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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Duke Case: The Raleigh News & Observer's Biased Reporting

updated: July 14, 2006

John in Carolina reviews how The Raleigh News & Observer (N&O) went after the Duke lacrosse players and failed to provide a balanced reporting of the alleged crime:

The N&O's Mar. 24 and 25 (front page) stories captured the nation's attention. People bought into its portrayal of the accuser as a hard working student and mother who was brutally gang-raped, beaten and strangled as she sought to earn money to support her two small children. They also bought into the N&O’s portrayal of the Duke students as her victimizers who were even then refusing to cooperate with police.

The N&O’s reporting in those and similarly biased and inflammatory stories it published the next few days so poisoned the public’s mind that when Ruth Sheehan's Mar. 27 N&O column ("Teams' silence is sickening") appeared, it was seen by many people as a righteous expression of "community outrage," instead of what we now know it to have been: a McCarthyite screed attacking the students for doing nothing more than following the advice of their counsels.

Samiha Khanna and Anne Blythe are the reporters who did the March 24th and 25th stories for The N&O. The March 25th story based on the interview with Crystal Gail Mangum has to go down as one of the poorest jobs of professional journalism you will ever come across. Ms. Mangum spun a story that the News & Observer reporters and editors swallowed hook, line, and sinker.

Her story was totally believed and Ms. Mangum must have left the N&O reporter(s) in tears.

The News & Observer
story of April 16th by Samiha Khanna - Mother, dancer, accuser, still does not ask or answer the hard questions regarding Ms. Mangum:
The woman has given just one interview, speaking to a News & Observer reporter March 24. Since then, The N&O has spoken to former classmates and neighbors, friends and family members, and has examined several official documents where her name appears.
However, Kristiana Bennett a reporter at the Campus Echo student newspaper at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) quickly uncovered the truth about Crystal Gail Mangum in March:
The story wouldn't let Kristiana Bennett sleep. Later she would say that she kept stepping out on the landing and staring up at the night sky, past the rain, as if she had lost something.

In her first semester at the Campus Echo, the student newspaper at North Carolina Central University, she lucked into covering a blockbuster story. A black female student at Central, a historically black school, accused white Duke lacrosse players of raping her at a party in mid March where she and another woman were hired as exotic dancers. The players denied it...

"I have empathized with her the whole time," Bennett said.

Then, in the course of her reporting, Bennett found people who said unflattering things about the accuser. They offered the kinds of details that defense attorneys hired private investigators to find, and Bennett wished she had never heard them. Now she and her editors at the Campus Echo had to decide what to do with them....

Bennett agonized. "How do you support her and then turn around and give ammunition to the defense of the Duke players?" she asked, after learning the things she wished she hadn't learned...

There was also the fact that even though the Echo would not print the details Bennett had learned, she couldn't get them out of her head.

"I have this sense of disaster," Bennett said. "I won't lie. If it does turn out that this is false. . . ." Tears hung in her dark eyes.

So The Raleigh News & Observer and NCCU's Campus Echo both hew to the same high journalistic standard. When in doubt, refrained from publishing anything unflattering about an alleged victim if it might in some way damage her credibility. After all, alleged victims have rights and the perpetrators have attorneys.

It is interesting to note that the reporters Joseph Neff and Benjamin Niolet from The News & Observer have now been providing the majority of the coverage of the Duke rape hoax.

update July 14th:

John in Carolina responds:
I agree the stories appearing below Khanna and Blythe’s bylines were, at best, lousy journalism. But was that because they don’t know how to do a good job or was their bias, inflammatory language and "endearing" presentation of the accuser deliberate?

Did the woman Khanna and Blythe repeatedly told readers was "the victim" actually fool them or were they going along?

Or did Khanna and Blythe have some doubts about her story but embraced and hyped it anyway because it fit with their preexisting attitudes toward white male athletes from "elite" schools playing "helmet sports?"

Are Khanna and Blythe practitioners of what we hear the J schools are increasingly turning out: Agenda journalists...

Did the Raleigh N&O withhold news of the Duke captains’ cooperation? [John In Carolina, July 12, 2006]
Separating Truth, Consequences [Vanessa Gezari | St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, April 4, 2006]

Rape Case Is Seen as Symbol at Black College in N.C. [washingtonpost.com, May 7, 2006]

Duke Lacrosse [TJN Archive]

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