I have been called worse by better. And if giving my honest opinion is being a troll, so be it. I appreciate having the opportunity to give my perspective on some of the issues in this case from a point of view that is different than yours.

I appreciate John letting me do that but if does not want me to do so anymore, he has but to ask me and I will not post here any longer.

JWM said...

Red Mountain,

I was disappointed you didn't answer the simple questions I asked in connection with Steel's Apr. 7 statement.

Why didn't you answer them?

You’re making yourself look like a troll if you’re not in fact one.

With those questions unanswered and many other extremely important questions about Steel's actions and Duke's actions and inactions unanswered, why does Steel keep telling us: "time to move on?"

And why aren’t people like you demanding Steel and Duke hold a press conference announced many days in advance at which bloggers and reporters are free to ask questions of Steel, Brodhead, Trask, Duke’s University Counsel, Graves, Moneta, Wasiolek, and Dean, and tape their answers?

As for the effect of the Rolling Stone article in June 2006 on the lacrosse team and the University:

Many of Duke's faculty and many in MSM began sliming Duke and its students, especially those on the Men’s lacrosse team, in late March 2006.

By the time Rolling Stone published in June, its story was "old ‘sleaze bag’news."

What’s more, as you surely know, much of what the story claimed has been disputed just as have the claims of the Group of 88 and others who’ve made exaggerated and, in some cases, false claims.

Excluding certain stories that ran in Spring 2006 in the Raleigh News & Observer, the news story that had the greatest impact on both the legal case and Duke’s reputation was 60 Minutes’ Oct. '06 two-segment story.

On the Duke part of it: remember the impression Brodhead made when he talked about a confusing time when "the facts kept changing?"

Via 60 Minutes, tens of millions of people got the impression - a correct one - that Duke threw the lacrosse team under the bus.

They also learned that many faculty bought into a wildly improbable hoax and abandoned their students in the face of a prosecutor’s reckless and unsubstantiated claims reminiscent of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy at his worst.

John

RedMountain said...

John,
In my first post on that topic I did address what I took as the central question in your post (the cooperation question). As a "history buff" you know better than most it is very important to view peoples statements and actions in the context of what was known at the time. I agree with Brodhead that it was a very confusing time. In hindsight it is easy to point out that they should have realized it was a hoax and should have been more critical of Nifong and those students and faculty that did things to support the prosecution view of things.

Just as an example of this; On the same day that Steel issued his statement, you published a post in praise of NCCU's Ammons handling of the situation, yet he is being torn to shreds at Liestoppers in the last few days because of his handling of the situation at that time. Even KC's very first post on this case on the Clio blog about 10 days after this praised Brodheads early statements about the situation. As to the cooperation issue, even the day after Steel's statement you admitted in a post that many in Durham were questioning the extent of the player's cooperation.