Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why the N&O fears the 38 suit

CNN’s , WTVD’s and the Raleigh N&O’s all reported the Feb. 21 news conference announcing a suit by 38 Duke lacrosse players and some of their family members.

CNN and WTVD reported the story matter-of-factly and avoided major errors.

The N&O’s story was snarky, even ridiculing, and contained significant errors.

You can see a lot of what I'm saying in just the first three paragraphs of each news organization’s story.

Let’s look at them, after which I’ll explain why I think the N&O reported the way it did.

WTVD's story began: - - - -

More than three dozen members of the 2006 Duke University men's lacrosse team and members of their families filed suit against Duke University, its President Richard Brodhead and other officials, Duke's medical center, and the City of Durham and city officials for emotional distress and other injuries in connection with false rape charges and a corrupt police investigation against team members in 2006.

Charles J. Cooper, attorney for the players, explained the complaint during a press conference at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Thursday afternoon.

The suit, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, said University officials remained silent even though they possessed convincing evidence of the players' innocence and also "lent credibility to the rape allegations by capitulating to an angry mob's demands to condemn and punish the innocent players and their blameless coach."


CNN began - - - -

Almost 40 members of Duke University's men's 2006 lacrosse team are suing the school and the city of Durham, North Carolina, their attorney announced Thursday.

The players say they suffered emotionally and their reputations were injured during the months in which three of their teammates were falsely accused of sexual assault.

"This lawsuit is borne out of Duke and Durham's sustained wrongdoing and callous conduct against the players over many months in 2006 and 2007," attorney Chuck Cooper told reporters at a Washington news conference. ...


The N&O began - - - -

The latest Duke lacrosse suit got off to a big start Thursday with publicists, lawyers of national renown, a media blitz at the National Press Club and a lawsuit with its own Web site.

The 38 members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team who filed the suit in federal court say their reputations were damaged by their association to an escort service dancer's phony gang-rape allegations.

The players chose not to appear at the news conference, said Bob Bork Jr., the group's hired publicist, because they don't want to attract attention. ... _____________________________

In truth, folks, Bork never said anything like what the N&O attributed to him. That's documented in this post which also documents another major N&O error.

You can view and listen to what Bork actually said in this press conference video. The audio quality’s excellent; Bork’s relevant remarks occur in the tape’s first minute or two.

How could anyone not understand Bork’s very clear explanation that many of the players were at distant schools, one was training as a Ranger prior to deploying to Iraq, and all of them “understandably concerned about retribution and negative, maybe even slanderous media coverage … after what they endured for 13 months in 2006 and 2007?”

The N&O understood what Bork said.

But the N&O decided its interests were best served by snark-framing a very serious and information-laden news conference in which one of America’s most respected attorneys spoke at length about the suit and then took questions from reporters.

So the N&O framed the story for its readers, and everyone else who read it from the AP wire, as about getting “off to a big start Thursday with publicists, lawyers of national renown, a media blitz at the National Press Club and a lawsuit with its own Web site.”

When a newspaper does something like that, does it surprise you that it also “reports” the players weren’t there because they didn’t want to call attention to themselves? Makes them look ridiculous, doesn’t it?

And if you say the explanation was provided by the players “hired publicist,” that makes the players look not only ridiculous, but disingenuous.

Message to Bork: I'm sure you know the N&O distorted what you said because that helped it once again slime the players and their families.

Message to the players and their families: I’m sorry the N&O hasn’t gotten better since spring 2006.

Message to everyone else: The N&O never wanted to see the day this suit’s complaint was filed.

And it doesn’t want the suit to go forward and succeed.

So it will do whatever it can to slime the character and motives of those pressing it.

Most American news organizations have something to lose in this suit, but none more than the N&O.

Of all news organizations, the N&O was the first to promote the witch hunt. No news organization did more to enable the frame-up attempt. None is more invested in sustaining the ongoing cover-up which will shock the consciences of decent people once they understand it.

Yet with enablement from many others, the N&O has created a myth most people have bought into.

The myth has allowed the N&O to escape any meaningful consequences for actions which one journalist friend said “violated every bedrock principle of ethical journalism." But the 38 suit will expose, and possibly destroy, that myth.

The myth goes something like this:

Oh, in those first few day the N&O was a little bit off on things. That's mostly because it wasn’t getting any help from the players and their parents telling their side of the story. And it had all those deadlines.

However, after those first few days, the N&O began to produce one great story after another. Just ask Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson.

But the myth fails to explain so much.

It tells us nothing about how and when the N&O used Mike Nifong as an anonymous source.

N&O news columnist Ruth Sheehan says the N&O was using Nifong as an anonymous source on March 26 when someone(s) at the N&O talked her off the column she was planning to run the next day and convinced her to use information from Nifong she now says was false as the basis of her March 27 "Team's silence is sickening" column.

OK, but when did the N&O first begin using Nifong as an anonymous source?

Did he provide any background for the N&O's March 25 story it said was about the "victim" and her "ordeal" which ended in "sexual violence?"

After the N&O's interview with "the victim," did the N&O and Nifong or someone working for him do what so often happens between journalists and their anonymous sources: did they get into back-and-forth conversations in which things are discussed and "the facts" to be reported agreed on?

Before the N&O's March 25 story, who among the investigators believed Mangum's wild, improbable and self-contradictory stories? Could they even agree on the number of stories she'd told?

So just how were the professional MSM journalists at the N&O able to report with no suggestion of doubt that March 13/14 had been a night that ended in "sexual violence?"

How did the N&O get "an exclusive" with Mangum? Who arranged that? And under what terms?

The myth doesn't deal with any of those questions, but the 38 suit discovery will include many of them.

The myth also doesn't answer questions about why the N&O went for weeks without reporting information it knew it had from June 2002 concerning Mangum’s criminal background.

That information was material to the case and directly contradicted claims Mangum made, which the N&O had eagerly reported, while withholding the June 2002 information concerning her dancing at a strip club, car-jacking, attempting to run down a deputy sheriff, etc.

If the N&O had published that information who would have believed the N&O's March 25 framing story about "the victim" being new to "dancing" and never having danced before large groups of men?

The myth leaves out the fact the N&O withheld news, exculpatory for the players, the N&O admitted thirteen months later it learned in March 2006 during an interview with Crystal Mangum.

The N&O knows discovery and trial in this suit will bring to public attention those three Sundays in April the N&O wants the public to forget.

April 2 – Publication of the Vigilante poster photo and Duke Professor Tim Tyson’s op-ed which the N&O knew contained false statements ( BTW – Can anyone access Tyson’s op-ed in the N&O's archives? I no longer can.)

April 9 – Both The Swagger Story above-the-fold on page one and then exec editor for news Melanie Sill’s column in which she praised the N&O's Duke lacrosse coverage even as she knew of the N&O's involvement with Nifong and its decisions to suppress news of the players' cooperation with Durham Police and to instead promulgate the “wall of silence” lie.

April 16 – The “Mother, dancer, accuser” story which made sure to present Crystal Mangum in hugely sympathetic and admiring terms the day before the N&O knew Nifong would seek the first grand jury indictments.

There’s much, much more the N&O did that blows apart the “just a few days” myth.

They will be - to use Duke President Dick Brodhead's phrase from another circumstance - "brought to glaring visibility" when attorneys for the plaintiffs in the 38 suit ask Duke administrators in public and under oath why they didn’t act to expose and denounce many things the N&O was publishing which Duke administrators knew were false and/or malicious, many of which added to the physical dangers the players were already facing.

As decent people follow the 38 suit discovery and trial, they’ll ask why the N&O did many of the things it did.

The N&O knows that.

So it reported on the press conference the way it did.


DANinZA said...


I posed the question regarding the two N&O misquoted quotes from the DC News Conference directly to Anne Blythe via e-mail. She responded, as did Barbara Barnett as follows -

Ann Blythe: I have passed your concerns along to Barbara Barrett, the reporter in Washington, D.C., who spoke with Bob Bork Jr. after the news conference and got the quote that you are questioning.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
Anne Blythe

Barbara Barnett: N&O reporter Anne Blythe passed on your thoughts about our coverage of the Duke lacrosse lawsuit last week. I understand you have concerns about one of our quotes.

That information was reported by me from a private conversation between Mr. Bork and myself after the press conference. Thanks so much for your interest, and take care.

Barbara Barrett
Washington correspondent
The News & Observer
McClatchy Newspapers
Since they dispute what Mr Bork said, I forwarded both e-mail replies to him for future reference.

Anonymous said...

I suspect there is a great deal of fear among a very large number of people.

I've only been personally sued once in my lifetime but it upset me so much (in my late 40's) I went to law school.

And I hadn't actually done anything wrong. These people are guilty, they should be afraid, very afraid.