Sunday, December 09, 2007

Questions re: Until Proven Innocent

At his Durham-in-Wonderland blog KC Johnson recently invited questions concerning Until Proven Innocent which he co-authored with Stuart Taylor.

I’ve posted on a number of UPI reviews (see here and here, for instances).

I’ve joined those reviewers in praising UPI as an important book that details a shocking attempted frame-up of three innocent young men by a DA and certain police officers who were enabled by the actions and inactions of Duke University, much of media, most importantly the Raleigh News & Observer, and “activists” and “rights” groups pursuing narrow agendas in disregard of facts and due process.

I do have questions about UPI. Many of them concern what I consider the weakest area of the book: its account of the role much of media played in helping launch the witch hunt and sustaining the attempted frame-up and the cover-up of it which continues to this day.

So I’ve left the following questions and comment at DiW.

Dear KC,

Thank you for inviting questions about UPI, a fine book I’ve recommended at JinC and given as gifts.

Raleigh N&O reporter Anne Blythe was bylined on the 3/24/06 story which “broke” the Hoax story and the 3/25/06 “anonymous” interview story.

Blythe also reported on a number of other very important Hoax stories including the now discredited one about many lax players drinking and boasting in a bar just a few days after the story broke. She;s continued to cover the Hoax up to the present.

But Blythe isn’t mentioned in UPI. Why not?

At DiW in the Sources section you say:

The discussion of the March 25 N&O story quoted Duke Law professor Paul Haagen’s recollections of his interview for that article. The book stated that Samiha Khanna interviewed Haagen, and Haagen recalled her asking leading questions; in fact, another N&O reporter interviewed Haagen, and said that she asked fair questions of Haagen, who did not subsequently complain to her. We apologize for the error.
Who was the reporter Haagen says he recalls “asking leading questions?”

Does Haagen still stand by the “helmet sports” violence quote the N&O attributed to him and with which it ended the 3/25/06 story?

The N&O knew from day one of Mangum’s history as a “dancer” and her criminal background which contradicted claims made in the 3/24/06 story. It had reported on all of that in June 2002.

Yet the first mention of any of that I can find in the N&O is a 4/14/06 story by Samiha Khanna, Joe Neff and Ben Niolet which is about another matter and buries the information about the June 2002events in a few paragraphs at the end of the story.

Those paragraphs don’t mention that Mangum stole the car from outside the club where she was lap dancing.

Do you know why that wasn’t mentioned or why the reporters never interviewed Durham County Deputy Carroll who gave chase and who Mangum attempted to run down?

Why did the N&O withhold for thirteen months the critically important exculpatory news it had on 3/24/06 when Mangum told the N&O the second dancer was also raped at the party but couldn’t report it for fear of losing her job. Also, that the second dancer would do anything for money.

Did any of the folks you worked with at the N&O on the book provide what you consider a satisfactory explanation for why the N&O withheld the exculpatory news until the day after Cooper had declared the players innocent?

When did Ben Niolet and Joe Neff first learn about the exculpatory news?

Did they ever tell you how they felt reporting on the story once they learned what the N&O was withholding?

It’s Not About The Truth goes into considerable detail quoting Ruth Sheehan’s claims that Mike Nifong was the anonymous source for her notorious 3/27/06 “Team’s Silence Is Sickening” column.

According to Sheehan, Nifong’s source information was passed on to her by someone(s) in the N&O’s newsroom when she phoned in on 3/26/06 with a column she’d already written for the next day on another matter.

But, according to Sheehan, the information the newsroom fed her was so strong she dropped the column she’d already written and started to work on “Team’s Silence Is Sickening.”

UPI doesn’t mention any of that. Why not?

Did you learn anything from the N&O reporters and editors about Nifong serving as an anonymous source for the N&O?

Were you ever able to learn who made the decision to withhold from those early stories the news the N&O had of the players cooperation with police and instead promulgate what the N&O knew was the “wall of solidarity” ( later “wall of silence”) falsehood?

There are many more questions I’m sure others and well as myself would like to ask you and Stuart.

But I’m going to end here so this doesn’t get too long.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions; and thank you again for all the outstanding work you’ve done pursuing truth and justice in the Hoax case.

Best,

John

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone with the guts to finally call KC on his Wonderland version of the Hoax.

Next time ask him which one of the N&O reporters who helped out with UPI is his favorite.

I'm guessing it's either Blythe or Neff.

Duke Mom

Mike said...

Thanks for this. In the early stages of Duke Lacrosse, the N&O was guilty of journalistic malpractice on a par with the butchery committed by the MSM in the first days of Katrina. People’s lives were threatened – and in some cases almost ruined – by the N&O’s rush to judgment and its failures to report contrary evidence.

As near as I can tell, the only N&O-er who has ever expressed even a modicum of regret is columnist Ruth Sheehan – who of course led the charge to get Coach Pressler sacked. Certainly Melanie Sill never did, and Ted Vaden never had the moxie to call her on it.

I will grant that Neff et al finally did some fair and balanced reporting – but, in my opinion, only after it became blindingly obvious that Nifong and elements of the DPD could be safely scapegoated. I even thought the N&O may have learned a valuable lesson – until the lawsuit against Durham came along and – this time led by Barry Saunders – the N&O went right back to the same race-class chestnut that got it into trouble to begin with.

Unfortunately, the new editor, John Drescher, and Sill seem to have been cut from the same mold.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad John's the only blogger who would have posted this.

Stay at it John.

We count on you for the truth.

KC Johnson said...

I tried to keep the last Q&A post to one or two questions from each people. Given my respect for JinC's work on the case, I wanted to make sure all questions were answered to the best of my ability, and so will do so here.

Q: Raleigh N&O reporter Anne Blythe was bylined on the 3/24/06 story which “broke” the Hoax story and the 3/25/06 “anonymous” interview story.

Blythe also reported on a number of other very important Hoax stories including the now discredited one about many lax players drinking and boasting in a bar just a few days after the story broke. She;s continued to cover the Hoax up to the present.

But Blythe isn’t mentioned in UPI. Why not?

A: I checked the index because I couldn't have imagined we didn't mention Blythe--and see that you're correct. That was an oversight on our part. All told, her reporting on the case was first-rate, and we should have made clear that while Neff was the key person for the N&O, Blythe (along with Niolet, Biesecker, and Ferreri) were important in the N&O's coverage.

Q: At DiW in the Sources section you say:
The discussion of the March 25 N&O story quoted Duke Law professor Paul Haagen’s recollections of his interview for that article. The book stated that Samiha Khanna interviewed Haagen, and Haagen recalled her asking leading questions; in fact, another N&O reporter interviewed Haagen, and said that she asked fair questions of Haagen, who did not subsequently complain to her. We apologize for the error.Who was the reporter Haagen says he recalls “asking leading questions?”

Does Haagen still stand by the “helmet sports” violence quote the N&O attributed to him and with which it ended the 3/25/06 story?

A: Haagen never denied that he made the quote. And the statement is, in fact, true (whether these studies involved lacrosse players, however, is very much unclear--I've read some of them, and they don't really say).

Haagen has also said that, in retrospect, there are aspects of his early dealings with the media he might have reconsidered. His overall role in the case, however, seems to me a strongly positive one--imagine if his successor, Paula McClain, had been academic council chairwoman as of March 2006. He was critical in ensuring that Jim Coleman was selected to head the lacrosse investigating committee, and his proposal for Faculty Athletic Associates was well-considered.

As I have said on several occasions, I very much regret the error in the book on this point, and allow me to repeat that apology here.

Q: The N&O knew from day one of Mangum’s history as a “dancer” and her criminal background which contradicted claims made in the 3/24/06 story. It had reported on all of that in June 2002.

Yet the first mention of any of that I can find in the N&O is a 4/14/06 story by Samiha Khanna, Joe Neff and Ben Niolet which is about another matter and buries the information about the June 2002events in a few paragraphs at the end of the story.

Those paragraphs don’t mention that Mangum stole the car from outside the club where she was lap dancing.

Do you know why that wasn’t mentioned or why the reporters never interviewed Durham County Deputy Carroll who gave chase and who Mangum attempted to run down?

A: No, I do not know why.

As I said during a presentation at the N&O in September, I considered the failure to identify Mangum's arrest record in the original article a serious mistake. I maintain that belief.

Q: Why did the N&O withhold for thirteen months the critically important exculpatory news it had on 3/24/06 when Mangum told the N&O the second dancer was also raped at the party but couldn’t report it for fear of losing her job. Also, that the second dancer would do anything for money.

A: As you know, Linda Williams has offered a claim for this (libel concerns). As you also know, I strongly criticized Williams' argument, both on the blog and in the book.

Q: Did any of the folks you worked with at the N&O on the book provide what you consider a satisfactory explanation for why the N&O withheld the exculpatory news until the day after Cooper had declared the players innocent?

A: I didn't "work with" anyone at the N&O.

As I said above, I do not think that Williams' explanation was satisfactory.

This policy didn't prevent speculation (including by me) that Mangum had really claimed to have been robbed by Roberts. In fact, her claim that Roberts also was raped was also made in her 4-6 statement. In that respect, the N&O's withheld news added comparatively little; and I am far more sympathetic to the N&O's decision than I was when I thought the claim was that Roberts had robbed Mangum, since they would have been publicizing additional false claims by Mangum against lacrosse players, rather than against Roberts.

Q: When did Ben Niolet and Joe Neff first learn about the exculpatory news?

A: Again, I'm not clear what you mean by "exculpatory news." I can't speak for Neff or Niolet. I would assume they learned about Mangum's 4-6 statement shortly after she made it, and about what she told Khanna shortly after the 3-24 interview.

Q: Did they ever tell you how they felt reporting on the story once they learned what the N&O was withholding?

A: It's my sense that both Neff and Niolet are very proud of the reporting they did on the case--as they should be. I don't think the flawed 3-24 story in any way affected how they did their jobs.

Q: It’s Not About The Truth goes into considerable detail quoting Ruth Sheehan’s claims that Mike Nifong was the anonymous source for her notorious 3/27/06 “Team’s Silence Is Sickening” column.

According to Sheehan, Nifong’s source information was passed on to her by someone(s) in the N&O’s newsroom when she phoned in on 3/26/06 with a column she’d already written for the next day on another matter.

But, according to Sheehan, the information the newsroom fed her was so strong she dropped the column she’d already written and started to work on “Team’s Silence Is Sickening.”

UPI doesn’t mention any of that. Why not?

A: UPI and It's Not About the Truth are different books with different areas of focus. INAT is, in large part, Mike Pressler's story; Pressler and Yaeger argue that Sheehan's column played a key role in Brodhead's decision to fire Pressler. It's unsurprising, therefore, they spend a good deal of time on the piece.

Pressler's dismissal is not the central (or a central) story of UPI. It therefore is unsurprising Stuart and I spent less time on the column. We mentioned the column, and mentioned the key line and how it captured the rush-to-judgment mood--as Sheehan herself conceded when she apologized.

Q: Did you learn anything from the N&O reporters and editors about Nifong serving as an anonymous source for the N&O?

A: No.

Q: Were you ever able to learn who made the decision to withhold from those early stories the news the N&O had of the players cooperation with police and instead promulgate what the N&O knew was the “wall of solidarity” ( later “wall of silence”) falsehood?

A: It was not the central (or a central) focus of the book to determine what the N&O knew and when it knew it. The questions that I asked regarding N&O matters were, therefore, confined to N&O issues that appeared in the book.

In general, of course, JinC and I agree on most aspects of the case, but disagree rather strongly on the N&O's performance. In this respect, I'll defer to Wade Smith, as quoted in a Ted Vaden column from April. I agree both with Smith's criticism of the early coverage and with his ultimate judgment:

"'I think The News & Observer has done a really terrific job in covering the lacrosse story,' said Wade Smith, attorney for former defendant Collin Finnerty. 'I think at first The News & Observer went for (the accuser's) story. But The News & Observer has done careful and very responsible reporting after the initial part of the coverage ended and The News & Observer started to see the light.' He said the ultimate outcome 'perhaps' would not have been accomplished without the reporting by The N&O and other papers."

KC Johnson said...

A couple of follow-ups to my answers, to avoid anything unclear.

On the issue of why the reporters never interviewed Durham County Deputy Carroll who gave chase and who Mangum attempted to run down, I pointed out that I didn't know why.

I can speak, however, why I, as someone who covered the case intensively, never sought to interview Carroll. I didn't see why such an interview would be relevant to the case. At the risk of carrying a feminist cliche to its logial extreme, even a woman who attempts to run down a police officer can be raped.

Whatever Carroll had to say about Mangum beyond his report would have been dubious--raising questions of why he didn't document the items in his report. And the report itself was more than sufficient, as I mentioned in a post on the question, to raise serious doubts about Mangum's credibility.

The arrest should have been mentioned in Khanna's article not because of the Carroll angle but because it proved Mangum lied to Khanna. Mangum told Khanna (between, it seems, bursts of tears) that she had just started to strip--so she could spend more time with her kids and studies(!).

The arrest report proved that Mangum had a career of at least four years as a sex worker. Just because she lied about that didn't necessarily mean that she lied about the rape, but it definitely raised serious credibility questions.

2) On the question of Mangum's claim to Khanna that Roberts had been raped and the N&O's decision not to report this, I fear my answer conflated two issues, which I want to explain:

a) Linda Williams' explanation (that the N&O didn't report the item out of concerns of libel) was absurd.

b) I don't quite agree with the claim that the N&O withheld "exculpatory news." For many months, as I noted, I thought Mangum had repeated to Khanna her assertion to Levicy that Roberts had stolen her money. Withholding that claim would clearly have been withholding exculpatory news.

The question of reporting the claim of additional rapists, however (which apparently was not made with much strength), strikes me as a far closer call, because it would have involved raising new charges against other lacrosse players beyond what the police had done. If I were in the N&O editors' position, in short, I believe I would have made the same choice--though not, of course, for the reasons that Williams stated.

I do believe all members of the media should have pursued far more aggressively than they did the question of why Nifong had chosen to ignore Mangum's unequivocal statement on 4-6 that three other lacrosse players tore Roberts away from her at the bathroom door. Nifong's decision to pick and choose what elements of Mangum's statement to believe, with no additional investigation, was clearly exculpatory news. I don't see the Mangum assertion to Khanna in the same light.

Ralph Phelan said...

I don't quite agree with the claim that the N&O withheld "exculpatory news."

To me, anything that spoke to Mangum's credibility would be "exculpatory."

If Mangum says she saw Roberts raped and Roberts says "That never happened!" that's going to increase the weight a reasonable person will give to the possibility that Mangum's story does not accurately describe actual events.

KC Johnson said...

To Ralph:

I agree with you.

In this case, however, there are two important caveats:

1) At the time the Khanna article was published, the N&O didn't know what Roberts had said--indeed, they didn't even know Roberts' identity.

2) The N&O has maintained publicly that Mangum told Khanna that she believed Roberts had been raped, not that she knew Roberts had been raped.

As I said, if I had been an editor, I would not have published that information on 3-25; I certainly never would have published it at DIW based on what was known at the time.

One last point: the "withholding" attack on the N&O distracts from the main point: this was an awful article, one that can be attacked on myriad grounds. Focusing an attack on an area where the N&O has a reasonable defense seems to me misplaced.