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Archive for October 20th, 2006

The Duke lacrosse panel, Part 3

duke panel

OK, I’ve been to dinner and will use this post to empty my notebook from today’s panel on the Duke lacrosse rape allegations.

The early part of the session was spent discussing how a local crime story morphed into a national sensation. Everyone agreed that the “perfect storm” of race, gender and class came together to entice the national media from the media capitals. As a result, there followed several weeks of “parachute” journalism, in which national correspondents swooped into Durham to get a piece of the story.

That sometimes had absurd consequences. Seyward Darby, who was the Duke Chronicle editor at the time of the incident, was critical of the media visitors from out of town. “We’d watch the national news and they’d say something and we’d look at each other and say, ‘That’s not the case at all.’” When visiting news crews asked her about Duke’s allegedly divided campus, “I told them that the only thing dividing the campus was their powerlines.”

ESPN’s Jay Bilas, a 1986 Duke grad who got his law degree in 1992, criticized the opinion portions of the 24-hour news channels for spreading many of the untruths about Duke and race relations in Durham. “I was on [a show] with a reporter from Detroit who was commenting on the racial tension in Durham,” he said. What could she know about racial tension in Durham? he asked. The reporter also referred to a “pattern of misbehaviour on the lacrosse team,” Bilas said, but could give no examples of such behaviour when pressed.

Bilas and fellow panelist James E. Coleman, Jr., a Duke law professor and chairman of the committee that examined the lacrosse program last spring and summer, agreed that had it not been for Durham DA Mike Nifong’s many press conferences early on, the story would not have metastasized as it did. Coleman pointed to the many things Nifong said “that were factually not true,” such as the “wall of silence” among players, the gang rape that never occurred, etc.

An interesting moment came when one questioner in the audience said he was “surprised by the joviality and light-heartedness” of the discussion. “Do any of you hold yourselves accountable as reporters that so many lives have been ruined?” he asked. The consensus seemed to be that, yes, they worry about it, but that they can’t do much about it when people are charged who might later turn out to be innocent. Jerrold Footlick, a former Newsweek editor and now a consultant, said he was optimistic. “If they’re acquitted, their lives are not ruined.”

Another questioner wondered if the media would focus on prosecutorial misconduct as much as it focused on the initial charges now that much more is known about the initial investigation and misinformation from the DA. The N&O‘s John Drescher said his paper has been very aggressive following up on those leads. This prompted one audience member to yell: “I haven’t seen Nifong’s mug shot on the cover of a magazine yet.” A round of applause followed that remark.

Earlier in the session, Newsweek‘s Susannah Meadows said when she first heard that the players had voluntarily submitted to DNA tests without lawyers present she felt that was a sign they could be innocent. Coleman cautioned reporters against that reaction, asking Meadows if she would have assumed they were guilty if they had brought lawyers with them. He then criticized Nifong for the DA’s comments on ESPN that if the players were innocent why were they hiring lawyers.

UPDATE: For a good list of blogs and Web sites covering the Duke case, go to Durham In Wonderland, K.C. Johnson’s fine blog, and check out his blogroll. You might also want to check out William L. Anderson’s columns on the subject.

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The Duke lacrosse panel, Part 2

Panel moderator Frank Stasio asked the journalists on the panel if there was anything they regretted about the way their organizations handled the Duke lacrosse story.

The N&O‘s John Drescher said, “Sure there are some things I’d do differently,” and then added, “I think overall our coverage is good. I’m proud of it.” He did say that early on his paper used the word “victim” instead of “accuser” in stories. “I definitely regret that we weren’t careful enough with that word.” And also: “There were a few times I think we emphasized the class angle too much.”

The Herald-Sun‘s Bob Ashley’s first-mentioned regret had nothing to do with mistakes: “One of my regrets on this, quite honestly, is that I’ve not had enough resources to throw at the story.” He said his was one of the smallest news operations involved in covering this national story. He did say that he wished his paper had “been more aggressive” in looking at the competence of the early police investigation, and added that “there was a lot of community sentiment driving anger” toward the lacrosse players and that his paper should have been more careful how they reported that.

Susannah Meadows of Newsweek said: “In the early very competitive days we certainly would be breathless about some new nugget of information” that later turned out to be unimportant. “Be mindful of how competitive you’re being,” she advised journalists who find themselves in that position. Meadows is widely acknowledged (by bloggers, anyway) to have written one of the best — and fairest — articles on the case. When several audience questioners criticized the general news coverage she began defending Newsweek‘s stories, only to have several audience members point out that the criticisms were aimed at the local newspapers, not her magazine.

Later, in response to a question about why the media seemed to assume the players were guilty, Meadows made this comment: “You had a public official [Nifong] who said, ‘I am sure!’, and say it to your face. We expect our public officials to know what they’re talking about.”

More later.

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The Duke lacrosse panel, Part 1

It was inevitable, I guess, that the panel today at Duke Law School about the Duke lacrosse rape allegations would get around to discussing bloggers. Kudos to former Duke basketball star Jay Bilas of ESPN for bringing up the dreaded word about 20 minutes into the festivities. After several journalists had described their approach to the story in its early days, Bilas said it was bloggers to whom he eventually turned for news on the case. “Some of these blogs have gained their own credibility,” he said.

Raleigh News & Observer managing editor John Drescher allowed as how blogs keep newspapers on their toes. “The bloggers are what’s different about this story,” he said. But he added: “My only real reservation is you really ought to have to identify yourself.” This was, in all likelihood, a reference to John In Carolina, a blogger who has been relentless in his criticism of the way the local papers have handled the story.

Seyward Darby, who was editor of the Duke Chronicle when the story broke last spring, didn’t mince words. “I’m going to be honest. I hate blogging.” Moderator Frank Stasio of North Carolina Public Radio asked her why. “I find a lot of bloggers, especially younger bloggers, to be self-indulgent,” she replied.

During the audience Q-and-A, the first questioner brought up bloggers, saying “they had the will” to expose some of the questionable prosecutorial and police actions in the case when many journalists didn’t. Some journalists, he said, instead “had the will to believe this false story from the beginning.”

Toward the end of the session, when one member of the audience asked why it took so long for journalists to report that the lacrosse players had been instructed by Duke officials not to tell their parents, one panelist, Jerroid Footlick, said he was surprised to learn that. “Read the blogs,” several members of the audience advised the former Newsweek journalist and now consultant on media and public affairs.

More later.

UPDATE: Another anonymous blogger who’s been following this needs to be mentioned: The Johnsville News. He, too, has been following every detail of this case. Beware, in case you don’t want to know, that his site identifies the accuser by name.

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Search terms: joyful, cabbage, Elizabeth Edwards — or, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Strange commentary today from Elizabeth Edwards:

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of White House hopeful John Edwards, says her choices in life have made her happier than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton – a possible Edwards’ rival for the Democratic nomination.

“She and I are from the same generation. We both went to law school and married other lawyers, but after that we made other choices. I think my choices have made me happier. I think I’m more joyful than she is,” Elizabeth Edwards said Thursday.

Edwards goes on to describe a time that Hillary Clinton came over for supper. “We didn’t have enough shepherd’s pie in the fridge so we ate salmon and cabbage – lots of it. She loves cabbage and so do I.

Why they didn’t have enough shepherd’s pie is a funny story, too. Apparently John Edwards had confirmed a supper with Hillary but didn’t tell his wife. The AP puts it this way:

Clinton surprised her by showing up for dinner at the Edwards’ home.

Ye cats! I think “surprise” is an understatement. Imagine if you heard a knock and saw Hillary Clinton standing at your door. How would you react? Apart from hoping desperately that Halloween came early, I mean.

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No-excuse, no-photo-ID voting

I’ve always felt that voting should come with a cost. That cost is a little effort on the part of citizens to a) learn about candidates and issues and b) get their rear ends to the Board of Elections to register, and c) get said rear end to their polling place on election day during a prescribed set of hours.

That’s the way we used to do it, and any corrupt local political machine really had to work to rig an election under those restrictions. But it’s a lot easier nowadays with motor voter, library registrations, street festival registration, fear of photo IDs, lots of questionable people signing up voters on street corners, and no-excuse absentee balloting that goes for weeks. All of this enables what I call cheap participation. The day will come when we rue the day we bought into all this nonsense.

That said, no-excuse absentee balloting began yesterday. It runs until Nov. 4.

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What did Brodhead know and when did he know it?

That’s the question William L. Anderson is asking Further, he speculates that the Duke president may have violated federal law if he knew of and approved of the effort by Duke administrators to trick the lacrosse players into cooperating with the police without legal representation:

If the accusation against the administrators is true – and those to whom I have spoken tell me it is – and Brodhead either approved of the actions or did not try to stop them when he did know (or cover up these actions), then Brodhead could have been involved in a conspiracy to deprive these students of their rights to an attorney of their own choosing. Second, conspiracy to deprive someone of his or her civil rights is a federal crime, and while I have been very critical over the years of federal criminal law, nonetheless I point out this alleged transgression because the feds have prosecuted people for actions much more benign than what I have just described.

I wonder if this will come up at today’s panel discussion at Duke Law School. I also wonder if there will be a discussion of this:

When the accused students obtained counsel, Brodhead announced that he was “disappointed” with their decision. This is important to remember: the players already were being convicted both in the media and by large segments of the Duke faculty and student body, and the athletes did what individuals being accused of serious crimes should do, and that is to seek legal representation.

I’ll never forget my flabbergasted reaction when I saw Durham DA Mike Nifong say on ESPN that if the lacrosse players were so innocent, why were they hiring attorneys. Simply incredible.

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Why all the hoopla about quid pro quos?

Everyone’s in a tizzy over Duke’s proposal to help the city fund its performing arts center in exchange for favorable action on its plans for Anderson Street and Central Campus. This is akin to a bribe, some say. City Attorney Henry Blinder said the city could take the money as long as it’s clear it won’t affect their vote on Central Campus. Riiiight.

I don’t know why everyone’s upset about this instance of a quid pro quo. Where was all the outrage some years ago when the city performed a shakedown of the New Hope Commons developers, demanding quotas for black employees and contractors in exchange for approved zoning? I don’t recall any angst-ridden comments from council members about whether the quotas would “affect” their vote. That was the point!

This kind of thing happens all the time. When the governing body does the shakedown it’s called planning and zoning. If Duke does it, it’s called a bribe.

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Panel on Duke lacrosse coverage

There’s a panel discussion today at the Duke Law School (Room 3037) on how the media covered the Duke lacrosse case. As Prof. K.C. Johnson points out, no bloggers are on the panel. Nifong P.R. man Bob Ashley (actually, he’s the editor of The Herald-Sun) will be there, as will Duke alum Jay Bilas of ESPN. The N&O’s John Drescher will be there, hopefully to explain the dreadful coverage his newspaper has given the case. But best of all, Prof. James Coleman (see post below) will also be there. So will I. Check back here later for updates. The festivities begin at 1:30 p.m.

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Duke rape case coverage

Blogger John In Carolina says the Duke Chronicle outperformed The News & Observer in its coverage of last week’s *60 Minutes” segment on the Duke lacrosse rape accusations. Faint praise, though, since neither gave adequate coverage of the comments of Prof. James Coleman. I thought Coleman made some very damaging comments about Nifong, the police and the lineup that got mostly buried in the national coverage.

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