Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Who doubts Nifong was an N&O anonymous source?

Folks, I've just sent the following email to N&O public editor Ted Vaden.

Dear Ted,

On the chance my previous email my have fallen off your computer screen, I'm resending it and again request a response which I'll publish in full at my blog.

I've made multiple requests to former N&O executive editor for news Melanie Sill and current executive editor for news John Drescher asking them to confirm or deny columnist Ruth Sheehan's claim that then DA Mike Nifong served as an anonymous source for her May 27, 2006 news column attacking the Duke lacrosse players in terms similar to those Nifong himself would use later that day during his first public press interviews concerning what was then called “the Duke lacrosse rape case.”

I've also asked Sill and Drescher about any other use the N&O may have made of Nifong as an anonymous source in its news reports, news columns and editorials which presented Crystal Mangum as "the victim" and framed the Duke lacrosse players as her victimizers.

Neither Sill nor Drescher has said anything about Sheehan's claim in their print columns or at the Editors' Blog. Neither has made even a pro forma acknowledgement of my requests.

Given Sill's and Drescher's silence and Sheehan's claims documented in my previous email, it’s very reasonable to conclude the N&O worked with Nifong as an anonymous source.

But that isn't the same as the N&O providing readers with what it really owes them: a full explanation of what Nifong told the N&O and how it used that information.

As public editor, "the readers' advocate" as you say, isn’t it your responsibility to bring this most important matter to readers' attention; and to request the N&O make a full and frank disclosure if it used Nifong, or refute Sheehan's claims if it didn't.

I look forward to your response.


John in Carolina


Email sent 1/23/08 to Ted Vaden

Dear Ted:

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 Sheehan which, so far as I know, the N&O has never disputed.

Sheehan 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.

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)
A little further on Yaeger 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)
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


Anonymous said...

John you are a breath of fresh air! Ruth apologized to her credit. Now it would be a refreshing change for the N & O Editors to just come clean about using Nifong as a source, if it's true. Nifong has been disbarred & convicted of lying to the court. If he was a source it would explain many aspects of their reporting. Just the facts, that's all we want!


Ralph Phelan said...

The only way to ever find out for sure would be to compell discovery.

I'm really disappointed none of the Lacrosse players have sued the media yet.

kbp said...

Thanks John

Maybe if you cc'd it each time to other newspapers (even the HS) and numerous bloggers it would help. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...


Send a cc to the BOD. Not every director is an off-the-reservation liberal. They know the paper is foundering.

Provide some reasons for the decline.