CORRECTION: As first published this post gave Chuck Yeager as the author of It's Not About The Truth. The author is in fact Don Yaeger. The post has now been corrected.
I thank UNC-Wilmington professor Chris Halkides who called the error to my attention and I apologize for it.
KC Johnson's made extremely important contributions to the struggle for truth and justice in the Duke lacrosse (DL) case. When the lacrosse players who’d just been declared “innocent” by NC’s attorney general on Apr. 11, 2007 singled KC out for praise, he deserved their tribute.
I owe KC my own thanks. During the first year or so of the case he helped me to understand the DL case much better than I would have without his writings and our phone talks. It’s no exaggeration to say that during that time his DL posts were not only informative, but inspirational. I urged JinC readers to visit KC's Durham-in-Wonderland (DIW) blog daily.
The outstanding work KC’s done will always be to his credit.
But it needs to also be said that KC's ignored very significant matters related to the case which by any reasonable standard he should address. What’s more, he’s written things and offered judgments that are at best highly questionable and, in some instances, absurd.
I want to give you examples of what I’m talking about. I’ve two reasons for doing so.
The first is to inform you. The second is to make clear why I read KC now with a good deal of skepticism, often discounting what he says because it’s biased or factually wrong or petty or some combination of the three.
Here are examples of what I’m talking about.
Nifong As An Anonymous N&O News Source
In Chuck Yeager’s book It’s Not About The Truth N&O news columnist Ruth Sheehan disclosed the anonymous source for her Mar. 27, 2006 “Team’s Silence Is Sickening” column accusing the lacrosse players of stonewalling police investigators was then DA Mike Nifong. [Disclosure: Sheehan subsequently apologized to the players for the column.]
I’ve posted in detail on Sheehan’s disclosure, the N&O’s silence concerning it in its review of Yeager’s book and DL case news stories, and the refusal of N&O publisher Orage Quarles to confirm or deny Nifong was an N&O anonymous source.
Quarles knows journalism ethics (such as they are) encourage and urge news organizations to reveal the names of anonymous sources they’ve relied on who’ve lied to them. Sheehan’s done that as regards her Mar. 27 column while the N&O’s ignored its ethical duty to inform its readers. (See my posts here, here and here for extensive documentation and commentary.)
To say Sheehan’s disclosure is hugely important is, if anything, an understatement.
What Sheehan’s said provides at least part of the explanation for how, with no credible evidence, the N&O could produce biased, racially inflammatory, and sometimes deliberately fraudulent coverage between Mar. 24 and Mar. 27.
Nifong & the N&O worked together.
Besides serving as a source, it's reasonable to believe, as many journalists I've talked with do, that Nifong, members of his staff and certain DPD officers "assisted" the N&O by, among other things, tipping the N&O when and where the players would show for DNA testing and helping "arrange" the interview with Mangum. That arrangement almost certainly involving an assurance to Mangum it would be what journalists call "a friendly" that would serve her goal at the time of shaking down the players for a big cash settlement.
I'm sure that during the civil suits discovery we'll learn Nifong and others aiding him were an important reason why the N&O’s Mar. 24 to 27 coverage presented in detail the same false story of a drunken party, gang-rape of a “frightened young mother,” and stonewalling by racist DL players who were covering up for three of their teammates who committed the rapes which Nifong began telling in public for the first time on the afternoon of Mar. 27.
Sheehan’s disclosure also raises questions about Nifong’s June 2007 State Bar trial testimony during which he said he only learned of the case late on the afternoon of Mar. 23 [I believe he knew about it days before.]; that he talked briefly with Durham police on Mar.24; and that he then met with DPD investigators on Mar. 27.
Nifong said nothing in his testimony about serving as an anonymous N&O source by at least Mar.26 and very possibly before.
The State Bar's attorneys quite properly didn’t ask him, Sheehan or others about it. The Bar trial’s purpose was to judge Nifong on other matters
But we can be certain of this: if, as seems likely, we get to discovery in the civil rights violations suits in which Nifong is a defendant, the plaintiffs' attorneys will want to learn all they can about Sheehan’s claim Nifong was an N&O news source before he ever started speaking publicly about the DL case on Mar. 27.
Now what about KC’s interest in what Sheehan said about Nifong?
This Q&A is part of a Dec. 2007 email in which KC responded to some of the questions I posted at JinC, including one asking why UPI said nothing about Sheehan’s revelation: :
Q: It’s Not About The Truth goes into considerable detail quoting Ruth Sheehan’s claims that Mike Nifong was the anonymous source for her notorious 3/27/06 “Team’s Silence Is Sickening” column.As you can see, KC’s answer is mostly red herrings that don’t address my question.
According to Sheehan, Nifong’s source information was passed on to her by someone(s) in the N&O’s newsroom when she phoned in on 3/26/06 with a column she’d already written for the next day on another matter.
But, according to Sheehan, the information the newsroom fed her was so strong she dropped the column she’d already written and started to work on “Team’s Silence Is Sickening.”
UPI doesn’t mention any of that. Why not?
A: UPI and It's Not About the Truth are different books with different areas of focus.
INAT is, in large part, Mike Pressler's story; Pressler and Yaeger argue that Sheehan's column played a key role in Brodhead's decision to fire Pressler. It's unsurprising, therefore, they spend a good deal of time on the piece.
Pressler's dismissal is not the central (or a central) story of UPI. It therefore is unsurprising Stuart and I spent less time on the column. We mentioned the column, and mentioned the key line and how it captured the rush-to-judgment mood--as Sheehan herself conceded when she apologized.
The only part of his answer that does - - “UPI and It's Not About the Truth are different books with different areas of focus” – - is, at best, a very weak rationalization for ignoring such an important matter.
It appears even weaker when you read his June 2007 review of INAT at DIW.
KC's review covers many matters including anecdotes from INAT that reveal Nifong’s personality – Nifong gets angry with a person who interrupts him at lunch; he refuses to shake an intern’s hand because “I don’t shake hands with interns.”
But KC tells DIW readers nothing about Sheehan’s disclosure.
Even if you agree KC and Taylor should have ignored in UPI Sheehan’s disclosure because UPI had a different focus than INAT, can you explain KC’s not mentioning it in his DIW review?
I also can’t recall KC discussing at DIW Nifong serving as an anonymous N&O source.
If he has, please provide the link(s) and I’ll update this post.
UPI claims “The N&O … distinguished itself after its lamentable first few articles in late March[.]” (p. 259, hardcover edition)
That's an absurd statement. It grossly understates what the N&O really did in March. It presents a characterization of the N&O's subsequent DL coverage which gives readers no hint of what the N&O's DL coverage was really like for weeks, and in some cases many months, after Apr. 1.
That DL coverage included some of the N&O's worst. Recall, for example, the "Swagger" (Apr.9) and "Mother, dancer, accuser" (Apr. 16) stories and the Apr. 19 story which began: "They came from a world of hushed golf greens and suburban homes with price tags that cross the million-dollar line."
On Apr. 1 the N&O published under Anne Blythe’s and Jane Stancill’s bylines a story which began:
A woman who wrote about seeing lacrosse players slamming down shots of alcohol and shouting "Duke Lacrosse" at a bar two days after they submitted DNA samples in a rape case said Friday that she is no longer welcome in the popular watering hole and has been kicked off the bar's softball team.By the time Blythe and Stancill wrote that story, days had passed since the woman first peddled it in a Chronicle op-ed in which she said it “pained” her to write the op-ed because the lacrosse players were her “best friends.”
The reaction is one more example of flaring tensions from the investigation into whether a woman was raped at a Duke University lacrosse team party. …
No one in the bar at the time of the alleged shot slammings and shouts has ever substantiated her charges and Blythe and Stancill offered no substantiation in their story.
People who were at the bar at the time in question and who have spoken publicly have said what the woman claimed was false; and that's why she was barred from the bar and thrown off the softball team.
Blythe & Stancill reported nothing from witnesses who denied what the woman said.
The two reporters & the N&O just went with a smear story they knew would add to the community’s “flaring tensions.”
The story appeared the same weekend Duke had alerted all students in an email of reports of possible violence against them, adding that Duke and Durham police were adding patrols in the campus and surrounding areas.
On Apr. 2 the N&O published Tim Tyson’s horrific screed in which he said “the spirit of the lynch mob” lived at the party. He’d said as much days before on WUNC.
Melanie Sill, the N&O’s executive editor from the time the N&O “broke” the DL story until late Oct. 2007, supervised the Q section where Tyson’s screed appeared. She knew what she would get when Tyson was invited to submit his screed.
It was also on Apr. 2 that the N&O published the anonymous VIGILANTE poster after Duke had expressed concerns that doing so would increase the danger the players were already facing.
There are many, many more N&O news reports and news columns that appeared for months after Apr. 1 that are “distinguished” primarily for their bias against the players, their inaccuracies, their withholding information the N&O had and should have revealed, and their stoking race, class and gender tensions. I’ve posted on many of them, as frequent readers here know.
KC & the N&O’s “good dancer” problem
There’s no doubt that the N&O produced some good DL reporting. Part of that had to do with some talented people at the paper, Joe Neff especially. And part of it had to do with things like revelations during public court hearings and publicly available evidence that other news organizations were reporting or researching which left the N&O with no choice but to report them as well.
But beginning on Mar. 24, 2006 and through Apr. 12, 2007, the day after the player’s were declared innocent, all N&O reporting took place within the context of what I’ve called “the good dancer” problem.
The short of "the good dancer": An older woman was bilked of a lot of her money by a younger guy who wooed her with flowers, gifts and frequent nights out dancing. She didn’t press charges because she remembered fondly all the nice things he did and his good dancing.
Like the older women, N&O readers were being conned and robbed. It the readers' case, it was being conned and robbed of some critical and overarching DL case truth even as they were given some particular stories which were credible.
It should never be forgotten that for thirteen months the N&O withheld critically important information so exculpatory for the players that it would have at least severely damaged the frame-up attempt in its first weeks; and might even have led to its early unraveling.
KC's OK with the N&O’s decision to withhold news exculpatory for the victims
Many of us are very disapproving and even angry at what the N&O did, about which some of its editors, Sill and Linda Williams especially, repeatedly lied to readers.
But KC takes what it’s fair to say is an approving view of the N&O's decision and doesn't think it involved withholding from the public news exculpatory for the those most victimized in the case.
Here, from the same email I mentioned above, is what KC said about what the N&O’s withholding the news it had which was so exculpatory for the victims:
On the question of Mangum's claim to Khanna that Roberts had been raped and the N&O's decision not to report this, I fear my [previous] answer conflated two issues, which I want to explain:Of course, had the N&O reported Mangum’s claim Roberts was raped, people would naturally have asked why there’d been no mention of that in any news report; or any DNA testing of suspects in the alleged rape of Roberts; and many more such questions.
a) Linda Williams' explanation (that the N&O didn't report the item out of concerns of libel) was absurd.
b) I don't quite agree with the claim that the N&O withheld "exculpatory news." For many months, as I noted, I thought Mangum had repeated to Khanna her assertion to Levicy that Roberts had stolen her money.
Withholding that claim would clearly have been withholding exculpatory news.
The question of reporting the claim of additional rapists, however (which apparently was not made with much strength) [How does KC know the strength with which Mangum made her claim], strikes me as a far closer call, because it would have involved raising new charges against other lacrosse players beyond what the police had done.
If I were in the N&O editors' position, in short, I believe I would have made the same choice--though not, of course, for the reasons that Williams stated.( bold added)
You have to ask yourself: doesn’t KC know that the way the N&O editors decided to publish that interview is exactly the way Nifong needed and wanted the interview to be published?
Here’s what momtothree said on this Editors' Blog thread about the N&O’s decision about which KC says he “would have made the same choice:”
By refusing to report on the huge discrepancy between the description of the crime contained in the March 16 search warrant and what the accuser presumably told them in the interview, the paper was pretending to be blind to the implications of that difference, namely that the accuser was an unreliable witness who was now telling a different story[.]I strongly agree with momtothree. She states self-evident truths.
It is simply impossible that the N&O staff did not understand the meaning and implications of this. Either [Crystal Mangum] was telling a wholly different story to the N&O than she had told to the police, or the police were not telling the truth about what her story really was.
I’m at a loss to explain how KC could agree with the N&O’s decision to withhold news so exculpatory for the players.
What about you?
As for KC’s belief the news the N&O withheld was not “exculpatory news” I offer him and you the following which combines Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “exculpatory” and “exculpate”:
“tending or serving to clear from alleged fault or guilt”There's much more I want to say but this post but is already very long and was promised to readers a few days ago.
I'll just end with these few brief items:
I wish KC hadn't made that remark about what he termed Professor Lubiano's "drinking habits." It wasn't fair to her and reflected very poorly on him.
For the same reasons I wish he hadn't ridiculed Miss California, Carrie Prejean, for doing no more than stating when asked her opinion about gay marriage which is the same as that of President Obama whom KC so admires.
I think DIW lost something important when KC barred Joan Foster, one of the people who's been most effective from the first in the fight for DL justice. All Joan did was to civilly and persausively disagree with KC over his ridicule of Prejean.
I hope KC will reconsider his decision or at least give us some explanation.
For days KC has been pounding former NTY columnist Selena Roberts. That's his right. And I hold no brief for Roberts.
Still, I was sorry to see yesterday he'd gone and dug out sale price, tax valuation and other data regarding the home she owns.
When the N&O published the tax value and other data about Reade Seligmann's parents' home, I thought it was a cheap shot, so you know what I think of what KC did.
I continue reading KC because I can still find among the dross some excellent posts a friend says are “like the old KC’s”
I thank you for reading this post.
I wish KC and all of you well.