Sunday, April 05, 2009

Apr.3, 2006: N&O Editor Lies To Online Readers

In his Apr. 2, 2006 Sunday print column, Ted Vaden, then the Raleigh News & Observer’s public editor, ventured a few tepid criticisms of the N&O’s biased, racially inflammatory and in some instances deliberately fraudulent coverage of the Duke lacrosse case which began on Mar. 24 when the N&O “broke” the story with a front page report which seven times referred to the accuser as the “victim” or with the possessive “victim's” and never once using a qualifier such as “alleged.”

The following day, Apr. 3, Melanie Sill, then N&O executive editor for news, posted at The Editors’ Blog in response to Vaden’s column and commented more generally about the N&O’s Duke lacrosse coverage.

Sill also told online readers the N&O had “a responsibility to be accurate and fair, and we take that seriously.” But Sill knew that wasn’t true as regards her paper’s Duke lacrosse coverage.

Sill’s post follows in full, after which I give some of the reasons we can be sure Sill knew she was lying the Apr. 3 Monday, the day N&O news columnist Ruth Sheehan’s demanded Duke “dump” lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, something the university did two days later.

Sill began - - -

Public editors and executive editors are bound to disagree sometimes, so you might not be surprised that I don't agree with Ted Vaden's conclusion Sunday that it was unfair for The N&O to publish a front-page interview with the woman who reported being raped at a Duke lacrosse team party.

The story was published March 25, the day after we broke the news that more than 40 lacrosse team members had reported for DNA samples in the case under investigation by Durham police and the district attorney.

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. In the interview, the woman told our reporter why she was at the party and what kind of work she did, among other details.

Reporting on any story, particularly one as inflammatory as this, has to go beyond one person's version of events. That's important when the person isn't named, as was the case here. (We generally don't identify victims of sexual assault).

We wanted to include response from the lacrosse team and others to the woman's account, but could not reach them for comment that day. Late last week, some of the team members' attorneys spoke to reporters and denied that their clients had done anything that justified criminal charges. We also put that story on the front page.

We will keep pushing to report in as much depth as possible -- and we're still working on getting the lacrosse team's version of what happened. We have a responsibility to be accurate and fair, and we take that seriously.

Related: Metro columnist Ruth Sheehan's new blog includes a comment from an unnamed person who identifies herself as the mother of one of the Duke lacrosse players.


My Comments:

Sill knew on Apr. 3 the N&O’s Mar. 24 story had repeatedly told readers the accuser was “the victim.”

Fair and accurate?

On Apr. 3 Sill knew the N&O’s Mar. 25 story contained a new, racially inflammatory accusation in the story’s second and third paragraphs.

It was the false accusers’ claim that just moments after she and the other dancer had started dancing inside the house men there began “barking racial slurs” that made the dancers so frightened they “started to cry.”

Neither Sill nor anyone else at the N&O has ever produced a police report containing that accusation.

Fair and accurate?

Sill knew the N&O’s Mar. 25 story, which the N&O assured readers was about a night that ended in “sexual violence” contained other falsehoods.

One of the most odious was the N&O’s promulgation of the “wall of solidarity” lie which morphed into the “stonewalling” lie which did so much to turn public sentiment against the lacrosse players, and thereby help enable the frame-up attempt and put the lacrosse players at great risk of physical harm from hate-filled, violence-prone individuals.

For the N&O to promulgate the "stonewalling" lie, it was necessary that it withhold from its Mar. 25 story and for weeks thereafter critically important news it had published in a brief “B” section story on Mar. 22 before the lies of Crystal Mangum and others led to the N&O’s Mar. 24 “breaking” the Duke lacrosse story.

Under the headline - Assault victim says she was robbed, too (reg. req'd) – the N&O’s Mar. 22 story began - - -

A woman who told police she was raped by as many as three men at a house party near Duke University also said she was robbed, according to a police report.

According to the report, the victim, who told police she was raped March 13 at a party at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., was also robbed of a $300 cell phone and a large amount of cash.

It is The News & Observer's policy not to identify victims of reported sex crimes.

No suspects have been named in the case, but
Sgt. Mark Gottlieb of the Durham Police Department said Tuesday that police are following several leads and that the residents of the rental house, which faces the university's East Campus, are being cooperative. (emphases added)

Folks, “lies” is not a word I use lightly. But it’s the one that most accurately describes what editor Melenie Sill was doing in her Apr. 3, 2006 post which she titled:

Our coverage was fair


Anonymous said...

It's disgusting that there have been no legal consequences for the News and Observer's inflammatory and fundamentally disingenuous March 2006 coverage. Are there any attorneys who could explain the false light tort?

Anonymous said...

Melanie Sill and Ted Vaden have "moved on" and that is what they want everyone else to do as well. For them the lacrosse case is old history - best relegated to the dustheap - a mere blip. THey want anything and everyone associated with it to disappear as well. Unfortunately for them, those who were and continue to be incensed about the injustices that occurred have not and will not go away. In fact, the noise made by those who recognized that the air in Durham was putrid has been heard (finally) by others who have been late to recognize what happened in Durham is being repeated (the Stevens case is only the latest, and most prominent) over and over again. Sill and Vaden (and the N&O staff) can keep sticking their heads in the ground, but bit by bit the soil is eroding. When the discovery motions are granted in favor of the lax players and their families, the N&O reporters and editors who tried so hard to trumpet the victimhood of Crystal Mangum and the hooliganism, racism, and guilt of the lacrosse men will be blinking the dirt from their collective eyes and will be left to try to spin their way out of the quagmire which they so willingly and complicitly created by allowing themselves to be Nifong's and the Durham police department's conduit.

Anonymous said...

Let us hope the judge allows discovery. It's difficult to have any faith in North Carolina judges. Judges enabled Nifong's travesty.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the false light tort have a longer shelf life than the libel tort?