On Duke Lacrosse, the Times Has Some Explaining to Do
Thursday's Times was the only major newspaper to lead with the big news out of North Carolina - the state's attorney general is dropping all charges against the three former Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of the sexual assault of a stripper at an off-campus house.
The story by Duff Wilson and David Barstow, "Duke Prosecutor Throws Out Case Against Players," noted: "North Carolina's attorney general declared three former Duke University lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a stripper innocent of all charges on Wednesday, ending a prosecution that provoked bitter debate over race, class and the tactics of the Durham County district attorney."
Those facts make quite a contrast from Wilson and co-author Jonathan Glater's 5,600-word front-page story on the case on August 25, 2006, "Files From Duke Rape Give Details But No Answers," which was so slanted it was fricasseed by law writer Stuart Taylor Jr. in Slate, under the headline "The New York Times is still victimizing innocent Dukies."
Taylor argued: "The Wilson-Glater piece highlights every superficially incriminating piece of evidence in the case, selectively omits important exculpatory evidence, and reports hotly disputed statements by not-very-credible police officers and the mentally unstable accuser as if they were established facts. With comical credulity, it features as its centerpiece a leaked, transparently contrived, 33-page police sergeant's memo that seeks to paper over some of the most obvious holes in the prosecution's evidence."
This was perhaps the Times' most misleading paragraph: "By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong's case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury."
Taylor described that paragraph this way: "A sly formulation. Whoever thought it up chose to focus on the legalistic question of whether Nifong can avoid having his case being thrown out before trial, while glossing over the more important question as to whether any reasonable prosecutor could believe the three defendants to be guilty and force them through the risk, expense, and trauma of a trial."
Taylor again: "The Times piece mentioned most of this exculpatory evidence but understated its cumulative weight and gave unwarranted credence to contrary evidence of dubious credibility, such as the Gottlieb memo. This fits the Times's long-standing treatment of the case as a fable of evil, rich white men running amok and abusing poor black women."