Monday, April 16, 2007

The Duke rape case

There are a few nagging questions about the coverage of three Duke University students accused of rape, which last week veered considerably from traditional journalistic standards. The latest flawed New York Times story may be the most factual.

I haven't, and still don't, presume to judge guilt or innocence of anyone in this case, but:

1) The rape charges were dropped in December. Why did N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper invite a big media frenzy right after now-fallen radio giant Don Imus' racist and sexist statements and the first call from the National Association of Black Journalists to fire Imus? It served a purpose for media manipulators to create and use a false parallel.

2) Why didn't reporters ask whether the accuser now says the men are innocent? She's the only one besides the accused who could witness the alleged rape. NYT's Duff Wilson saves for the last paragraph (huh?) the accuser is standing by her rape claim. Some media have published her name, and some even have shown pictures and video of her, to punish her in their own judgments, yet I've seen none report they tried to reach her.

3) A prosecutor can speak only about evidences. Granted, district attorney Michael Nifong now admits he operated badly and we should doubt one or all of the accusations. But it's only the politically partisan-appointed attorney general, who wasn't involved in the investigation, who now says the charges were false.

It's a political appointee who declared the men "innocent," not a judge or any jury.

Cooper doesn't know the men are innocent. Unless every person who could have been witness all agree, all we or the attorney general possibly could know is that prosecutors can't prove a crime.

I question the credibility of an AG who would say such a thing. A good reporter would have questioned that, too, and asked Cooper to explain why he makes that remarkable claim and why on that day. Is anyone asking how often any prosecutorial official makes such a presumptuous declaration of innocence in the absence of recanted testimony?

I just hope the woman told Nifong under client confidentiality that she lied, because if not, there's a much bigger scandal here, I'm afraid. In today's political atmosphere, I will not assume the best of partisan politicians.

4) The best ammunition now for attacking Nifong is that he withheld some DNA evidences from the defense for 6 months, which, they say, was damaging because they might have urged their clients to take a plea deal because of it. That's just crazy: They had to have known the DNA evidence they did have didn't include their clients'. Why would there be a chance they'd take a plea deal? Didn't they ask in all that time for the results of those important tests they knew were taken?

I don't see reporters asking critical questions, even in the best reporting.

Let's not forget these young men's families -- all wealthy and white -- have committed great sums of money and have applied vast political pressure, while the disadvantaged young black woman had no one but Nifong, really, on her side from the start.

No pun intended, but I'm dubious this is as black and white as it appears.

1 comment:

ewastud said...

I think your skepticism and doubts about this story are well taken. The story does seem rather "fishy" to me, too.

Had the accused young men been all African-American and the victim a white girl, would there have been such a reversal in the prosecution and an attack against a white prosecutor? Of course, that is a highly speculative question. But the South has been particularly famous for cases of racially biased administrtations of justice.