Two years ago yesterday the Raleigh News & Observer produced a story that captured national and international attention. The story shilled the deliberately fraudulent Duke lacrosse frame-up script which two days later then Durham DA Mike Nifong used when he began speaking publicly about what was then called "the Duke lacrosse rape scandal."
The N&O’s March 25, 2006 fiction told readers a young black mother and college student had suffered a horrific ordeal, including beating and gang-rape, by three white members of the Duke lacrosse team as their hooligan, white racist teammates stood by, did nothing and subsequently stonewalled police investigators. The story’s headlines:
Dancer gives details of ordealThe N&O blared those headline across five columns on it front-page and with no “alleged” or “alleges” or quotation marks to suggest the fiction was anything other than a news report of confirmed events.
A woman hired to dance for the Duke lacrosse team describes a night of racial slurs, growing fear and, finally, sexual violence
From the moment they read it, many readers sensed the story was a fraud. They inundated the N&O with phone call, letters and comments at the N&O's Editors' Blog questioning reporters Anne Blythe’s and Samiha Khanna’s story.
The most frequently asked questions concerned what corroboration and what limits the N&O used during an interview with the accuser to whom the N&O said it had granted anonymity because of its policy of granting anonymity “to victims of sex crimes.”
N&O editors assured readers that for corroboration and to set limits on what the accuser said which it would publish, the N&O relied on the contents of the police report(s)
Here’s then N&O executive editor for news Melanie Sill commenting to readers at the Editors’ Blog on Apr. 3, 2006 [excerpt]:
We took care in editing the story not to introduce new accusations -- the basics were the same as in police reports, which had already been made public.Also on Apr. 3, 2006 this from the column of N&O public editor Ted Vaden, who the N&O describes as "the readers advocate:”
But let's talk more about the anonymous interview. [The lead editor on the March 25 story Linda Williams] said editors and the reporter discussed the fairness issue at length before interviewing the woman and publishing the story. The governing decision, she said, was to print only information from the interview that conformed with the police reports. "We limited for publication the statements from the woman that were in line with what she said in the police report," Williams said. Other information from the interview has not been published. …And here six months later is then deputy managing editor Linda Williams (since promoted to senior editor) commenting to readers at the Editors' Blog [excerpts]:
In this case, as Williams pointed out, the story used only information from the interview that corroborated the public record, so it didn't add new facts. The added matter was the emotional content -- the crying mother of two -- that gave a human dimension to the police reports. … (It's not true "the story used only information from the interview that corroborated the public record." I’ll get to that later in the post. JinC )
Our March 25 article that included an interview with the woman who accused Duke lacrosse players of rape has been the subject of questions and speculation on blog posts. […]But the assurances editors Sill, Vaden and Williams’ each repeatedly gave readers are false.
The decision made prior to the March interview to limit it to the information in the police report was the correct decision and I stand by it. Our purpose was to hear from the woman in her own words the accusation she made to the police. (sic)
We also wanted to know if she would say anything that contradict (sic) the police report. In the brief interview, she repeated the information we knew to be the gist of the police report that we had access to at that time.
The N&O published a number of critically important statements by and concerning the accuser which were never part of any police report, as editors Sill, Vaden and Williams know.
Here’s the start of the N&O’s Mar. 25 story:
The woman who says she was raped last week by three members of the Duke University lacrosse team thought she would be dancing for five men at a bachelor party, she said Friday. But when she arrived that night, she found herself surrounded by more than 40.There was and is no Durham Police report suggesting “men in the house started barking racial slurs” at the woman.
Just moments after she and another exotic dancer started to perform, she said, men in the house started barking racial slurs. The two women, both black, stopped dancing.
"We started to cry," she said. "We were so scared."[…]
Everyone other than the accuser who was in the house during the time in question, including Kim Roberts, the second dancer, insists there was no racial slurring within the house.
The N&O reported:
This was the first time she had been hired to dance provocatively for a group, she said.No police report ever made that claim. As early as the morning of March 14 when crystal Mangum first made her wildly improbable and conflicting gang-rape and robbery claims, DUPD and DPD knew she had a long history as a strip dancer at men’s clubs.
So did the N&O which as far back as June 2002 had reported on a car-jacking Mangum had committed when she stole keys from a guy at a men’s club where she was lap dancing.
For reasons its never explained, the N&O failed to report that highly pertinent news for weeks and instead reported the lie Mangum was new to strip dancing and telling trusting readers they’d gotten that information from "a police report.”
In the March 25 story the N&O also reported:
She hesitated to tell police what happened, she said Friday. She realized she had to, for her young daughter and her father.But her father never came to see her in the hospital and police reports from March 14 stated she made her first claims of rape at Durham Access before she even arrived at Duke Hospital.
"My father came to see me in the hospital," she said. "I knew if I didn't report it that he would have that hurt forever, knowing that someone hurt his baby and got away with it."
I’ve just sent the following email to Ted Vaden.
This post documents the falsity of assurances you, Melanie Sill and Linda Williams gave readers that you only published on March 25, 2006 statements of Mangum’s which were already contained in the police report(s).
The post also references the N&O’s decision to withhold for weeks the news you had from 2002 which undercut the N&O’s report that “this was the first time she’d been hired to dance provocatively for a group.”
Given what I document in the post and so much more I and others have documented that false in the March 25 story, would you be willing to do four things as the readers advocate:
1) Write a column urging the N&O to retract the story.
2) Urge the N&O publisher and senior editors to make apologies to the players, their families and the Presslers.
3) Urge executive editor for news John Drescher and senior editor Linda Williams to publish a story explaining in detail how the N&O got so much wrong in the March 25 story and what has been done to assure that such a error-filled story won’t be published again.
4) Urge the N&O to apologize to readers and other journalists who were misled.
Thank you for your attention to this request. I’ll publish your response in full at JinC.