Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Raleigh N&O’s “early coverage” myth

I want to respond here to parts of two comments on the thread of NY Times did not "lead" on the Duke lacrosse case.

Commenters are in italics; I’m in plain.

The role of the News & Observer in setting the table for Nifong's criminal frame of the lacrosse players has long been underplayed.


It’s also never been satisfactorily explained or fully examined.

The N&O itself fobs readers off with the “at first the players, their families and attorneys didn’t talk to us but once they did our coverage was just fine” myth. Sometimes the N&O adds: “And we were under deadline, too.”

You’ll find an example of the N&O’s myth-telling in the August/September 2007 edition of American Journalism Review. From "Justice Delayed," AJR’s assessment of media coverage of the case:

…[Melanie Sill, the N&O’s executive editor for news at the time the story broke and for more than a year and a half thereafter] cites challenges regarding initially taciturn players and their representatives. "The first three or four days of coverage that was a real hole in the reporting," she says. "In hindsight, we should have been much more emphatic much higher in the stories that we didn't have that other side."…
How can anyone blame the “taciturn players and their representatives” (read parents - - JinC) for the N&O’s decision to tell readers on March 25, 2006 the “scared” “young mother” was new to dancing?

The N&O knew who she was and that it had reported in June 2002 concerning her theft of the car of a man she lapped danced for at a “gentlemen’s club.”

The N&O withheld from its March 25 story the critically important news that the accuser, Crystal Mangum said the second dancer had also been assaulted at the March 13/14 party, but hadn’t reported it for fear of losing her job. Also, that the second dancer would do “anything for money.”

How can the N&O blame the players and their parents for that decision?

And how can the N&O blame them for its decision to withhold that information for 13 months; and only publish it the day following the NC attorney general’s declaration the three players whose indictments and ordeal the N&O had reported in great detail were innocent?

Just early coverage problems?

[The N&O’s] behavior early on cannot be swept under the rug.

I’m confident that during the discovery portion of the civil rights violations suits filed by the players and family members, we’ll learn a great deal about the N&O’s “behavior early on,” as well as it’s subsequent behavior such as I cited above.

When Mike Nifong is deposed, attorneys for the plaintiffs will surely ask him whether, as Ruth Sheehan claims, he was in contact with the N&O by at least March 26 and served as the anonymous source for her March 27 “Team’s silence is sickening” column.

The attorneys will press on that point because it can be an important part of demonstrating how the “Duke rape scandal” framing was presented to the public before Nifong ever spoke publicly.

If you believe AG Roy Cooper's finding that there never was any credible evidence of crimes, how did the N&O manage to publish between Mar. 24 and 27 the same elaborate false crime story Nifong began peddling on Mar. 27?

Coincidence or cooperation?

How did it happen that everyone at the N&O working on the story “forgot” to report on March 25 and for days thereafter the news the N&O had of the captains’ extraordinary cooperation with police?

And wasn’t it “lucky” for Nifong and everyone else involved in trashing the lacrosse team and attempting to frame three of its members that the N&O instead promulgated the “wall of solidarity” lie?

Without that lie, how could Sheehan have written her “Team’s silence is sickening” column?

Without that lie and Sheehan’s column, fair-minded people would’ve asked why Nifong was saying the players weren’t cooperating; and what were those Wanted and Vigilante posters all about?

Here are two important questions I hope Nifong's asked: “When did you first learn Crystal Mangum had said to an N&O reporter that the second dancer, Kim Roberts, had also been sexually assaulted at the party but hadn’t reported it for fear of losing her job? And what did you do when you learned it?”

Nifong could have heard it from the N&O back in March 2006, couldn't he?

[Duke Professor] Timothy Tyson must also be held accountable as he goes about in the next year promoting a film that is based largely on exaggerations.

An organized effort is necessary to let everyone know who this man really is.

I hope there is such an effort.

Tsyon’s conduct during Spring 2006 (spreading the lie about the players not cooperating with police and deliberately inflaming racial tensions) was every bit as reprehensible as the worst members of Duke faculty’s Group of 88.

Tyson’s recent charge, published on an N&O blog, that prosecutors in the Hart case went to trial knowing they had no evidence is prima facie false. That’s been called to his attention at the N&O blog, at Durham-in-Wonderland and here. He’s done nothing to correct the record.


Anonymous said...

Terrific analysis by J in C. Someone needs to do a book on the press role in this legendary criminal frame of the innocent lacrosse players. And someone needs to pay.

Anonymous said...


Great post!

Anonymous said...

I read KC's book but I never learned why the N&O hid that information for 13 months.

Why was that?

Anonymous said...


The N&O must hate you.

But keep it up.

We want the truth.

Duke Mom

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a little surprising that no attorney has stepped forward to challenge the Raleigh newspaper's pivotal role in the frame?

Anonymous said...

I agree there are more books that could be written about this sordid affair.... John????

Anonymous said...

Let's face it - the N&O felt that they had a story that would up its readership - poor, black, mother and a student who is "forced" to make ends meet to further her education by exotic dancing is "raped" by privileged white, northern, Duke student athletes. They could not let anything (like the truth) get in the way of the narrative that they were spinning. To do so would call into question every element of the story which in turn would cause problems for the paper. Therefore to make sure that the storyline stayed true, it was necessary to make use of any and all (and only those) sources which would contribute to the narrative. So, information that Crystal Mangum had a police record must be suppressed. Alibis for the lacrosse players can't be looked at. Co-operation of the players with the police questions the narrative so they have to be portrayed as being uncooperative - as having something to hide.
I have to say that until reading J in C's analysis, I hadn't really considered in full the complicity of the newspapers in the hoax. I do think, if discovery goes forward, that there will be an unveiling to what extent the prosecutor's office and the police department used the media to further their own ends - which in turn led Duke (though I don't think by any means that Duke is blameless) into the positions that it took vis-a-vis the players, the coach, and the lax season. It is a sordid story which should be studied by journalism students as well.