Readers Note: This is the second of a five-post series providing examples of the Raleigh News & Observer’s arrogance during its Duke lacrosse coverage. The examples also reveal some of the disingenuousness that was an essential and pervasive part of the N&O’s grossly biased, racially inflammatory and often false Duke Hoax reporting during Spring 2006 and thereafter.
Immediately following the Mar. 24, 2006 publication of the Raleigh News & Observer’s front-page story reporting all 46 white members of the Duke Men’s lacrosse team had been ordered to submit to police DNA testing in connection with a gang rape charge, readers began questioning the N&O.
Why had the paper seven times referred to the anonymous accuser as “the victim” or with the possessive “victim’s,” never once using a qualifier such as “alleged?”
By doing that, wasn’t the N&O framing the lacrosse players in the public’s mind as the rapist victimizers of the “the victim?”
And didn’t the N&O regularly use a qualifier such as “alleged” in cases involving adults where there was a charge of rape but it was denied and there’d been no conviction?
The N&O said it didn’t regularly use qualifiers in such cases; what it did on March 24 and for days thereafter was “common practice.”
Here, on July 24, 2006 at the Editors’ Blog, is then N&O executive editor for news Melanie Sill (the McClatchy News Co. which owns the N&O subsequently promoted Sill to the executive editorship at its flagship Sacramento Bee) telling readers that:
Using the word "victim": Readers of The N&O and most print publications, and online for that matter, know that it's common practice to describe people listed as victims in criminal reports as victims. What is unusual in this case isn't that we used that term, but that we and most other media have stopped using it. (emphasis added)I responded to Sill on the comment thread noting that her statement was false.
Here’s part of my comment which you’ll find as 7/26@10:11:
[You’re] misleading readers.Sill ignored my comment. She continued to tell readers the “common practice” falsehood.
Yes, Melanie, people shot or robbed are listed as victims because they indisputably are.
But as you know, in the case of rape, where the charge and/or actions related to it are denied, ethical news organizations seek to avoid calling the accuser a victim.
That’s because they know that doing so is unfair to the accused who, after all, is presumed innocent, or is at least so presumed by people who respect the Constitution.
What’s more, Melanie, ethical journalists know about the time when newspapers, especially in the South, would cast rape accusers as victims and the accused as their victimizers to “stir the mob” and maybe circulation, too.
Often horrific injustices were the result.
That’s why the NY Times, for example, no model of what a newspaper should be, but at least in the case of the Duke lacrosse hoax nothing like the N&O, in every one of its Duke lacrosse stories I’ve read never refers to the accuser as victim, with or without a qualifier such as “reported” or “alleged.”
But you tell trustful N&O readers: “common practice.”
Melanie, I just did a customized search of the N&O’s archives for the period Jan. 1, 2006 to Jan. 31, 2006 using only the input word “rape.”
It yielded many hits. I searched through every one of them to identify those stories that dealt with a rape accusation either in a criminal investigative phase or a judicial pre-adjudication phase.
You know what I found, don’t you, Melanie?
Not one instance in which the N&O called the accuser victim, with or without a conditional qualifier.
In your Mar. 24 story, the one in which you say the N&O “broke” the Duke lacrosse story, the N&O seven times told readers the accuser was the victim or used the possessive “victim’s” when referring to her.
Tell readers the last time the N&O did that in a case involving a rape accusation?
“Common practice?” That’s just false, Melanie.
On Mar. 25 you ran the following headlines on page one, across five columns:Dancer gives details of ordealThe N&O frequently uses quote marks around part or all of a headline to denote it’s an opinion statement, or simply that the N&O has some skepticism about what’s being said. But there are no qualifying quote marks around any of the Mar. 25 headlines.
A woman hired to dance for the Duke lacrosse team describes a night of racial slurs, growing fear and, finally, sexual violence
The headlines are definitive. They read as facts.
The N&O’s headlines contain no indication of what you knew at the time: That all the players denied the “soft spoken” young mother of two children’s accusations of gang-rape, beating and strangulation.
The N&O explained it granted the accuser anonymity. You said:It is The News & Observer's policy not to identify the victims of sex crimes.That’s clear, Melanie. No alleged.
She’s a victim of “sex crimes.” …
Beginning on Monday, March 26, 2006 I began calling and emailing the N&O’s public editor Ted Vaden about the N&O’s “victim” usage. He kept referring me back to Sill because he said it was a “news matter” and news was “her area.”
The first on the record admission I know of by anyone at the N&O that its failure to use a qualifier with “victim” was in any way wrong occurred on Oct. 20, 2006 and was reported the following day in an N&O story:
… Still, some journalists featured at a Duke Law School panel discussion acknowledged times when their publications could have done better covering the ongoing case involving an exotic dancer's allegation that three Duke lacrosse players raped her.In the first story the public would ever read about the Duke lacrosse case, the N&O deliberately framed the Duke students as Crystal Mangum’s victimizers.
Drescher said The News & Observer went back and forth between the terms "victim" and "accuser." The alleged rape has not been proven, and thus it isn't clear whether there is a victim.
"I don't think we were careful enough with that word," Drescher said. …
In the face of what it knew was its own policy and standard practice at decent newspapers, the N&O continued for seven months telling readers what it did was “common practice.”
That’s arrogant; disingenuous, too.