Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sheehan's opportunity

A year ago today Raleigh News & Observer news columnist Ruth Sheehan wrote a column (“Team’s Silence is Sickening”) attacking 46 Duke students for doing nothing more than following the advice of their parents and attorneys. Even worse, Sheehan told N&O readers the players were guilty of terrible crimes. Her column began:

Members of the Duke men's lacrosse team: You know.

We know you know. …

And one of you needs to come forward and tell the police.

Do not be afraid of retribution on the team. Do not be persuaded that somehow this "happened" to one or more "good guys."…
Later that same day, DA Mike Nifong spoke publicly about the case for the first time. He attacked the students in terms very similar to Sheehan. Like Sheehan, Nifong assured the public the players were guilty of concealing a crime and its criminals.

Many people initially bought into what Sheehan and Nifong were saying. But soon the case started falling apart. By June sensible people recognized the truth of what Duke Law professor James Coleman said in a letter to the N&O:
According to the police account of the identification, however, the police officer who presided over the proceedings told the alleged victim at the outset that he wanted her to look at people the police had reason to believe attended the party. […]

This strongly suggests that the purpose of the identification process was to give the alleged victim an opportunity to pick three members of the lacrosse team who could be charged. Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice.
Coleman was describing a frame-up and Sheehan was “catching it” from readers who realized her March 27 column was a McCarthyite screed reeking of prejudgment and disregard for citizens' basic rights.

A few days after Coleman’s letter appeared, Sheehan wrote a column blaming Nifong for her March 27 column. Sheehan said:
To think that for a brief moment I actually pitied Nifong for the attacks on his handling of the case. What a joke.

Nifong is the one who described this thing in such incendiary terms from the start that it was impossible to ignore.
But as Sheehan knew, her March 27 “Team’s Silence is Sickening” column appeared BEFORE Nifong started publicly attacking the students. It went online shortly after midnight; and a print version was delivered to Durham driveways around 5 A.M. Nifong had plenty of time to read it before he spoke to the press later that day.

That leads to some questions we should all be asking and Sheehan needs to answer.

So I’m sending Sheehan a link to this post and asking her to answer the following questions:

1) Considering Nfong didn't speak publicly until after your column appeared, aren’t you misleading readers when you tell them all the slimes in your Mar. 27 were based on what he said?


2) Did Nifong or someone you trusted would tell you what he was saying provide you with “background information” BEFORE you wrote your Mar. 27 column?

In that case, while you’d still bear the heaviest responsibility for the column, you’d have some grounds for telling readers Nifong was also to blame for it.

Sheehan knows the answers to those questions. She demanded the players answer questions and tell the truth. They’ve done that even as, innocent, they’ve suffered terribly because of the actions of Nifong, certain Durham Police officers and enablers like Sheehan.

Now Sheehan needs to answer questions honestly.

To be clear about Nifong: he should be disbarred and tried. But he shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of Sheehan and many others who helped make the frame-up possible.

Sheehan has a chance to do some things that will be very important and helpful to many innocent people who’ve suffered great injustices.

She can retract both her March 27 (“Team’s Silence is Sickening”) and April 3 (“Lacrosse team out of control” ) columns.

She should apologize to the students, their families, Coach Pressler and his wife and young children. An apology is also owed her readers.

If Sheehan does all of that, she will have made a major contribution to correcting some of the wrongs that have been committed against so many innocent people, most especially David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

She will have done what she often tells readers she wants her three young sons to do: the right thing.


Anonymous said...


You are spot on here. I have spoken to Ruth before and we have emailed, and I must admit to liking her personally, but I do believe she needs to do a better job of issuing the mea culpa.

She most likely got her information from the police and her fellow reporters, Khanna and Blythe. Neither of those two reporters will admit to their wrongdoing, and the N&O editorial staff has lied about this affair from the start.

Had Joe Neff not jumped in and started digging into the truth, the N&O would be as bad as the Hurled-Scum. Neff saved the paper from itself, believe me.

AMac said...

Dear Editor Sheehan,

John has asked you a few questions about the circumstances of your actions as a member of the Fourth Estate.

It will not be comfortable for you to revisit last March. But it is important--in terms of the public's understanding of the history of the case came to be, and in terms of the requirements of journalistic excellence.

Please respond to John's queries.

Anonymous said...


It's clear that the party line here is that we all just believed Nifong. He is only wrongdoer, and we (the press, Duke faculty, Duke administration, "men of the cloth", etc.) were duped. After all, we ALWAYS believe EVERYTHING the government tells us, so why should this be different. (sarcasm off)


Anonymous said...

Why would anyone buy this paper? USA has more news and a fun sports secction. Ruthie is a terrible writer and she has exposed herself as narrow minded and bigooted as the 88. Like the Sheeham in Texas, she will never admit her wrongs.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Sheehan:

People make mistakes and the public is eager to forgive. We understand that you were trying (just as I believe the 88 professors were trying to) do something good and positive. Unfortunately it turns out you were wrong. Please step up and show your readers that you are bigger than the 88 thugs who cannot admit their error in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Trust me, none among us haven't made mistakes in the past. We want to forgive you, please let us.

Anonymous said...

Sweetmick says, What is it with Bill Anderson "liking her personally", and KC giving her a pass? Sheehan is the antithesis of everything we stand for. She is every bit a Selena Roberts clone and every bit as hypocritical and dishonest. No, Bill Anderson, Sheehan is not going "to do a better job of issuing a mea culpa', because what she expressed in those two columns in March and April represents what she is, what she believes and thinks and how she reasons and rationalizes.How can she, or Selena Roberts, or the Gang of 88, ever issue any kind of mea culpa? It would negate the very essence of who she is. Nifong merely gave Sheehan the opportunity(she already had the forum) to let the world know who she is. She regrets NOTHING, other than that the Defendants are innocent.

Anonymous said...

Sweetmick says, What is it with Bill Anderson "liking her personally", and KC giving her a pass? Sheehan is the antithesis of everything we stand for. She is every bit a Selena Roberts clone and every bit as hypocritical and dishonest.

I'm hardly saying I agree with Sheehan, but at least she did back off. Selena Roberts has become even nastier and more aggressive in her attacks. She is incensed that they did not commit rape, so she decides, in effect, to call them rapists anyway.

Yeah, Ruth Sheehan is a fairly typical media liberal, but those types dominate the media. At least she did say that the charges should be dropped and the like. Roberts would love for the charges to stay, just to justify her ideological stance.

Anonymous said...

It will be a cold day in hell before Ms. Sheehan rights her huge wrongs in this hoax. Any morally courageous person with her power and responsibility, after candidly assessing their past errors of judgment, would have released a boldly worded mea culpa long before now.

But we're dealing with a flawless MSM-type living in a dimension apart from reality, and the truth for them is a mere inconvenience. Besides, admission of stoking the flames of injustice opens one, along with their employers, up to possible civil action. Why make it easy for the victims' attorneys? Let them work for justice!

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Ruth will apologize?

I wouldn’t hold my breath…

On 2/19/07 she was joking about it on her blog!


Perhaps she wasn’t joking at all and she really is happy she won the “Best Rush to Judgment” award from The Johnsville News?