Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is the N&O public editor's job about the truth?

I’ve posted often about Raleigh News & Observer news columnist Ruth Sheehan's statements published in her column and the Yaeger (with Pressler) book, It’s Not About The Truth, explaining that she was misled by the disgraced Mike Nifong who was an anonymous source for her March 27, 2006 “Team’s silence is sickening.”

Sheehan's column savaged the Duke lacrosse players much as Nifong did when he first spoke publicly about the case after publication of Sheehan’s column.

I’ve also posted with questions about the N&O’s use of Nifong as an anonymous source for its now discredited Mar. 25, 2006 “anonymous interview” story it said was about “the victim’s” account of a night which ended in “sexual violence.”

For further information, source citations and links concerning all of the foregoing refer to this: N&O editor's response re: Nifong as anonymous source.

For more than 20 months, neither Sheehan nor any N&O editor I contacted and asked questions of concerning her claims and the paper's use of Nifong as an anonymous source responded to me until last week, at which time I received the following email from N&O public editor Ted Vaden in response to this post: What’s really hurting the Raleigh N&O :


I don't see here that Ruth said Nifong was an anonymous source for The N&O.

The paper did not quote any anonymous sources in the course of its
coverage of the lacrosse case, with the exception of the early interview with the accuser.

And, of course, she was not anonymous, but unnamed in the article.

In those early days, Nifong was anything but anonymous, which was part of his eventual downfall.

Ted V.
I've just sent Vaden the following response:

Dear Editor Vaden:

You say "Nifong was anything but anonymous."

DA Mike Nifong did not begin speaking publicly about the frame-up attempt until after the March 25 "anonymous interview/sexual violence" story and Sheehan's March 27 column were published. The N&O didn't mention Nifong in connection with the attempted frame-up until March 28.

You surely know that.

Concerning your preposterous statement the false accuser Crystal Mangum was "not anonymous, but unnamed in the article," I offer the following from your Apr. 2, 2006 column: "Searching for fairness in the Duke story"
"In my view, the interview is at odds with The N&O's own policy on anonymous sources, which discourages their use except when the information can be obtained no other way."
A little further along you said:
But let's talk more about the anonymous interview.
Further on you told readers:
The difference, though, is that The N&O did not offer to let the accused speak anonymously, as it did for the accuser.(bolds JinC's)
Concerning Nifong serving as an anonymous source for Sheehan's March 27 column, please take another look at the following which I've previously provided you. I've placed this latest submission between star lines and highlighted parts of Sheehan's statements in bold.


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 journalist(s) 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.

Sheehan’s disclosures to Yeager are, as far as I know, her most detailed public statements identifying Nifong as a source for her March 27 column.

I'm not aware of Sheehan ever before publicly disclosing Nifong spoke to journalists at the N&O by at least Sunday, March 26, and perhaps earlier. Or that journalists at the N&O used what Nifong told them to convince Sheehan to write her column viciously and falsely attacking the players. (Sheehan has since apologized for the column. - JinC).

But Sheehan's statements to Yeager are not the first time she's blamed Nifong for her May 27 column.

Last June 19 she wrote a column saying she'd been wrong to base her March 27 column on what Nifong had said.

I posted on her column the same day asking among other things how Sheehan could blame Nifong for her column when he didn’t begin speaking publicly about the case until AFTER her column had run.

I sent Sheehan an email asking that question but never heard back.


Given all of the foregoing, Editor Vaden, it's difficult to see how a reasonably responsible public editor would claim Sheehan is saying anything other than Nifong was an anonymous source for her March 27 column; or that she is saying anything other than Nifong's source information was passed to her by journalist(s) she reached by phone at the N&O.

I hope you will now give me and all other N&O readers full and frank answers to the questions I've been asking about the N&O's use of Nifong as an anonymous source in March 2006.

Isn't that the kind of service a public editor is supposed to provide readers?

If you can't provide that service, please direct me to someone at the N&O or the McClatchy Company who can?

I'll publish your response in full at my blog.

Thank you for your attention to this document.


John in Carolina


Tarheel Hawkeye said...

John: If you had Vaden under oath, there would come a "Perry Mason moment" after your very well-constructed argument and your very pointed question. Unfortunately, Vaden can--and will--lie like a Turkish carpet because he is a true believer of the Duke lacrosse myth. Like Virginia Peterson, Vaden is blinded to reality due to his irrational belief in the theory of leftist/liberal superiority. And his bosses won't throw him to the wolves, so I don't think any good will come of taking the argument up to the McKlatchy (sp?) regime.
But I commend you on your dogged pursuit of truth and justice.

Anonymous said...


It is doubtful even N&O can deny their print comments.

Sadly, N&O will stll attempt to offer that 'the facts kept changing'.

Great job, and thanks, JinC

Anonymous said...

Hello, people.

In further disrepute, the N&O will continue to deny their anonymous facts and their anonymous stories.