Monday, February 18, 2008

N&O Publisher's response to Nifong anon source questions

Many of you know I recently sent Raleigh News & Observer Publisher Orage Quarles III the following email. You'll find his response just below it as well as a few comments of mine.


Dear Mr. Quarles:

This links to a post which includes the following email:

Dear Mr. Quarles:

I’m an N&O subscriber and blog as John in Carolina.

For many months I’ve been posting concerning claims by Ruth Sheehan that then DA Mike Nifong was an anonymous source for her March 27, 2006 column “Team’s silence is sickening.” For example, in Nifong an N&O anonymous source (Post 1) 7/29/07 and Nifong an N&O anonymous source (Post 2) 8/1/08.

I’ve inquired of reporters and editors about that and other uses the N&O may have made of Nifong as an anonymous source for your Duke lacrosse coverage.No reporter or editor would speak about the matter until recently when, in response to the email in this post - What's really hurting the N&O , Ted Vaden he sent me the email you’ll find in this post: N&O editor's response re: Nifong an anonymous source.

You'll see Vaden’s email avoided my questions and contains statements which are prima facie false.

On Feb. 6 I sent Vaden another email and a link to this post: Is the N&O public editor's job about the truth?

I once again laid out all the material relating to the N&O’s use of Nifong as an anonymous source and asked again the questions I’ve been asking for many months.I ended my email, which I also posted for JinC readers, with this:

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.

Sincerely,John in Carolina
I’ve not heard anything back from Vaden.

I ask that you review the documentation and questions in my post and then direct me to the person at the N&O or in the McClatchy Company who can provide full and frank answers to what Ruth Sheehan has said and the questions I’ve asked.

I’m sorry to impose on you, but I’ve tried every other way to get responses from the N&O which should have been given to readers long ago.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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


John in Carolina


Mr. Quarles has responded as follows:
Dear John in Carolina.

We do not provide anonymous source information.


Orage Quarles III

Folks, that's an interesting answer from a publisher who's been given documentation and citations of extensive statements one of his news columnists made to a book author who put the columnist's statements in quotation marks; the statements having to do with other N&O staffer(s) passing to Sheehan information from Nifong which Sheehan says convinced her to cancel the column she'd already prepared and instead write a column based on Nifong's source material but maintaining his anonymity.

It's also interesting that Quarles said nothing about document copies and citations I provided him which reveal the N&O's public editor made statements to a reader and blogger which are prima facie false.

I plan to respond to Quarles in a day or so.

You thoughts are welcome.


JSwift said...

I understand the normal practice by journalists not to identify anonymous sources or to provide any information about them. Anonymous sources can be critical for many stories, and some sources may not be willing to provide information if they believe that their anonymity may be compromised. In many cases, there is a public purpose for respecting the anonymity of these sources.

On the other hand, one may question why a source who knowingly provides false information deserves this protection. Why should sources who lie to news organizations be encouraged? What public purpose is satisfied by protecting a source who lies and provides false information?

In this case, Nifong (and any other sources) knowingly provided false information to the N&O. In short, the source(s) used the N&O to perpetuate a fraud and incite the community. At best, the N&O was made to look ridiculous.

Why does the N&O protect these sources? Is the N&O hiding its own culpability? Were the errors in the early coverage the result of something other than Khanna's overeagerness and incompetence?

Anonymous said...

Count your blessings, John. At least he didn't use the old spymaster retort, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

Sarcasm off.

Walter Abbott

Anonymous said...

Thanks John

The perception of blame is still shouldered by the unknown source.


locomotive breath said...


Isn't this the same N&O that claims to not use anonymous sources?

Anonymous said...

He could have answered all the other questions. What a freekin wuss.

Don't you hate holier than thou journalists?

LieStoppers said...

John, you continue to do excellent work pressing for accountability.

While I greatly respect Mr. Neff's work, the poor reporting by the NewsObserver's staff along with the Durham Herald-Sun at the start of the Hoax/Frame was partly responsible for the travesty of justice by Nifong and the Durham PD. The Fourth Estate was granted great freedom by our founders, but that freedom demands responsibility. The details of how these two newspapers got it so wrong need to be revealed. If they were fed false data by anyone in the DA’s office or the PD they need to come forward. Not only is it relevant to understanding this story it might be evidence of criminal wrong-doing by government officials.


Anonymous said...

As I said in another thread, don't expect those arrogant ba$tards to respond honestly. Calling them on their arrogance may give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, but they aren't the least bit interested in honest dialog. Works the same way in congress; "bipartisanship" is a myth generated by Left/Liberals to ensnare gullible fools like John McCain.

drew said...

John, you’ve seen my posts in your comments threads, as well as others’. I usually chose not to comment due to a lack of time to think out my writing, or a subject that is doesn’t sufficiently annoy or otherwise engage my “muse”. I don’t know how you (and others)do this on a regular basis - my own rather short comments take what seems to be too long to compose and review. My hat is off to you and your blogging colleagues.

On the matter of the N&O responses to your queries, I am struck by two different issues:

• “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” – I’ve made reference to this in other posts, but again we have an organization that seems to think that they can make a “problem” go away by BS-ing their way past those who would ask questions. Mr. Quarles clearly doesn’t understand that his response will merely create additional questions and embarrassment. Perhaps as a(n) (old) member of the “Old Media”, he should find out what happens in the “New Media” before he tries to blow you off. Now, they’re just asking for trouble….

• I’m not a lawyer (thankfully), but a question comes to mind – does the Freedom of the Press (and the N&O’s ability to “shield” its sources) guaranteed by the Constitution extend all the way to false statements made in the press? Perhaps the N&O could find themselves on the wrong end of a subpoena requiring them to identify the source of what were obviously incorrect statements made to the reporter and committed to print in the paper. They’ll probably take the NYTimes’ strategy (as in the Valerie Plame case) and back-up their reporter right up until the reporter goes to jail, and then find they were hoodwinked. Fighting for “rights” that were squandered is an expensive proposition, made only worse when you feel you have to throw your reporter under the bus later.

Maybe you should give Mr. Quarles one more opportunity to ‘fess up, then you can let him have it with both (rhetorical) barrels. Maybe he’ll figure it out in the meantime, but, probably not.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Quarles' response is revealing and points to the importance of contacting McClatchy board members.
The N&O's early "reporting" gave the Nifong lacrosse frame its early impetus.