Monday, December 17, 2007

Nifong discovery: An N&O Worry?

At the bottom of a column mostly about mistakes other news outfits made, Raleigh News & Observer executive editor for news John Drescher said:

We felt that pressure during the Duke lacrosse case. We broke the news that 46 team members had been ordered to give DNA in a rape investigation.

The day we published that story, we had an interview -- the only one to date -- with the accuser. The next day, we published her account.

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.

Many other times, we've held back when our competitors were using anonymous sources.
Why is Drescher saying that now?

It's twenty-one months since the N&O published the story he's referring to: the Mar. 25, 2006 Samiha Khanna/Anne Blythe "anonymous interview/sexual violence" story that withheld so much news exculpatory for the players.

I can't give you a definite answer to the "why now?" question. No doubt many factors went into the N&O's decision to do some row-backing on that story. I wouldn't even be surprised to learn there was some pre-publication discussion between the N&O and its parent organization, The McClatchy Company.

I also wouldn't be surprised to learn the N&O used then Durham DA Mike Nifong as an anonymous source for the story; and that a fear that within the next year or so its use of Nifong for that story will become public knowledge was a factor influencing Drescher's row-backing.

To understand why I wouldn't be surprised Nifong was an anonymous source for the Mar. 25 Khanna/Blythe story, I ask you to first read the following excerpt from a July 29, 2007 JinC post, Nifong an N&O anonymous source (Post 1), and then read an excerpt from the amended brief filed last week in Federal Court on behalf of the three former Duke students falsely indicted by a Durham grand jury.

After those two readings I think most of you will understand why I wouldn't be surprised to learn Nifong was a source for the N&O's Khanna/Blythe Mar. 25 story.

I'll end this post with a few comments.

From Nifong an Anonymous N&O Source (Post 1):

Now there's strong evidence that one of the anonymous sources the N&O used last March to publicly frame the lacrosse players was then DA Mike Nifong.

Recall that in front-page stories on March 24, 25, 26 and in a March 27 news column by Ruth Sheehan, the N&O laid out its deliberately fictional Duke lacrosse script about a frightened young black woman brutally beaten and gang-raped by privileged white male Duke lacrosse players. Their racist teammates had formed "a wall of solidarity" to prevent police from identifying their gang-rapist buddies.

Nifong’s never mentioned in any of those stories or Sheehan’s column.

But when Nifong first began speaking publicly about the case on the afternoon of March 27, he followed exactly the fictional script the N&O had been shilling to the public and the rest of the media for four days.

Now Sheehan admits that a major portion of the N&O's fictional script was provided to N&O journalists by Mike Nifong.

In fact, Sheehan says Nifong and “people” at the N&O who were in touch with him were the actual sources for her March 27 column attacking the players and demanding the lacrosse team be "shut down" until the players cooperated with police.

Don Yeager, in his recently released It's Not About the Truth (Threshold Editions, 2007), quotes Sheehan:
"I think on Saturday [March 25] we had the interview with the alleged victim. It was on Sunday I called into the office. I already had a column in the can because I run on Mondays.

But I called in about this story and they told me that there was another story with Nifong talking about how there was this wall of silence.

That's when I decided on that Sunday to write my first column about the case. [...]

I have to write a column about what people are talking about. And everybody was talking about it. It was so outrageous, the stuff that was in the paper. Her story, Nifong's recounting of it. Oh, my God. It was just like , . , you couldn't even believe it." (ellipses in Yeager) (pg. 154)
A little further on Yeager writes:
As she wrote, Sheehan made clear that in her mind the stories bubbling up from Nifong's office and the Durham Police Department were true. She was not alone. (pg. 155)
Yeager then tells readers Sheehan added:
"Back during that period, no one was telling us that the players had been cooperative," she said in a January 2007 interview. "I know now that was not true. If I had known that then, I would have never written what I did. I would have thought what is Nifong talking about? That's not a wall of silence then. How is that a wall of silence?"(pg. 155)
The N&O’s March 25 "anonymous interview" story refers to “authorities [who’ve] vowed to crack the team's wall of solidarity.”

It then continues: "We're asking someone from the lacrosse team to step forward," Durham police Cpl. David Addison said. "We will be relentless in finding out who committed this crime."

But neither that March 25 story nor any N&O Duke lacrosse story that appeared before March 28 mentions Nifong or some variant such as “the DA’s office said” as a news source.

No one at the N&O has challenged Sheehan's account of calling the paper on Sunday, March 26, and being told by journalists there details of what Nifong was providing the N&O.

In the N&O's recent report of Yeager’s book, staff writer Jim Nesbitt didn't even mention Sheehan’s account.

I posted on Nesbitt’s story here. I raised questions about why the N&O’s story said nothing about Yeager's reporting on Sheehan’s column or any other part of the N&O’s framing of the lacrosse players last March.

I emailed Nesbitt and asked why that was the case. I offered to publish his response in full.

I received no reply to my email or to phone messages I left for Nesbitt and other N&O staffers.

End of excerpt

Now let’s look at a portion of the amended brief recently filed in Federal Court, Greensboro on behalf of the three young men fraudulently indicted as part of the frame-up attempt.

Section E - Defendants’ Extrajudicial Efforts To Manufacture Indictments of the Three Innocent DukeLacrosse Players – lists

The False and Inflammatory Public Statements by Nifong and the Durham Police

Item 147 - Examples of Nifong’s false and malicious public statements include the following:
a. On or around March 24, 2006, Nifong accused the Duke lacrosse team of obstructing justice and erecting a “wall of silence.” (pg. 37 of the brief)

End of legal brief excerpt

Just because there's strong evidence Mike Nifong was the anonymous source for Sheehan's Mar. 27 column doesn't mean he was a source for the Mar. 25 story.

But can you see why I wouldn't be surprised to learn he was?

Let's all stay tuned. There's so much we don't know yet.

There's one thing we can all be sure of though: we've been told a lot of falsehoods by the N&O, some of them outright lies.

I'd love to hear your reactions to this post.


Anonymous said...

JinC:An N&O Worry?


kbp said...

Thanks John!

Still catch as many of your posts as I can, and enjoy all of them.

You're the critic that sees all at the N&O.

Anonymous said...

This is J in C's most important post thus far, out of all the outstanding items in this terrific blog. It looks as if someone will hold the N&O accountable. If the newspaper allowed Nifong to manipulate it, wouldn't the libel attorneys have a great time?

Anonymous said...

Someone who knows how to contact the lacrosse players' attorneys should let them know to follow the John in Carolina blog. It could contain important information that would help uncover the truth in this sordid case of prosecutorial and journalistic abuse.

Anonymous said...

We know the attorneys followed DIW, Liestoppers, and JinC during the first phase of the Duke Frame-up. I can't believe the current civil action attorneys aren't doing the same. And just as the first team received priceless research data, the current team will benefit greatly from JinC's insights. I do believe the N&O is feeling the heat, John, keep it up!

Anonymous said...


I went back to read Ruth Shehan's column again.... to see if it has stood the test of time. It has.

What a journalistic embarrassment. Truly.

"I don't know what happened in that house"

followed by

"the regrettable end game when testosterone and beer are ignited by a shaking booty "

followed by

"Shut down the team"

Very logical highbrow stuff. You couldn't make this up and have anyone believe it.


Anonymous said...

John in Carolina,

Great post.

I can't understand why "Until Proven Innocent" never mentioned any of this.

Has Johnson and Taylor ever said?

Anonymous said...


Not everyone in Durham is corrupt.

With all the personnel in the police department and Duke and the local newspapers, you'd think one or two of them would be feeding information to the appropriate sources.

What do you think, John?