Skip to comments.Justice Delayed (Half-a$$ed apology from Drive-By Media trade journal for DukeLax Frame)
Posted on 07/17/2007 1:40:56 PM PDT by abb
From AJR, June/July 2007 issue Justice Delayed August/September Preview » Many in the media jettisoned caution--and the presumption of innocence--in their coverage of an alleged rape by Duke lacrosse players, and were too slow to correct the record as the case unraveled. But some journalists distinguished themselves with skeptical and incisive reporting.
Related reading: Naming Names
By Rachel Smolkin Rachel Smolkin (email@example.com) is AJR's managing editor.
As Reade Seligmann choked back tears on the witness stand, the 21-year-old Duke University lacrosse player dubbed "Flustered" by teammates was poised, compelling and clearly hurting. He told of a world turned "upside down" and of experiencing "as lonely of a feeling as you can ever imagine" after he was indicted for allegedly raping a stripper at a team party on March 13, 2006. He described the stinging slights from former friends, the terrifying death threats--and the inescapable media horde.
On April 18, 2006, Seligmann and teammate Collin Finnerty were arrested on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and first-degree kidnapping. After posting bond, Seligmann hurried out the back of the Durham County Jail, but there was no hiding from the media. "We pretty much had to run to our car to get there," he told a hushed courtroom and a disciplinary panel of the North Carolina State Bar on June 15, 2007. "From that initial bum rush to our car, that was the beginning of just a media frenzy for an entire year, and it continues now."
Michael B. Nifong--the district attorney who pursued Seligmann, Finnerty and teammate David Evans even as evidence of their innocence mounted and his case imploded--was held accountable for his actions. Hours after Seligmann testified, Nifong announced his intention to resign; the next day, he was disbarred.
The media incurred no such penalties. No loss of license, no disciplinary panels, no prolonged public humiliation for the reporters, columnists, cable TV pundits, editorial writers and editors who trumpeted the "Duke lacrosse rape case" and even the "gang-rape case" in front-page headlines, on the nightly news and on strident cable shoutfests.
Of course, Nifong had information and power the media did not. His failing in the case cannot be overstated, nor can it be equated to that of a throng of journalists and pundits, however odious some of their reporting and commentary. But the media deserve a public reckoning, too, a remonstrance for coverage that--albeit with admirable exceptions--all too eagerly embraced the inflammatory statements of a prosecutor in the midst of a tough election campaign. Fueled by Nifong, the media quickly latched onto a narrative too seductive to check: rich, wild, white jocks had brutalized a working class, black mother of two.
"It was too delicious a story," says Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times public editor, who is critical of the Times' coverage and that of many other news organizations. "It conformed too well to too many preconceived notions of too many in the press: white over black, rich over poor, athletes over non-athletes, men over women, educated over non-educated. Wow. That's a package of sins that really fit the preconceptions of a lot of us."
The lessons of the media's rush to judgment and their affair with a sensational, simplistic storyline rank among journalism's most basic tenets: Be fair; stick to the facts; question authorities; don't assume; pay attention to alternative explanations.
"The outcome of this whole story is square pegs can't be fit into round holes, and we saw the dangers of what happens when modern media attempts to do that," says Duke senior Ryan McCartney, who for much of the saga was editor of the Chronicle, the independent student newspaper. "Hopefully this case will kind of go down in the books as a lesson to media organizations on all levels to...second-guess themselves any time they think a story is clear-cut."
Too often, the preconceptions--rather than the facts--dictated not only the tone of the coverage but also its volume and prominence. "I think that you begin by being prudent," Okrent says. "And that's not the way that the American press began on this story. You begin by being prudent and, as things develop, that determines whether you amp up the volume or not. Here it began with a roar at the very start. It went in the wrong direction. If it had begun calmly and prudently, it never would have become a roar."
From AJR, June/July 2007 issue
Should news organizations identify the accuser in the Duke lacrosse case?
By Sally Dadisman
Sally Dadisman is an AJR editorial assistant.
“It was Crystal Gail Mangum’s own words that brought supporters to her side.”
These words led a front-page story in Raleigh’s News & Observer April 12 as part of its coverage of the denouement in the Duke lacrosse rape case. The mainstream media had consistently named the three athletes accused of raping Mangum, but her name was almost universally absent from stories until the charges were dropped.
The News & Observer, like other major news organizations, had withheld her identity as part of a longstanding policy not to name reported victims of sexual assault. The rules aim to protect victims from the stigma associated with such crimes. But some media critics wonder whether these policies do more harm than good: Do they help perpetuate the stigma? Do they imply a presumption of guilt by naming the accused and not the accuser? Is the practice outmoded, now that victims’ names in high-profile cases are widely available on the Internet?
In the Duke case, these delicate questions were further complicated by an unusual set of circumstances: After Mangum’s shifting story unraveled, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on April 11 declared the accused “innocent” of all charges.
No mainstream outlets released her identity before the prosecution dropped rape charges in December 2006 (kidnapping and sex-offense charges were still pending). At that time, Fox News Channel’s “The Big Story with John Gibson” broadcast a tape of defense lawyers saying her name. The Chicago Sun-Times, CBS’ “60 Minutes,” the Charlotte Observer and the New York Post printed her name after Cooper’s announcement. AJR decided to name Mangum in this story, based on Cooper’s declaration and the fact that her allegations have been discredited.
Many major news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsday and the Associated Press, followed their policies and still did not name her.
Locally, news organizations split: While the N&O named her, Durham’s Herald-Sun did not. On television, local CBS affiliate WRAL and NBC affiliate WNCN named her; ABC affiliate WTVD did not.
News & Observer Executive Editor Melanie Sill says editors solicited input from advocates for sexual assault victims, defense lawyers and ethicists, among others, as they considered how to proceed. “They almost uniformly did not want to see the newspaper identify sexual assault victims,” Sill says. “But at the same time, they thought this case was exceptional, and they didn’t protest or criticize us afterwards.”
Anyone know if Nancy Grace has done any updates on the innocence of the players and the disciplinary actions taken against the Fong?
She's not uttered the words Nifong, Duke, Lacrosse, or anything related to the case since the rape charge was dropped back in December. To my knowledge.
...not quite right - it fit the preconceived notions of liberals.
Does anybody know if Wendy Murphy has issued an apology ?
Tells you all you need to know about "journalistic ethics".
Last time this witch was on TV, she was still trying to push the story that rich Dukies paid off Crystial to kill the case.
Did Wendy mention “naked cartwheels”? She’s loves to do that.
Inprisonment for as long as those innocent kids would have been given is what he should serve AT A MIN!
stripper and rape in the same sentence should have given any normal person pause.
Bump! Good, lengthy article. Just finished reading it.
I know the daily show isnt a favorite around here, but this is great.
OMG that was an absolute BEATING!
...and I liked it.
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