Michael Gaynor
New York Times malicious news management in the Duke case
By Michael Gaynor
March 16, 2009

The truth eventually prevailed in the Duke case, notwithstanding The New York Times, and in time, more truth about New York Times news management will prevail.

Management of the news about the Duke case by The New York Times was a journalistic disgrace.

In Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and The Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, co-authors Stuart Taylor Jr. (who reported on legal affairs and the United States Supreme Court for The New York Times for eight years) and KC Johnson highlighted The New York Times' shameless coverage of the Duke case. They demonstrated conclusively that The New York Times "worked...long and hard to prop up" the prosecution's baseless case and "[t]he editors of the Times...were finally forced by events to pivot suddenly away from the steadfast pro-Nifong bias of the coverage that had been happily running under [Times sports reporter] Duff Wilson's byline" (pp. 317-18).

The motto of The New York Times is "All the news that's fit to print."

Instead, in the case of the Duke case, The New York Times printed what fit its political correctness agenda, the truth and innocent people and their families be damned.

It's not the only time that The New York Times managed the news for political purposes.

The New York Times "lionized" (p. 100) now disgraced former Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Michael B. Nifong, the persecutor of the members of the 2005-2006 Duke University Men's Lacrosse Team and panderer to the African-American community, helping Nifong to come from behind to win a Democrat primary in May 2006 and then election in November 2006. But the truth eventually prevailed and all charges were dismissed, the North Carolina Attorney General publicly declared that the wrongly indicted players are innocent and Nifong was removed from office, disbarred and even jailed for a day.

Taylor and Johnson: "...among the most frightening aspects of the [Duke lacrosse] case is that even after much of [Nifong's egregious] misconduct became publicly known in the spring and summer of 2006,...media organizations led by The New York Times...continued for many months to look the other way or even facilitate his efforts" (p. 356).

Taylor and Johnson duly noted that The New York Times was the worst: "The unfailingly politically correct Times editorial page remained silent,...while the nation's four other largest newspapers — USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post — carried editorials or op-eds within six days of Nifong's dismissal of the rape charges demanding that other charges be dropped, too" (p. 320).

The New York Times was uncontrite.

Times public editor Byron Calame was loathe to criticize.

Taylor and Johnson:

"In an April 23 [2006] piece rejecting complaints of bias against the lacrosse players, Calame pronounced his newspaper's coverage 'basically fair, I think, with a few miscues mainly related to the placement and the space given articles.' He defended as close enough to being true the completely false claims of sports columnist Selena Roberts that the team had observed a 'code of silence' with police. He clucked indulgently at the fact that the Times had published barely a hint that Nifong had been using the case to court the black vote in a close primary election.

"The politically correct Calame had one suggestion for future coverage 'in case the rape and kidnapping charges do not hold up.' It was not that the Times should apologize for rushing to its all-but-explicit judgment of guilt. Nor was it that the newspaper should scrutinize the Duke faculty's rush to judgment, or Nifong's conduct, or any of the others who had been so eager to railroad innocent students into long prison terms. No, Calame suggested that the Times should redouble its efforts to examine 'the racial insults voiced by various players' — al two of them, presumably — and 'the lacrosse team's seemingly flawed culture'" (p. 197).

In his final major column, Calame lamely wrote "that the past year's articles 'generally reported both sides, and that most flaws flowed from journalistic lapses rather than ideological bias'" (p. 404).

Taylor and Johnson marshaled facts demonstrating otherwise.

Taylor and Johnson acknowledged that The New York Times "initially stood out for its reasonably balanced coverage" of the Duke case (p. 119), when Times sportswriter Joe Drape was doing the reporting, and then explained how things changed at the Times.

Taylor and Johnson:

"...in early April [2006] Drape called [a lawyer for a lacrosse player] and said that there would be no article [on the evidence of innocence provided by that lawyer] because he was 'having problems with the editors.' 'From my perspective,' [the lawyer] recalled later, 'the interest of The Times in defense information came to a slow crawl with the departure of Drape.

"And soon after Drape privately told people at Duke and, presumably, at the Times that this looked like a hoax, his byline disappeared from the Duke lacrosse story. The word among people at Duke and defense supporters, including one who later ran into drape at the race track, was that the editors wanted a more pro-prosecution line. They also wanted to stress the race-sex-class angle with dwelling on evidence of innocence. They got what they wanted from Drape's replacement, Duff Wilson, whose reporting would become a journalistic laughingstock by summer..." (p. 120).

Taylor and Johnson characterized "the campaign of the Times Sports Department in the Duke case" as "very much in character: politically correct politics without...scrupulous attention to facts" (p. 122) and summed up the message of Times sports columnist Selena Roberts as "Lynch the privileged white boys. And due process be damned" (p. 121).

Taylor and Johnson: "Times editors also got what they wanted from sports columnist Selena Roberts. Her March 31 commentary, 'Bonded in Barbarity," seethed hatred for 'a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.' Virtually presuming guilt, Roberts parroted already-disproved prosecution claims that all team members had observed a 'code of silence,' and described a search warrant as a 'court document.' (A tiny correction ran six days later.) She likened team members to 'drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign'" (p. 121).

Taylor and Johnson commented that [i]t speaks volumes that top editors at the Times left the Duke case in the Sports Department so long" and that The New York Times "head[ed]...the guilt-presuming pack" and "vied in a race to the journalistic bottom with trash-TV talk shows" (p. 122).

The New York Times delayed or did not report what should have been reported.

Taylor and Johnson:

"The Times...chose not to report a revelation about the accuser's criminal record that appeared in some other publications on April 7 [2006]. This was [false accuser Crystal Gail] Mangum's June 2002 arrest after stealing a cab and leading police on a reckless high-speed chase" (p. 166).

"Readers who got all their news from The New York Times would have learned nothing about their the highly exculpatory revelations concerning the April 4 [2006] photo ID process; nothing about Nifong's repeated refusals to look at exculpatory evidence; nothing about the accuser's prior gang rape claim; nothing about her prior accusation against her husband; and, for that matter, nothing about her 2002 cab theft and car chase" (p. 197).

"It took The New York Times until June 9 [2006] to run a cursory report on page 18 of the defense assertions that Nifong had falsified the medical records. It took the Times until August 25 [2006] to report Kim Roberts's 'crock' statement, in passing, deep in a very long article" (pp. 232-33).

Instead of working to expose the persecution posing a prosecution, The New York Times worked to buttress the prosecution, fortunately, futilely, but not for lack of effort.

Taylor and Johnson: "The August 25 New York Times was a turning point in public perception, but not in the way Times editors may have hoped. Beginning three hours after the article's midnight publication, blogs deftly tore the piece to shreds, exposing the reporters' factual errors, their omission of critical evidence, and their overall pro-Nifong bias."

Did The New York Times resolve to report the truth instead of promote political correctness and its political agenda regardless of the truth as a result of the Duke case?

Or did The New York Times continue to manage instead of airly report the news?

And did the financial misfortunes of The New York Times influence what passed for news reporting?

The truth eventually prevailed in the Duke case, notwithstanding The New York Times, and in time, more truth about New York Times news management will prevail.

© Michael Gaynor


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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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