I've just sent the following email to the N&O's public editor, Ted Vaden;
In your most recent column you said:
"small errors can have larger consequences. Not to mention misinforming or confusing the public. And -- drip, drip, drip -- eroding the newspaper's credibility with readers over time."Small errors don't do much harm to the N&O's credibility. The public understands we all make errors.
I don't think even large errors, if fully acknowledged, explained and corrected, would do much harm to the credibility the N&O currently has.
What's really hurting the N&O's credibility, in my opinion, is its failure to acknowledge, explain and correct its large errors.
Because of the Internet and blogs, more and more readers are becoming aware of the N&O's failure to admit and correct large errors. Their awareness translates into reduced credibility for the N&O.
I hope you agree.
In any case, I want to ask you about a claim by Ruth Sheehen which, so far as I know, the N&O has never disputed.
Sheehen says Mike Nifong was the anonymous source for her May 27, 2006 "Team's Silence Is Sickening" column.
You very likely know what I'm talking about but in case you don't, and for the benefit of JinC readers, I'm providing the following information and asking you to respond on behalf of the N&O:
Author Don Yaeger (with Mike Pressler) in the book 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.A little further on Yaeger writes:
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 Yaeger) (pg. 154)
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)Yaeger 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.”
In the N&O's recent report of Yaeger’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 Yaeger'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.
Ted, there are at least three reasons why I have no doubt Yaeger quoted Sheehan accurately:
1) - Yaeger, a veteran reporter, must certainly have taped what Sheehan said, retained those tapes and been very careful to quote accurately from them;
2) - It’s now common practice for publishing houses to require that interviews of the sensitivity the one(s) Yaeger conducted with Sheehan are taped so it/they can be reviewed by the publishers’ attorneys for liability issues.
I believe Yaeger and Simon & Schuster would’ve been very careful to quote Sheehan accurately in any case; but they were no doubt particularly careful because, at the time the book was being prepared, Nifong was the subject of State Bar ethics charges, three lacrosse players were still under indictment, and Pressler’s suit against Duke was active.
3) - Sheehan has not disputed anything Yaeger attributes to her nor has the N&O so far as I know.
I think it would be in the best interests of the N&O and its readers for you to explain in your column Nifong's role as an anonymous N&O source in Spring 2006.
I look forward to your response which I'll post in full at my blog.
John in Carolina