Saturday, July 28, 2007

Justice Delayed

American Journalism Review, June/July 2007

August/September Preview » Many in the media jettisoned caution--and the presumption of innocence--in their coverage of an alleged rape by Duke lacrosse players, and were too slow to correct the record as the case unraveled. But some journalists distinguished themselves with skeptical and incisive reporting.

By Rachel Smolkin

Rachel Smolkin ( is AJR's managing editor.

As Reade Seligmann choked back tears on the witness stand, the 21-year-old Duke University lacrosse player dubbed "Flustered" by teammates was poised, compelling and clearly hurting. He told of a world turned "upside down" and of experiencing "as lonely of a feeling as you can ever imagine" after he was indicted for allegedly raping a stripper at a team party on March 13, 2006. He described the stinging slights from former friends, the terrifying death threats--and the inescapable media horde.

On April 18, 2006, Seligmann and teammate Collin Finnerty were arrested on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and first-degree kidnapping. After posting bond, Seligmann hurried out the back of the Durham County Jail, but there was no hiding from the media. "We pretty much had to run to our car to get there," he told a hushed courtroom and a disciplinary panel of the North Carolina State Bar on June 15, 2007. "From that initial bum rush to our car, that was the beginning of just a media frenzy for an entire year, and it continues now."

Michael B. Nifong--the district attorney who pursued Seligmann, Finnerty and teammate David Evans even as evidence of their innocence mounted and his case imploded--was held accountable for his actions. Hours after Seligmann testified, Nifong announced his intention to resign; the next day, he was disbarred.

The media incurred no such penalties. No loss of license, no disciplinary panels, no prolonged public humiliation for the reporters, columnists, cable TV pundits, editorial writers and editors who trumpeted the "Duke lacrosse rape case" and even the "gang-rape case" in front-page headlines, on the nightly news and on strident cable shoutfests.

Of course, Nifong had information and power the media did not. His failing in the case cannot be overstated, nor can it be equated to that of a throng of journalists and pundits, however odious some of their reporting and commentary. But the media deserve a public reckoning, too, a remonstrance for coverage that--albeit with admirable exceptions--all too eagerly embraced the inflammatory statements of a prosecutor in the midst of a tough election campaign. Fueled by Nifong, the media quickly latched onto a narrative too seductive to check: rich, wild, white jocks had brutalized a working class, black mother of two.

"It was too delicious a story," says Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times public editor, who is critical of the Times' coverage and that of many other news organizations. "It conformed too well to too many preconceived notions of too many in the press: white over black, rich over poor, athletes over non-athletes, men over women, educated over non-educated. Wow. That's a package of sins that really fit the preconceptions of a lot of us."

The lessons of the media's rush to judgment and their affair with a sensational, simplistic storyline rank among journalism's most basic tenets: Be fair; stick to the facts; question authorities; don't assume; pay attention to alternative explanations.

"The outcome of this whole story is square pegs can't be fit into round holes, and we saw the dangers of what happens when modern media attempts to do that," says Duke senior Ryan McCartney, who for much of the saga was editor of the Chronicle, the independent student newspaper. "Hopefully this case will kind of go down in the books as a lesson to media organizations on all levels to...second-guess themselves any time they think a story is clear-cut."

Too often, the preconceptions--rather than the facts--dictated not only the tone of the coverage but also its volume and prominence. "I think that you begin by being prudent," Okrent says. "And that's not the way that the American press began on this story. You begin by being prudent and, as things develop, that determines whether you amp up the volume or not. Here it began with a roar at the very start. It went in the wrong direction. If it had begun calmly and prudently, it never would have become a roar."

The roar began on March 24, 2006, when Raleigh's News & Observer broke the news on its front page that "all but one member of the Duke lacrosse team had reported to the Durham police crime lab" for DNA testing. "Police think at least three of the men could be responsible for the sexual assault, beating, robbery and near-strangulation of one of two women who had an appointment to dance at the party March 13, according to a search warrant," the story said.

As the shocking allegations ricocheted across the nation and a media mob descended on Durham, the district attorney served up salacious sound bites affirming a certain crime with chilling racial overtones. On March 31, 2006, Nifong told the N&O that he'd given "in excess of 50" interviews; he also spoke publicly on the case. He called the players "hooligans." He told MSNBC, "I am convinced there was a rape." He proclaimed, "I'm not going to allow Durham's view in the minds of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl in Durham."

Following the Nifong playbook, many in the media abandoned the possibility of innocence. "I'm so glad they didn't miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape!" CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace exclaimed March 31, during a broadcast in which she portrayed the athletes as rich, privileged jocks.

Even for reporters concerned with evenhandedness, Nifong's on-the-record proclamations complicated the coverage. When the media pursued Richard Jewell, who was wrongly suspected of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, some journalists irresponsibly ran with off-the-record leaks from law enforcement sources (see "Going to Extremes," October 1996). In this instance, Durham's DA condemned the team for attribution. Journalists who ignored the horrific allegations or the inflamed racial and class tensions in the community would have neglected what seemed to be an important story.

A fast-shifting set of facts and the team's reluctance to speak publicly also flummoxed reporters early on. "The ground was moving underneath your feet," McCartney says. "It was true for the administration, it was true for the lacrosse players, it was true for the media, it was true for us as student journalists. We were just trying to get our bearings... It takes a very bold person to step back and say, 'They're getting it wrong.'"

National and international coverage tended to focus on strains between "town and gown," depicting an elite, largely white university colliding with the working-class, racially mixed city that surrounds it. The privileged nature of Duke's students, particularly its athletes, was frequently invoked; references to Duke's "Gothic" architecture and the schisms of the Old South were also popular. Several accounts noted that Duke was thought to be the model for the hard-partying, elite institution portrayed in Tom Wolfe's 2004 novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," which also featured rich lacrosse players.

"University rape highlights racial divisions in South," proclaimed London's Sunday Telegraph on April 2, 2006. "Lax Environment; Duke lacrosse scandal reinforces a growing sense that college sports are out of control, fueled by pampered athletes with a sense of entitlement," said a Los Angeles Times headline on April 16, 2006. A March 31 USA Today story weighed in on the divisive atmosphere: "The racially charged lacrosse team sexual assault scandal that is roiling Duke University has also exposed deep divisions between the elite private school and the more humble Tobacco Road community that surrounds it."

The New York Times, which would publish more than 100 pieces on the case, first weighed in on March 29, after Duke suspended the team's season. The page-one story headlined "Rape Allegation Against Athletes is Roiling Duke" contained no reference to Nifong's heated campaign for district attorney (he'd initially been appointed to the post), which many observers later said motivated him to hurtle forward with a disastrous case.
Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says criticism of his paper's performance has "in some instances been unfair to the point of hysteria." But he also says, "I think we were a little slow to get traction on the story, frankly. Partly we were slow figuring out who had custody of the story: sports, national, investigative. It took us awhile to get specific people focused on this as their responsibility."

Keller says the Times tended to cover the saga episodically "rather than early on focusing a lot of investigative energy on the story. It took us longer than it should have for us to give the holes in the prosecutor's case the attention it deserved." He adds that reporters' jobs were complicated initially because the defense wasn't talking.

Nifong showed no such restraint, accusing the players of hiding behind "this stone wall of silence." He told CNN, "[i]t just seems like a shame that they are not willing to violate this seeming sacred sense of loyalty to team for loyalty to community." In reality, the co-captains had voluntarily given statements and taken DNA tests; they also offered to take polygraph tests.

Nevertheless, some in the media seized on Nifong's statements as gospel. A popular early theme for columnists was excoriating the players--in pieces often laden with a presumption of guilt--for their alleged conspiracy of silence. "There's something disgustingly wrong when a Duke University men's lacrosse team...puts some skewed code of silence ahead of telling Durham, N.C., police everything they know," Johnette Howard, a sports columnist at Newsday, wrote March 31. Howard asserted that "not one" of the players "has broken ranks and spoken to investigators about what happened at the house that night. The code is that strong."

New York Times columnist Selena Roberts railed against the "code of silence" that same day, declaring, "At the intersection of entitlement and enablement, there is Duke University, virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside...a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings."

Keller says assessing morality "taught and practiced in the theater of college athletics" is a fair subject for sports columnists. But without naming specific columnists--the Times' Harvey Araton also jumped in to upbraid the women's lacrosse team for writing "innocent" on their sweatbands--Keller says, "I did think, and I told the columnists, that there was a tendency in a couple of places to moralize before the evidence was all in, and not to give adequate weight to the presumption of innocence... As a generalization, I'm not dismissive of the people who think that what appeared in the sports columns kind of contributed to a sense that the Times declared these guys guilty. I think that's a false impression, but I can understand where people got it."

In the News & Observer, metro columnist Ruth Sheehan also produced an early conspiracy-of-silence rant. Her March 27, 2006, piece began: "Members of the Duke men's lacrosse team: You know. We know you know. Whatever happened in the bathroom at the stripper party gone terribly terribly bad, you know who was involved."

Unlike many columnists, however, Sheehan reassessed as evidence of the players' innocence deepened. Her April 13, 2006, piece, published three days after defense attorneys announced that DNA tests found no links between the accuser and the athletes, invoked the specter of Tawana Brawley, the black girl whose 1987 account of a gang rape by white law enforcement officers quickly unraveled. "There is no punishment on the books sufficient for a woman who would falsely accuse even the biggest jerks on campus of gang rape," wrote Sheehan, who then divulged that she had been raped 20 years ago that week. At the time, she told no one.

Sheehan's deepening skepticism was reflective of the News & Observer's coverage as a whole. A McClatchy paper with a weekday circulation of 177,361, the N&O would quickly lead the media with probing, tenacious reporting that revealed numerous infractions in the investigation. But its "early coverage contributed to the narrative of racial/class/gender victimization that the local community and the national media seized upon," the paper's public editor, Ted Vaden, wrote on April 15, 2007.

A front-page, March 25, 2006, interview with the accuser, headlined "Dancer gives details of ordeal," did not name the woman, in keeping with the paper's policy on alleged victims of sex crimes. (The N&O did publish the accuser's name after the players were exonerated.) The one-sided, sympathetic portrayal, which several times referred to the accuser as "the victim," allowed her to make blind accusations. It wasn't made clear until deep into the story that the athletes could not be reached for comment.

A page-one story on March 28, 2006, disclosed that during the past three years, about a third of the men's lacrosse team had been charged with misdemeanors related to drunken and disruptive behavior. A similar front-page story on April 9 was headlined "Team has swaggered for years."

But the accuser's criminal record--stemming from a "2002 incident involving drunken driving, a stolen car and an attempt to flee from police"--was not mentioned until April 7, low in a story on A14. No details were included. "It seemed to me there was some imbalance in publishing misdemeanor offenses of the students, but taking longer to publish the accuser's more serious offenses," Vaden says. "And it was in a longer story about something else."

Executive Editor Melanie Sill calls the Duke case "a reminder of the need for skepticism when dealing with official sources and police and prosecutors... It's kind of a case study of a lot of things that you know can go wrong in crime reporting if you don't heed that maxim 'innocent until proven guilty.'"

This spring, Sill and her senior editors assembled the staff to talk about lessons learned from reporting on the case. "A lot of the coverage held up," she says. "I think there was a sense, though, that some stories were overplayed or lacked that sense of proportion." For example, "In reporting that storyline on the players' conduct, that's where we think that we overplayed things a bit and played to storyline a bit."

Sill notes the firestorm began as a local police story for the paper's Durham bureau, and "we likely didn't have as many person-to-person conversations as [we] would have if it had broken here." Like Keller, she cites challenges regarding initially taciturn players and their representatives. "The first three or four days of coverage that was a real hole in the reporting," she says. "In hindsight, we should have been much more emphatic much higher in the stories that we didn't have that other side."

Sill's reporters also watched in frustration as national media vied for their sources. "It was a messy story, and the outside media coverage, especially the cable television shows, the presence of every national media outlet here, made it much harder to report," she says. "People we would normally just go interview were having press conferences, or wouldn't talk, or would only talk in a leaking situation." But top editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable.

Concerned about saturation coverage and the case's fluidity, senior editors also temporarily halted columns on the issue after Sheehan's second one, an April 3, 2006, piece demanding the firing of lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. The respite gave staff a few days to get a better handle on emerging facts; when the ban was lifted soon after, columnists were told to use care, and top editors vetted all columns.

The hometown paper, Durham's 36,815-weekday circulation Herald-Sun, has been vilified by defense attorneys and media observers for coverage that they say tended to be superficial and unsophisticated on its best days, biased, misleading and even flat-out wrong on its worst.

An April 25, 2007, story in the Chronicle, the Duke student paper, probed the Herald-Sun's more than 400 articles and editorials on the case and detailed sensational commentary, omissions and inaccuracies, including misrepresenting North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's comments on CBS' "60 Minutes" shortly after he declared Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans "innocent" of all charges. In the headline and lead of a page-one story April 16, the Herald-Sun reported that Cooper had said the "racial strain" on the community factored into his declaration of innocence; Cooper, however, had said nothing of the sort. (A subsequent correction downplayed the magnitude of the error.)

A March 28, 2006, Herald-Sun editorial declared: "There's no question the student-athletes were probably guilty of all the usual offenses--underage drinking, loud partying, obnoxious behavior. But the allegations of rape bring the students' arrogant frat-boy culture to a whole new, sickening level." The next day, a particularly inflammatory column about the "victim" by John McCann asserted: "I don't fault the girl for not keeping up with the news and the history of rich brats who get drunk and don't know how to act... Those animals reportedly kicked her around like a dog."

Stuart Taylor, a National Journal columnist who was among the first to proclaim a miscarriage of justice in the case and is now writing a book, "Until Proven Innocent," due out in September, describes the Herald-Sun's coverage as "absolutely wretched just about every single day for the past year." His coauthor, KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and a "procedure wonk," tracked the case exhaustively on his Durham-In-Wonderland blog ( Johnson wrote that the Herald-Sun "combined plodding pro-Nifong editorials with 'news' articles whose one-sided nature borders on journalistic fraud, topped off by a pattern of simply ignoring newsworthy items that can't be framed in pro-Nifong terms."

Asked to assess his paper's coverage, Editor Bob Ashley replies: "Overall, I thought it was pretty good. We were operating in a very difficult environment with media from all over the country... It was pretty much down the middle and pretty thorough. We got beat on some stories I wish we'd had first, but we beat others...on some others."

Ashley, a 1970 Duke graduate who came to the Herald-Sun in January 2005 when the Kentucky-based Paxton Media Group took over, also oversees the editorial page. "Some of the criticism has probably focused as much on our editorial positions, which we continue to think was appropriate," he says. "We think it was important for the judicial system to handle this case rather than bloggers and network pundits." Ashley's staff took Nifong at his word. "We weren't prepared for what turned out to be the enormously nonexistent case of the district attorney," Ashley says. "It was a veteran prosecutor. He'd been here for a while. We kept arguing we needed to wait and see."

The editor says his paper "always noted there was a presumption of innocence in a case like this. Given the context and the context of what we knew at the time, we were fair. We were opinionated, but we were fair."

National TV news reports also adopted the storyline of race, class and privilege.

On March 31, 2006, ABC's "Nightline" described the conflict between an "elite school" packed with outsiders and the "southern city that surrounds it. The question: Did a group of privileged white athletes commit a racially tinged and violent crime?"

Reports on network nightly newscasts tracked closely with breaking news and peaked in April 2006--the month Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted. The networks' combined total of 42 minutes that month on the Duke case exceeded their 35 minutes on the Iraq war, according to an analysis for AJR by Andrew Tyndall, who monitors the nightly newscasts. Alone among the networks, CBS devoted more time to the war that month (23 minutes versus 17 for Duke).

The case was especially popular on the cable news networks, where anchors and their guests chewed over every development. "These are shows which basically function only if you have sort of a phony debate, if you have people willing to take both sides," KC Johnson observes. "They shouldn't be considered journalism in any respect at all, but it's alarming because most of the public probably does consider it journalism, or journalism in some way."

CNN's Nancy Grace particularly distinguished herself, in a negative sense, with her mean-spirited comments about the athletes. Every piece of defense evidence that established innocence, "she spun as further evidence of guilt," Taylor says. "Or as, 'That just goes to show you how defense lawyers lie.'"

Grace declined interview requests. In an e-mail, spokeswoman Janine Iamunno included transcript excerpts to demonstrate that "Nancy's coverage of the Duke case should and could not be fairly characterized as 'out to get' the Duke players--there are a number of examples here where she actually rails against guests on her show who seem to be convicting the players before due process."

Yet the first excerpt Iamunno e-mailed, from June 9, 2006, underscores perceptions of unfairness. Kevin Miller, then news director at WPTF Radio in Raleigh, asserted that the defense had established reasonable doubt barring new information. Retorted Grace: "Well I'm glad you have already decided the outcome of the case, based on all of the defense filings. Why don't we just all move to Nazi Germany, where we don't have a justice system and a jury of one's peers?"

One prominent guest on Grace's show and others was Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law and a former assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. On April 10, 2006, after defense attorneys announced that DNA results found no links to the athletes, Murphy told Grace, "Look, I think the real key here is that these guys, like so many rapists--and I'm going to say it because, at this point, she's entitled to the respect that she is a crime victim."

Emerging questions about the investigation did not prompt Murphy to reassess. Appearing on "CNN Live Today" on May 3, 2006, she posited, "I'd even go so far as to say I bet one or more of the players was, you know, molested or something as a child." On June 5, 2006, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson asserted, relying on a Duke committee report, that the lacrosse team was generally well-behaved. Rejoined Murphy: "Hitler never beat his wife either. So what?" She later added: "I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth."

Asked to evaluate her commentary, Murphy said in an interview: "Lots of folks who voiced the prosecution position in the beginning gave up because they faced a lot of criticism, and that's never my style." She notes that she's invited on cable shows to argue for a particular side. "You have to appreciate my role as a pundit is to draw inferences and make arguments on behalf of the side which I'm assigned," she says. "So of course it's going to sound like I'm arguing in favor of 'guilty.' That's the opposite of what the defense pundit is doing, which is arguing that they're innocent."

Broadcast news personalities did not confine their offensive comments to smearing the lacrosse players. On April 11, 2006, Tucker Carlson asserted that the accuser's "testimony about matters of sex is to be taken by ordinary commonsense people a little differently than the testimony of someone who isn't a crypto-hooker." Rush Limbaugh took a similar tack March 31, 2006, on his nationally syndicated radio program. He explained that the lacrosse team "supposedly, you know, raped some, uh, hos." Prompted by a caller, he later apologized for a "terrible slip of the tongue."

Although reporting became more skeptical as questions about the case deepened--a lack of DNA evidence, a solid alibi for Seligmann, a botched "lineup" that included no filler pictures of people unconnected to the case--this often occurred belatedly, if at all. "The stunning thing about the media travesty that this story was is that as evidence began to trickle out and pour out and finally become conclusive--that this didn't happen, that there was no rape--most of the media barely noticed," Taylor says.

Taylor cuts the media a little slack during the first frenzied days because prosecutors usually aren't so vocal "unless they have the goods." But he says there were serious omissions in coverage as exculpatory evidence emerged in late March and early April 2006. The media "reported episodically the things like the April 10 DNA results. It would just be sort of a tit-for-tat, 'Well, the defense struck a blow today.'" Instead, Taylor says, the media should have collectively asked: "Wait a minute, the prosecutor said the case would be over if the DNA was negative. Why isn't it over?"

Fifteen days after defense attorneys announced the DNA results, Time magazine's Jeninne Lee-St. John was still advancing the race/class storyline, positing that the black mother's accusations of rape against "generally privileged, younger white men conjures up memories of that classic American sex story: the pretty female slave being summoned up to the big house to sexually satisfy the master."

On April 19, 2006, after Seligmann and Finnerty were charged, the Christian Science Monitor published a story headlined "Duke lacrosse case: No DNA, but old-fashioned sleuthing." It stated: "Tests that pinpoint humans' unique genetic fingerprints are often overplayed as a forensic tool, experts say. Especially in violent crimes, old-fashioned gumshoe investigations, convincing witnesses, and believable testimony still rule the jury room, they add." The story did not delve into whether the Duke case had convincing witnesses, nor did it contain any response from defense lawyers.

On May 24, 2006--12 days after defense attorneys said a second round of DNA tests found no matches to any lacrosse players--the Washington Post's Lynne Duke wrote a piece headlined "The Duke Case's Cruel Truth." Fronting the Style section, it began: "She was black, they were white, and race and sex were in the air. But whatever actually happened that March 13 night at Duke University--both the reported rape and its surrounding details are hotly disputed--it appears at least that the disturbing historic script of the sexual abuse of black women was playing out inside that lacrosse team house party."

For its May 1, 2006, issue, Newsweek plastered the mug shots of Seligmann and Finnerty on its cover under the headline "Sex, Lies & Duke." Of the three newsweeklies, Newsweek devoted the most reporting power and prominence to the Duke story. An April 10, 2006, piece by Duke alumna Susannah Meadows and Editor at Large Evan Thomas was prescient in suggesting an alternative to the prevailing press perception of a "tawdry tale of pampered jocks"--that of "a tale of a prosecutor exploiting racial tensions with a trumped-up charge."

Although the May 1 cover forecast a hatchet job inside, the story by Meadows and Thomas thoughtfully examined holes in the case ahead of nearly all their national competitors. Thomas calls the cover art his "big regret," noting that Seligmann's alibi, detailed in the story, clearly established his innocence.

The mug shots reflected the indictments, Thomas says. (Evans was indicted May 15.) "But I had a twinge at the time, and I wish I'd had a stronger twinge. My advice at the time was we should think about this, but I did not--and I want to be clear about this--I did not bang my hand on the table and say, 'We can't do this.' It was merely, 'Are we comfortable with this?'" Then-Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker, now senior vice president at NBC News, did not respond to an interview request placed with the press office there.

On August 25, 2006, the New York Times published a story that has emerged as the single-most-derided substantial look at the Duke case, criticized by bloggers, defense attorneys, Stuart Taylor and media critics including New York magazine's Kurt Andersen and the Times' then-public editor, Byron Calame.

The page-one, 5,600-word article by Duff Wilson and Jonathan D. Glater appeared after Joseph Neff of the News & Observer, Meadows and Thomas, Taylor, Johnson and others had begun to eviscerate Nifong's case. It also came two-and-a-half months after Wilson's and Glater's own June 12 story, published on page 13, describing "a growing perception of a case in trouble."

Although the Times' August story depicted a troubled investigation, overwrought summary graphs inflated Nifong's case and downplayed his blunders: "By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks," the story said. "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."

Wilson and Glater relied heavily on exclusive access to 33 pages of typed notes and three pages of handwritten notes by Mark D. Gottlieb, the police sergeant supervising the investigation. Joseph B. Cheshire, an attorney for Evans, was quoted calling the belatedly filed report a "make-up document." Cheshire said Gottlieb told defense lawyers that he took few handwritten notes and relied on his memory and other officers' notes.

But elsewhere in the article, the journalists described those notes without skepticism. After detailing serious discrepancies between the accuser's description of the suspects in Gottlieb's notes and those of another officer, Benjamin W. Himan, the Times story stated, "The difference in the police accounts could not be explained." It added that Gottlieb "is by far the more experienced" of the two.

Wilson says he went to Durham planning "to do a big story" exploring the case files, following up on a front-page, August 6 News & Observer investigation by Neff headlined "Duke lacrosse files show gaps in DA's case."

But then Wilson saw Gottlieb's notes, which had not been previously reported. "That was news, and we felt we had to lead off with that, but also point out all the many doubts and holes and concerns," he says.

Wilson wishes he had reworded his summary graph to say there was some evidence to "explain" the district attorney's case, rather than "support" it, but says his wording has been taken out of context. "The article talked about evidence Nifong was using, and that part was true," Wilson says. "The article didn't try to support his case. The article tried to cover all the evidence."

The Times published two corrections regarding the story, one about a misattributed quote, the other about the number of potential suspects whom the accuser picked out in photographs, but did not back away from the thrust of the article.

Keller says the August story "wasn't a perfect piece, but it was a detailed and subtle piece that left you with no illusions about the strength of Nifong's case." The sergeant's notes, which Keller says were not leaked by the prosecution, "were interesting not because they proved the crime was committed, which they did not, but because they showed you for the first time what the prosecutor claimed he had, what was the basis for filing his charges."

Joe Neff, a News & Observer investigative reporter who lives in Durham, read the Times' story with surprise. Neff has specialized in documenting prosecutorial misconduct; Editor Melanie Sill credits his work in a death-row case for helping to bring about the state law that requires prosecutors to share all of their evidence with defense attorneys.

Neff had seen Gottlieb's notes before his August 6 story but could not convince his source to let him report on them. "I was really struck that [the Times reporters] used this report that I had seen, but they used it basically 180 degrees from how I was planning to use it," Neff says. "The discrepancy between Himan's description [of the suspects] and Gottlieb's description was irreconcilable."

Neff was one of a handful of journalists who dug deep into the evidence--some publicly available, some shared confidentially by sources--to debunk Nifong's case. These journalists bucked the pack and burrowed beneath an enticing narrative to raise questions about the rush to judgment against the lacrosse players.

Sill assigned Neff to the story because "she had a gut feeling that it wasn't right," he says. "[W]e kept peeling back the layers of the onion. At first it just seemed like incompetence or tunnel vision on the part of the DA and cops. As we went along, it becomes less of the tunnel vision and more deceit."

He was struck by the absolute insistence of the defense lawyers, whom he'd known for years, that their clients were "innocent." He had expected to hear more routine assertions that "it didn't happen that way; it's a misunderstanding."

"In few criminal cases have the prosecution and defense stuck their necks out so far and so fast," Neff and Anne Blythe wrote April 8, 2006, on A1. On April 30, Neff, Michael Biesecker and Samiha Khanna reported that the accuser "picked out her alleged attackers in a process that violated the Durham Police Department's own policy on identification lineups." Neff's August 6 story revealed that the "accuser gave at least five different versions of the alleged assault to different police and medical interviewers and made shaky identifications of suspects. To get warrants, police made statements that weren't supported by information in their files."

National Journal's Taylor weighed in April 29, 2006, to assert "accumulating evidence strongly suggests that the charge may well be a lie." He then listed that evidence, including a timeline based on digital photos taken at the party. Three weeks later, Taylor declared, "the available evidence leaves me about 85 percent confident" that the three athletes "are innocent and that the accusation is a lie."

Taylor's coauthor, Johnson, was intrigued by the Duke case because of the vociferous faculty response, which he regarded as "incredibly improper." On April 6, 2006, 88 Duke faculty members placed an ad in the Chronicle thanking protesters--some of whom had branded the lacrosse players "rapists" and distributed "wanted" posters of them--"for not waiting and for making yourselves heard."

When Johnson launched his blog in August 2006 (he first blogged about the case on a historians' group site), he committed to at least one daily post of "good enough quality that it wouldn't harm my reputation academically." His research included a July 13, 2006, analysis of lineup procedures elsewhere in North Carolina and whether they followed the recommendations of a state commission. By early July 2007, he had blogged more than 800,000 words and attracted more than 2.6 million unique visitors.

With "this case, more than any other, there seemed to be a lot of Internet activity," says Jim Cooney, an attorney for Seligmann. The defense team monitored bloggers' work. A few "were doing just incredible research, finding documents we didn't even know existed," Cooney says. Reading Johnson's efforts "was like having a PhD paralegal."

At the Chronicle, Duke's student journalists worked to provide fair, nuanced coverage. Johnson says the News & Observer "doesn't get the praise it deserves" and thinks Sill hasn't gotten "near enough credit" for her leadership. But he adds that the Chronicle "didn't have the initial rush to judgment that the N&O did. They were the only paper you can say had it right from the start. They were dispassionate on the coverage. This was not a sort of 'let's rah-rah for Duke.' They were willing to criticize the Duke lacrosse team; they were willing to criticize the Duke administration."

One television journalist who humanized the accused and laid bare the travesty of the case was Ed Bradley. On October 15, 2006, in his second-to-last piece before his death the following month, Bradley offered a devastating indictment of the prosecution. "Over the past six months, '60 Minutes' has examined nearly the entire case file," he said. "The evidence we've seen reveals disturbing facts about the conduct of the police and the district attorney and raises serious concerns about whether or not a rape even occurred."

He began with Seligmann, Finnerty and Evans, who granted Bradley their first interviews, and also talked to the second dancer at the ill-fated party, Kim Roberts, who refuted key portions of the accuser's story.

The piece, produced and reported in large part by Michael Radutzky, has garnered a Peabody Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. "We went into this story thinking that it just didn't seem like it all fit together well," says Executive Producer Jeff Fager. "We like turning conventional wisdom on its head."

More than a decade ago, correspondent Mike Wallace and producer Tom Anderson helped exonerate another falsely accused suspect, Richard Jewell. Fager thought of Jewell when the DNA results in the Duke case came back negative. "There's something that goes against the American way when a pack rules," Fager says, adding that his team's Duke reporting is "a tribute to Ed Bradley, and it says something about his legacy."

On cable, Dan Abrams emerged as an early and persistent critic of the prosecution's case on MSNBC's "The Abrams Report." Abrams, a 1988 Duke graduate, scolded on April 10, 2006, that "some want to embellish the story by suggesting it was almost inevitable it would happen at Duke.

They vastly overstate the tension between the Durham and Duke communities, inflate the sense of privilege at the university while exaggerating the economic woes of those in Durham. It is often nothing more than race and class baiting."

Now the general manager of MSNBC, Abrams rates the media's overall performance on the case "mediocre." In an interview, he said, "This is one of those stories where you had to be paying attention, and you had to be paying close attention. It's hard sometimes to get access to the best sources. This case was very competitive, and there was a lot of media involved."

But reporters who followed the facts got the story right. "This is really a case where people who did their homework were in the end rewarded," Abrams says. "There were some people out there who wanted to believe certain things about athletes and the university and about privilege, and some of these things may be true. But that doesn't have anything to do with whether these three young men raped a woman at a party that night."

Asked what the media should learn from the Duke case, Taylor, sounding exasperated, strikes a similar note. "Read the damn motions," he says. "If you're covering a case, don't just wait for somebody to call a press conference. Read the documents."

Taylor, who is also a lawyer, advises reporters to look beyond the rhetoric. "We should never take a prosecutor's word as fact." Conversely, don't disregard defense assertions as necessarily false. "Yes, many defense lawyers will say almost anything to get their clients off most of the time, but don't just ignore what they say," he says. "Look at what they're telling you. And do they have the evidence to back it up?"

Adds defense attorney Cooney: "The national media seems to believe balance requires them to report anything someone says, whether it's true or not." The fact-checking aspect of reporting, he says, "seems to have fallen by the wayside."

Looking back, Neff wishes he and his colleagues had paid more attention to two items available from the start. The first was a police blotter entry published in the Raleigh paper on March 22, 2006, on page B3. The brief said a woman had told police she was raped and robbed March 13 during a party at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. It cited Sgt. Gottlieb as saying that residents of the rental house were cooperating.

"[W]hen the story blew up and it became this huge mess, we never said, 'Wait a minute. The police sergeant said they were cooperating, and Nifong said they weren't cooperating,'" Neff says. "I wish we would have caught that."

The second set of facts involved the accuser, who told an N&O reporter for the March 25, 2006, story that she had just started working as an exotic dancer. On April 7, the paper reported that she had been arrested in 2002 after stealing a taxi and trying to run over a police officer. "If we had pulled that incident report, we would have seen that she was doing a lap dance at a strip club," Neff says. "Part of the reporting is just to go, 'Oh, let's go pull this and see if there's anything there.'" In this instance, it "would have really given us pause. She's someone who's saying she only just started dancing a couple of weeks ago, when four years before she'd been dancing at a strip club and stealing a car."

Perhaps the most complex lessons about the media coverage of the Duke case involve issues of narrative. Unquestionably, the media too readily ran with a simplistic storyline, sacrificing a search for truth. Not only were the accused innocent of rape, the allegations of racial taunts that received so much media attention appear to have been exaggerated.

"We fell into a stereotype of the Duke lacrosse players," says Newsweek's Evan Thomas. "It's complicated because there is a strong stereotype [that] lacrosse players can be loutish, and there's evidence to back that up. There's even some evidence that that the Duke lacrosse players were loutish, and we were too quick to connect those dots."

But he adds: "It was about race. Nifong's motivations clearly were rooted in his need to win black votes. There were tensions between town and gown, that part was true. The narrative was properly about race, sex and class... We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place... We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong."

If the facts are wrong, though, why explore the narrative at all? Is it fair to use the Duke lacrosse players to tell a larger story of athletes run wild--a theme that appeared not only on sports pages but also was splashed, repeatedly, on the front pages of major newspapers and amplified on cable shoutfests? Says Johnson: Once the facts are "proven not to be true, you certainly have to consider whether the narrative is relevant."

On May 28, 2006, nearly a year before Attorney General Cooper exonerated the accused, New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks published a corrective account. "Witch hunts go in stages," he began. "But now that we know more about the Duke lacrosse team, simple decency requires that we return to that scandal, if only to correct the slurs that were uttered by millions of people, including me."

Brooks concluded: "[M]aybe the saddest part of the whole reaction is not the rush to judgment at the start, but the unwillingness by so many to face the truth now that the more complicated reality has emerged."

How did journalists and news organizations that embraced the case respond when it fell apart? Some chose to simply move on--abandoning the story entirely or clinging to their original storyline. As of late June, Nancy Grace had not returned to the subject since last summer, according to a Nexis search. A guest hosted her program on December 22, 2006, when Nifong dropped rape charges, and on April 11, when Cooper cleared the athletes. On June 12, as Nifong's disciplinary trial opened, Grace explored Paris Hilton's legal troubles.

In a mystifying March 25, 2007, column, the New York Times' Selena Roberts opined, "A dismissal doesn't mean forget everything. Amnesia would be a poor defense to the next act of athlete privilege."

Some news organizations continued to dig deep. Beginning April 14, 2007, the News & Observer published an exhaustive five-part retrospective by Neff examining Nifong's blunders. Each part appeared on A1; the first was headlined "Nifong's quest to convict hid a lack of evidence." On April 23, Newsweek's Meadows and Thomas offered "The inside story of the infamous evening," relying on interviews with Finnerty and Seligmann and their families as well as handwritten statements that Evans and two other team captains gave Durham police two days after the alleged rape.

Keller says media organizations should press forward with "more, better reporting," and cites a front-page story by David Barstow and Wilson that appeared December 23, the day after Nifong dropped rape charges. The article included admissions Nifong made in a three-hour interview two days earlier, including his acknowledgment that DNA results he kept from the defense were "potentially exculpatory."

To Daniel Okrent, simply continuing to report is not enough. "The one thing I'm quite certain I didn't see was an apology, which is certainly not one of the acts that the American media are particularly good at," the former Times public editor says. "It's a matter of media organizations owning up to their responsibility, and when they do something wrong, they should acknowledge that they do something wrong."

Okrent envisions a mea culpa--an editor's note, a front-page article, perhaps an "appearance on a platform in Times Square"--that would say, candidly: "'We blew it. We're sorry. We accept responsibility for having blown it.'"

On April 23, the News & Observer's Ruth Sheehan did just that. "Members of the men's Duke lacrosse team: I am sorry," she began. She noted that she had written 14 columns on the case, moving well beyond the "two Molotov cocktails" in her initial code-of-silence diatribe and her demand for coach Pressler's ouster. She had already acknowledged her errors, but, for many readers, that wasn't enough. They wanted an apology. And they got one.

"I decided I needed, just for my own conscience, really, to write the last column," says Sheehan, who regrets the damage that her first two pieces may have caused. "I will approach cases in a different manner now. I will be much more cautious. I had a visceral reaction to that case as it was being described by the prosecutor."

All too soon, the next lurid crime story will explode into the headlines. The media will have a chance to show what they learned from this fiasco. Will they remember that sometimes the accused are innocent? Will they proceed with caution, combing through the facts and avoiding sweeping generalizations? Will they remind viewers and readers, "It looks bad now, but not all the evidence is in"?

Maybe some journalists, such as Sheehan, really will apply more prudence and skepticism in the future. But the media's collective memory is notoriously short, and competitive pressures are awfully hard to resist.

Official assurances--whether about the guilt of privileged athletes or the existence of weapons of mass destruction--can persuade, even when they shouldn't. Journalists, in Keller's phrase, can get "sucked into the undertow."

So does another rush to judgment await some hapless citizen thrust into the media's glare?

Almost certainly.

AJR editorial assistant Sally Dadisman contributed research to this report.

With Ripken, Gwynn, town has true legends

By Peter Schmuck
Baltimore Sun
July 28, 2007

It is the pleasant nature of this quaint little upstate village that makes it so easy to overlook the disconnect between truth and legend that allowed it to become the hometown of baseball history.

If baseball wasn't invented here, it should have been.

Cooperstown is the place where fact and fiction have long been locked in a strange embrace - a town named for the family of one of America's greatest storytellers and the site where baseball supposedly began, though nobody really believes that anymore.

In a strange sort of way, that's what makes everything about this weekend seem so perfect. In an era when sports fans are struggling more than ever to decipher what's real and what's not, the legends who will enter baseball's Hall of Fame tomorrow exude a welcome air of authenticity that should renew our faith in all that's good about sports.

Cal Ripken played out his 21-year career without a whiff of impropriety. He redefined the shortstop position, rolled up the requisite career statistics and broke one of the game's most hallowed records.

Tony Gwynn was a base-hit machine, joining a pantheon of pure hitters that stretches from Ty Cobb to Ted Williams to Hall of Fame outcast Pete Rose and beyond. He also was - and remains - one of the great ambassadors of baseball.

It is harmless fun to debate the true significance of Cooperstown in the ever-evolving historical timeline of baseball, but no one who will crowd onto that field at the Clark Sports Complex tomorrow (weather permitting) has to wonder whether either of this year's Hall of Fame inductees is the real deal.

Leave those kind of questions for the walking tour. This was the boyhood home of James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote the classic early American novel The Last of the Mohicans, but even Cooperstown's literary legacy is misunderstood. The town actually is named for Cooper's father, and none of the author's memorable books was written here.

Of course, the Hall of Fame was located here in the 1930s based on the Abner Doubleday myth, which was spawned by a sketchy "investigation" by the Mills Commission, a group of prominent sportsmen appointed by National League president Abraham Mills in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball.

The commission somehow concluded that Doubleday, who would go on to become a Civil War general of some note, invented the game and laid out its specifics at Cooperstown in 1839. Never mind that Doubleday was a 20-year-old cadet at West Point at the time and never made any reference in his memoirs or in conversations with contemporaries to any involvement in the creation of the sport.

In the rush to identify baseball as a purely American game, those early baseball historians chose not to let an absence of real facts get in the way of a good story, and for that we should all be grateful.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has made peace with history by allowing the romantic legend and the real legacy of the game to live together in Cooperstown.

If only the sport it represents could be so unconflicted.

Maybe Ripken and Gwynn can help the game and its fans take a big step back in the right direction this weekend, since each of them exemplified the best baseball has to offer.

Ripken, in particular, was known for his great sense of timing. He caught the final out of the 1983 World Series. He was the Most Valuable Player of two All-Star Games. He hit home runs in the games that tied and broke Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable record for consecutive games.

Both of them made us proud. But, best of all, they never made us separate fact from fiction.
Listen to Peter Schmuck broadcasting live from Cooperstown on WBAL (1090 AM) from noon to 3 p.m. today.

Tony will be feeling the love soon enough

By Tim Sullivan
July 28, 2007

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Tony Gwynn is undecided about his suit. He might wear the blue one. He might wear brown.

Now that his immortality is imminent, a ballplayer who became synonymous with meticulous preparation has suddenly gone all spontaneous on us. Tony Gwynn has written no speech for tomorrow's Hall of Fame inductions, choosing instead to rely on a broad outline of bullet points.

Rain or shine, blue or brown, he will be speaking off the cuff.

“He said he's just going to speak from the heart and that's good enough. I guess,” said John Boggs, Gwynn's longtime agent. “I keep thinking, 'Are you sure?' I've been here so many times in the past and you look out there (at the crowd) and it's like Woodstock.”

Imagine (weather permitting) a throng that would overflow Petco Park spilling out into a town barely big enough for its single stoplight. Imagine hundreds and hundreds of Padres pilgrims traveling cross-country, only to be jostled on the sidewalks and gouged in the shops, only to commute 90 miles for a bed, just to bear witness to a baseball speech.
Then try to imagine Tony Gwynn maintaining his composure, keeping his train of thought on track, winging it from the lectern without committing some significant oratorical oversight.

If Gwynn can pull all that off without a major glitch or a Louisville Slugger-size lump in his throat, his eight batting titles will look easy by comparison.

Gwynn says he “gets it,” that he appreciates the magnitude of the event and the sacrifice so many of his fans have made to take part, but there's a part of this spectacle he can't fully fathom from his high-security hotel on Lake Otsego. There's a part of this that speaks to an extraordinary bond between a ballplayer and his public.

While Gwynn was unwinding from his (private) jet lag Thursday night, watching DVDs of “Law & Order” in his hotel room, his fans were filling red-eyes and finding bus stops and negotiating narrow roads to pay homage to their hero. To say San Diego fans went the extra mile for No. 19 understates the distance between the ballpark at 19 Tony Gwynn Drive and the baseball museum at 25 Main Street by almost a continent. According to Yahoo maps, that trip entails 2,830.8 extra miles.

Lounging in a red leather chair yesterday afternoon, Gwynn was asked why so many would come so far to bear witness to his induction ceremony.

“I think that's about respect,” he said. “I think that's about them feeling that I did the right thing.”

With all due respect, I think that's a crock. This isn't about respect, but reverence. This isn't about doing the right thing so much as striking the right chords with a ringing emotional resonance.

At the risk of getting all mushy over Mr. Padre, the operative word here is “love.”

“We always loved Tony,” said Escondido's Bruce Martin, invoking the first person plural to include his wife, Andrea. “The Padres wouldn't be (in San Diego) without Tony, in my opinion. They would have gone. He was the reason we went to the games. When he gets to the Mecca of baseball forever, we need to be there.”

For the serious baseball fan, Cooperstown is not so much a decision as a reflex. Standing outside the Hall of Fame between rainstorms yesterday, Martin said he knew he would make this trip on the day Gwynn retired in 2001.

“Like the saying goes,” Andrea Martin explained, “Seeing your boy get in the Hall of Fame: Priceless.”

Tom Horn, Garrett Kovar and Gabe Kunde, three San Diegans who strolled the streets of Cooperstown yesterday in vintage 1984 Padres jerseys, expressed a similar imperative. Like the Martins, their trip was not a choice so much as a compulsion.

Because Kunde manages the Padres' ticket office, the three men were able to obtain invitations for the club's reception for Gwynn this afternoon. Because Kunde has not yet spent 10 years with the team, he is traveling on his own dime.

Bill Homan and Ryan Sweeney, both a decade removed from their studies at USD, decided to attend the inductions because they had already visited almost all of the big league ballparks.

“I bought a Gwynn throwback collectible jersey,” Homan said. “I didn't wear it today because I didn't want it to get gamey (before the ceremonies) . . .

“We were actually thinking about sleeping in the car to make sure we got good seats Sunday morning.”

These are grown men contemplating a college stunt because of a connection that borders on obsession. This is the sort of thing Tony Gwynn misses by watching “Law & Order” instead of mingling with the man in the street.

“I'm not sequestered,” he said yesterday. “I'm doing what I think is probably in the best interests of my psyche. You get out among the masses, you get emotional. I need to think about what I need to do.

“Right now, I don't need to be emotional. I don't need people to tell me what's coming. I just need to suck it up and enjoy.”

And, in due time, he needs to select a suit.

Tim Sullivan: (619) 293-1033;

Why is the American Government Releasing Guantanamo Prisoners?

By Dick Morris and Eileen McGann
Friday, July 27, 2007

Calling him a "senior Taliban commander," The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Abdullah Mehsud blew himself up at his hide-out in the town of Zhob in southwestern Baluchistan Province in Pakistan, rather than surrender to government forces.

But what was he doing commanding Taliban troops in the first place? Mehsud had been captured by American forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001 and sent to the Guantanamo Detention Center.

Abdullah Mehsud, left, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, talks on his walky-talkie as his body guard looks on near Chagmalai in South Waziristan along Afghanistan border in this Oct 14, 2004 file photo. Mehsud, who led pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan after his release, died on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 when he blew himself up with a grenade to avoid arrest. Armed intelligence agents cornered Mehsud and three other men at the house of a leader of an Islamist political party in the southwestern town of Zhob, police officials said. (AP Photo/M. Sajjad/FILE)

The reason he was able to resume his duties as a Taliban commander is because we released him from Guantanamo in March 2004. The Times reported that "upon his return to the region, he took up arms again and soon became the Taliban commander of South Waziristan, a tribal area near the border with Afghanistan."

Mehsud is suspected of being the mastermind behind the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in 2004, one of whom was killed.

So the question, not asked by The Times, of course, is why on earth did we free Mehsud in the first place, permitting him to go back to his day job as a guerilla and terrorist leader?

The answer is as obvious as it is depressing: pressure from human rights activists and their journalistic accomplices throughout the world. In the past few years, we have released hundreds of detainees and most face no charges in their native countries when they are repatriated.

But those who lock up in Guantanamo are dangerous people. A recent Pentagon study showed that most are fully conversant with explosives, high-tech rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The study said that 73 percent of those under detention in 2004 and 2005 were "demonstrated threats" to the United States.

In most wars, prisoners are not released until the conflict has ended for exactly the same reason — to prevent them from returning to enemy lines and resuming the battle. But, as a result of the misplaced sympathy of the global liberal community, Guantanamo Bay Detention Center has become far too much of a revolving door through which terrorists are returned to their country of origin, courtesy of the U.S. government, to take up arms against us again. This is a crazy, short-sighted policy.

But the good news in the death of Mehsud is that it indicates that Pakistan’s President Musharraf has become serious about raiding al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. In this region, where Usama bin Laden is likely hiding out, local warlords, protected by a cease-fire deal with Musharraf, have been safe from Pakistan and American troops. But with the renewal of conflict between the Musharaff regime and the militant Muslims, the cease fire is off and the raid that led to Mehsud’s death proves it.

Now it is time for the United States to take over the hunt for bin Laden and send our troops across the border into Pakistan in search of the elusive terrorist. Nothing could underscore the smashing success of Bush’s war on terror than the apprehension of slaying of bin Laden.

Until now, our alliance with Musharaff and our perceived need to abide by his cease-fire has inhibited us from crossing the border to hunt for the terrorist. But now that the cease fire is a dead letter, perhaps we can free ourselves to go in after him.

And, in the meantime, let’s stop releasing terrorists from Guantanamo!

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race. To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to

Gwen Knapp: Swinging away at pregame concerns

Barry Bonds hits his 754th career home run last night in San Fransisco.

San Fransisco Chronicle

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Around the batting cage Friday evening, Barry Bonds chatted with ex-teammate Armando Benitez, now wearing his billowing uniform in Florida Marlins colors, and laughed a lot. He had poured his emotions all over the park the day before, telling reporters that he was confused, overwhelmed and grateful to come from a terrific gene pool.

Now, it was Peter Magowan's turn to share his angst. The team owner took the media baton and said that the Giants might become a better team after Bonds replaced Hank Aaron as baseball's home-run king.

The magic number was still three as the team owner stood near the Giants' on-deck circle, wearing an orange shirt and a slightly fatigued expression. "No, I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying it. I'm just not enjoying losing," he said, just after stating that he was looking forward to the end of the record chase. "I don't think any of us are, and I think we'll start winning more consistently once this is over with."

Barely 21/2 hours later, the magic number had dropped to two. Bonds drove home run No. 754 over the fence in left-center, and the entire club, breathless for all the wrong reasons this week, could finally exhale, if only for a few seconds.

Bonds still looked a little drained as he left the dugout after the homer and headed to his place in left field. He doffed his cap briefly to the crowd, and then on the scoreboard, the face and voice of Michael Jordan appeared, offering congratulations and good luck to No. 25. Bonds saw the video and pointed, like a basketball player acknowledging an assist. When the tribute ended, Bonds pantomimed a swing.

It had been eight days since he hit two home runs in Chicago, pulling to two behind Aaron and three from a new landmark. In the interim, he played five games, and, in 18 at-bats, collected three hits. Only two of his 15 outs reached the outfield. Bonds became a font of grounders to second and popups.

His best swing of the last week was the one he took at HBO's Bob Costas after a show that underscored Bonds' alleged connections to undetectable steroids and his disconnect from authentic baseball history. On Wednesday, Bonds called Costas a "little midget man who knows absolutely jacks- about baseball." The following day, he made nice, backing off the midget reference. He settled for calling Costas an irresponsible journalist. His temper had, at least publicly, gone as cool as his bat.

Did 754 represent the end of the strain? It certainly ended the fearlessness that pitchers had displayed against Bonds since that game in Chicago. The Marlins walked him in all four plate appearances after he took 22-year-old Rick Vanden Hurk to the mat.

More to the point, the home run came on a night that, unlike so many others lately, didn't turn Bonds into the sole attraction. He had to share the evening with, first, the recently deceased Rod Beck, whose family turned out for the "Until There's a Cure" ceremony, an AIDS awareness event that the late reliever and wife Stacey started 13 years ago.

Then there was the standing ovation for Mark Sweeney, whose 151st pinch-hit placed him second on the all-time list. And the applause for Omar Vizquel's great stop in the eighth inning. And a rousing cheer for the team in general in the sixth.

Before the game, even as he lavished praise on Bonds, Magowan stood up for the other players, who have effectively become the slugger's courtiers. A week earlier, Vizquel played in his 2,512th game, passing Ozzie Smith for second place.

"That makes him second in the whole history of baseball, to play that many games at shortstop, and it's barely covered, even by own local newspapers," Magowan chided. "No interest. It's certainly of interest to him and his teammates, but it doesn't seem to be of interest to anyone else, and it should be. And if you guys weren't here covering Barry, that kind of thing would be a big story. ''

Magowan was on a 25th wedding anniversary trip to St. Bart's when Bonds went deep twice in Chicago, and he didn't rush to Milwaukee to see if the record vanished there. He stayed on vacation. The message was clear. He's weary of people thinking that Bonds is everything, the entire franchise, to him.

He responded to a remark that pitcher Matt Morris made in Chicago, questioning the team's priorities by saying: "I think the only thing that would bother me about that comment is if Matt Morris thought the organization, as an organization, is not as interested in winning as he is because that would not be true. You can read that in one way that all we're interested in is packing the stadium, and we're delighted to be in last place and all that. It's bulls-."

So yes, everyone needed to exhale on Friday. The tension and the public cursing, whether at Costas or the naysayers about the front office's goals, had to end. And after one Bonds swing, amid chants of "Barry, Barry, Barry," it was all going, going, gone.

E-mail Gwen Knapp at

This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, July 27, 2007

Linda Chavez: Academic Fraud

Posted: 07/27/2007

Ward Churchill

Ward Churchill, the controversial University of Colorado ethnic studies professor who likened 9/11 World Trade Center victims to "little Eichmanns," has finally lost his job. CU regents voted 8-1 this week to fire Churchill after a lengthy investigation that revealed a long history of academic misconduct by Churchill, including plagiarism.

But Ward Churchill's story says as much about the university as it does about the man. The wonder isn't that Churchill was fired but that he was ever hired in the first place.

Churchill first came to CU to work in the university's American Indian affirmative action program as an administrative assistant and later lectured on campus for more than a decade. In 1991, the university hired Churchill as a tenured professor in the communications department, even though he did not have a Ph.D.

The university bypassed its usual 6-year process to award tenure because administrators were anxious to have an American Indian on the faculty. But then some Indian groups began to question whether Churchill was actually an Indian after all, which didn't stop the university from appointing him chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department in 2002, again largely on the basis of his putative ethnicity. Churchill finally conceded in 2005, "I have never been confirmed as having one-quarter blood and never said I was."

Nonetheless, Churchill's whole resume is built on race. His official biography posted on CU's website mentions little else but his Indian-ness -- his tribal membership, his work on Indian causes and issues -- as if ethnicity sufficiently qualified him to teach at one of the top state universities in the country.

But apparently, from CU's perspective, ethnicity not only justified whom the university should hire but also the basis on which it should award degrees to some students. In 1997, the university created an Ethnic Studies Department, whose faculty Churchill joined. The department's mission, according to its website: "encourages participatory, experiential, student-centered learning and empowers students to move beyond existing social, cultural, and political paradigms to more inclusive paradigms in which they are the subjects of their own reality."

If it's possible to earn a B.A. in Ethnic Studies at CU after spending four years as the subject of one's own reality, should we really be surprised that the faculty teaching in those programs might create their own reality as well? Of course, that is exactly what Ward Churchill did.

Churchill's fraud was simple and straightforward: He invented facts, falsely claiming, for example, that the United States adopted a racial code to categorize Indians similar to the infamous Nuremburg Laws enacted by the Nazis. He misrepresented others' scholarship, alleging that one scholar had produced evidence that the U.S. Army gave smallpox-infected blankets to Indians in 1837 when the work he cited said nothing of the sort. He plagiarized, copying sections of a pamphlet by a Canadian environmental group in a piece he wrote on Canadian water issues without attribution. He also published articles under false names so that he could then cite them as independent sources for work he published under his own name.

But the University of Colorado has been engaged in perpetrating its own, albeit more subtle, fraud as well. When the university hires faculty members or admits students on the basis of skin color, when it grants degrees in pseudo-academic fields, when its obsession with "diversity" overrides its devotion to learning, it, too, is acting fraudulently. The Ward Churchills of the academic world could not exist without the complicity of the universities that hire them.

CU is by no means alone. A report entitled "How Many Ward Churchills?" by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni suggests, "In colleges and universities across the country, in both traditional disciplines and new-fangled programs, the classes offered and the faculty who teach them are displaying an ideological slant that is frequently as uniform as it is severe."

After the regents' decision to fire Churchill was announced, a group of CU students donned T-shirts proclaiming, "It's not about scholarship . . . It's about politics." The students meant the slogan as an indictment of the process that led to Churchill's firing. But the irony is the words more accurately describe why CU and many other colleges hire the likes of Ward Churchill in the first place.

Mrs. Chavez is president of Stop Union Political Abuse.

Thomas Sieger Derr: The Politics of Global Warming

First Things (August/September 2007).

With the virtual apotheosis of Al Gore, talk of global warming has become pervasive—and pervasively one-sided. Churches of all varieties have signed on as a moral cause. Corporations, including former doubters, have adopted anti-warming language, either from new conviction or convenient public image. Politicians, with few exceptions, dare not openly deny that there is a problem, though their responses may vary.

Through it all, one would never know there are dissenters of distinguished credentials in the scientific community. Even where their existence is admitted, they are thoroughly marginalized, accused of being in the pay of the oil companies (Gore slyly and meanly implies this in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth), or dismissed as over-the-hill retirees out of touch and perhaps a bit senile. Their articles are denied publication in Science and Nature, those two so-called flagship science journals of high reputation despite some embarrassing lapses.

When dissenters do speak and publish, the majority who embrace the prevailing theory that humans are causing global warming try to silence them on the grounds that, because they are in error, they must not be allowed to be heard. Newspapers who seek balance in their reporting are told that they are doing a disservice to the public, to truth, and to the survival of the human race. The Weather Channel, a full-bore promoter of global-warming alarm (which feeds its appetite for newsworthy disaster), has, through its chief climate expert Heidi Cullen, even said that weather reporters who don’t accept the reigning thesis should be decertified by the American Meteorological Society—in other words, believe our way or lose your job. When British television producer Martin Durkin made a counter-movie to Gore’s, the head of the Royal Society declared that he should not be allowed to show it.

The result is that anyone who finds the dissenters persuasive—including me—is suspected of being a right-wing extremist, making politics determine science. In vain do we point out that dissenters from established scientific consensus have often been dramatically vindicated. Undeterred, some of our critics have even compared us to Holocaust deniers or urged that dissenters be tried as war criminals. Or maybe burned at the stake for heresy—for our religious critics do think of us as heretics and sinners.

This dismal state of affairs is made possible by an astonishing historical amnesia. It is indisputable that climate swings are a regular feature of our planet’s life. Short-term changes lie within our personal memories: The current warming trend dates from only about 1975. Before that, a pronounced cooling period starting about 1940 led the scientific consensus of the 1970s to proclaim global cooling and perhaps the first signs of an ice age. Note that these swings do not correspond to the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere; 60 percent of global warming since 1850 occurred before 1940, while 80 percent of CO2 was emitted after that date—and temperatures fell from 1940 until the turnaround in the late 1970s.

This painting is by the artist Hendrick Avercamp (1585 - 1663), and shows severe winter conditions during the Maunder minimum when the solar activity was unusually low.

Going further back, we find the “little ice age” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Hudson and the Thames froze, crops failed, and disease was rampant, so that millions died. Before that, we come upon the “medieval climate optimum,” when a prevailing warmth made life pleasant, grape vines grew in England, and the Vikings established settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland (which they called Vinland; the names are revealing)—settlements that lasted until the little ice age froze them out.

That period was, in turn, preceded by an unfavorable climate in the Dark Ages, and that by another warm stretch in Roman times. Using proxy records (tree rings, ice-core samples, ocean-bottom sediment), geologists have determined that such climate swings stretch back into prehistory. Fred Singer (who has impeccable credentials and experience as a climate scientist) and Dennis Avery have calculated that this swing-and-return pattern occurs roughly but regularly every 1,500 years. Obviously, the pattern has nothing to do with human activity. Nor does it correspond to the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. If anything, climate change appears to precede, not follow, increases in CO2.

So what’s going on? There is a significant body of scientific opinion that finds the sun to be the principal climate driver. The sun’s output is variable and complex, more and less intense at different periods. A German team has shown an almost perfect correlation between air temperatures and solar cycles for the past 150 years. A Danish team likewise has constructed a multi-era match of solar activity (measured by sunspots) to global temperatures. Nigel Weiss of Cambridge University, a mathematical astrophysicist and past president of the Royal Astronomical Society, also correlates sunspot activity with changes in the earth’s climate. Because solar activity is cyclical, he expects that a downturn is coming and will usher in a cooling climate for earth in, maybe, three decades. Actually, global average temperature seems to have plateaued since 2000, though it is probably too soon to expect the downturn to have begun. Still, Richard Lindzen, a distinguished atmospheric physicist at MIT and a leading doubter that human activity is driving warming, thinks the odds are about 50 percent that the earth will be cooler in twenty years—due to natural cycles.

It may or may not be significant, but it is suggestive, that NASA’s instruments calculate that Mars, Jupiter, Pluto, and the Titan moon of Neptune are warming, suggesting a solar-system-wide phenomenon. To be sure, this is not hard evidence; other factors (axis tilt and wobble on Mars, for instance) may be a cause. Still, it may be a clue to what is happening here on our planet.

Some caveats are in order. Human activity may add something to the natural cycle, though how much is hard to tell. I have seen a paper that estimates the human contribution at 3 percent and another that gives it at 0.28 percent, for an almost undetectable effect on climate. The principal greenhouse gas, some 97 percent of the total, is water vapor, which leaves little for CO2 and other trace gasses. Scott McIntosh, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, says that warming caused by CO2 compared to the effect of solar magnetic fields is like a flea’s contribution to the weight of an elephant.

We do know, however, that atmospheric emissions can affect climate—for example, the serious consequences of the ash cloud thrown up by volcanic eruptions; so perhaps there is something to the greenhouse-gas theory. People can also argue about the historical record and try to modify the data that shows natural climate cycles. There may be problems with the sun theory; climate is also affected by ocean currents, meteor impact, the tilt of the earth’s axis, cosmic rays, precipitation systems, and other factors. And so on. Those of us who are doubters will not complain when we in turn are doubted. Debate is healthy and must not be choked off.
Nevertheless, the large, rough historical record should be enough to awaken the critical instincts and make anyone take a long second look at the claims of the global-warming alarmists—and alarmists they certainly are, deliberately and unabashedly so.

They’ve claimed, for example, that the glaciers will melt in Greenland and Antarctica and raise the oceans so much that low-lying cities and countries will be submerged and the Gulf Stream will shut down and plunge Europe into an ice age.
As it happens, while there is edge-melting in Greenland and along the peninsula of Antarctica that stretches toward South America, snow is accumulating in the interior of Greenland and in most of Antarctica. The warming peninsula there is just 2 percent of the continent; the other 98 percent is cooling. The Larson B ice shelf, which collapsed, was 1/246 the size of the West Antarctic ice shelf, which has been retreating slowly anyway for thousands of years. As for the Gulf Stream threat, oceanographers debunk it. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N. body that puts out huge periodic reports warning of climate disaster, has backed down from its earlier estimates of sea rise, from three feet for the next century to seventeen inches—and many scientists think even that is too high.

Speaking of glaciers, the alarmists point out that they are melting everywhere. Kilimanjaro will be bare in a few years, and the Alpine glaciers will be but pale shadows of themselves, and so on around the globe. But Claude All├Ęgre, a distinguished French climate scientist, has recanted his earlier support for the IPCC’s conclusions, and says of Kilimanjaro specifically that its snow cap is retreating from natural causes having to do with moisture from the Indian Ocean. Alpine glaciers, like most everywhere, grow and retreat often through their lives. In 2003, as the Schnidenjoch glacier in Switzerland was retreating, a 4,700-year-old archer’s quiver was exposed; that pass has been open to human travel many times since the last ice age.

On and on, the alarms go. Perhaps you’ve seen the claim that the Arctic sea ice is disappearing and that polar bears are threatened with extinction because they can’t hunt from ice floes any more. But Arctic sea ice, like the glaciers, grows and retreats in natural cycles. Gore’s computer simulation of the drowning polar bear may look sad, but, of course, it’s fake. Canadian wildlife biologists say most populations of the bears are actually increasing.

Or perhaps you’ve heard that storms on land and sea will increase in number and intensity, and we can expect more Katrinas. In fact, there has actually been a downward trend in the number of the bigger, detectable tornadoes since 1950; we detect more because better reporting picks up more small ones. New evidence shows that hurricane intensity does not correlate with ocean temperature.

Maybe you’ve read that tropical diseases such as malaria will spread into now-temperate zones, higher latitudes, and higher altitudes—Nairobi, for example. But Nairobi was built when malaria was already endemic there. It was repelled with better insecticide, especially, in Africa, DDT. The current resurgence of malaria comes not from global warming but from the ban on DDT spraying, growing resistance to drugs, and poverty.

You’ve also been told that failing to curb our greenhouse-gas emissions will cause irreparable economic damage to the poorer nations, as the Stern Report insisted. But the report was savaged by economists. William Nordhaus of Yale is among those who fault Stern for using a near-zero social-discount rate, which would charge current generations for problems not likely to occur for two or three centuries hence.

In fact, one can make the opposite case from Stern’s with greater plausibility: Economies would be wrecked by adoption of the Kyoto targets. Even a moderate stabilization of greenhouse-gas emissions would require something like a 60 to 80 percent reduction in fossil-fuel use, and standards of living would drop through the floor. Poor countries would have a nearly impossible time rising out of their poverty. Is it any wonder that China and India and other developing nations will have none of Kyoto-style proposals, and are loudly and clearly telling the developed nations to proceed without their participation? Naturally, they are much more interested in Bush’s proposal to bypass the useless Kyoto framework and substitute technological changes and voluntary goals for the binding targets championed by the Europeans.

One of the goofiest ways of raising consciousness about global warming has been the lectures we’ve received about purchasing carbon offsets. As it happens, the purchase of carbon offsets allows the buyer to continue his merry energy-guzzling ways, his sins having been forgiven for a cash payment. The process has the ring of a medieval indulgence sale, as many critics have gleefully noted. Gore buys carbon offsets so he can justify living in a mansion with huge electricity use. And he can certainly afford that, as his $100,000 lecture fees and his relations with Internet companies and environmental businesses have made him extraordinarily wealthy.

Everywhere you go, you hear the news that we have only a few years to save the planet before we reach the point of no return, the tipping point, irreversible catastrophic climate change, and the end of civilization. Hyperbolic statements like these are meant mainly to scare people into acting and accepting the enormous sums required for the proposed reduction program. Sir John Houghton, the first chair of the IPCC, wrote in a 1994 book, “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.”

A backlash against such exaggeration is growing, not least among scientists concerned for their own professional integrity. In any case, we need cooler heads to go with a warmer climate. Lindzen and Israeli astrophysicist Nir Shaviv calculate that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2100 would cause a temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius, which is only a little more than the rise from the late nineteenth century to the present has been. A 50 percent rise would yield a 0.5-degree-C. increase. There are, of course, good reasons for controlling many emissions and finding alternative sources to fossil fuels: pollution control, for instance, and freedom from economic fealty to some rather nasty oil-producing regimes. But stopping global warming is not one of them.

It almost seems as if the issue is not in science but in ideology and social psychology. Environmental alarmism is part of a systematic rejection of industrial civilization, of technology, consumerism, globalization, and what most of us think of as growth and progress, in favor of a return to local, simpler, largely agricultural societies—and, of course, fewer children, since humans are the ultimate pollution. Climate reversal has grown to become the latest focus of this way of thinking.

It is an issue that has acquired popular traction, even among people who do not share the radical goals of the larger movement, thanks to deliberate alarmism; and it is now firmly entrenched in our public discourse, especially in our politics. I suspect that it will stay there until the temperature starts to decline again, at which point, as in the 1970s, we’ll hear more about the inevitable return of an ice age.

Thomas Sieger Derr is professor emeritus of religion and ethics at Smith College and the author of Environmental Ethics and Christian Humanism.

Death of Wake Forest coach puts Bonds’ chase in perspective

Posted on Thu, Jul. 26, 2007


Kansas City Star

Skip Prosser offers advice to Ish Smith.

SAN FRANCISCO | Barry Watch: Day 6. Goodbye to an old friend.

One thing that happens when you are on a long-term assignment like this Barry Bonds home-run chase (and it grows longer by the minute — Bonds went homerless again Thursday afternoon) is you become consumed by it. You lose perspective. You shut out the outside world. The Olympics are like this. When you are covering the Olympics you start to believe that everyone in America is (like you) thinking pretty much nonstop about Michael Phelps or Sasha Cohen or the United States soccer team or whatever.

Here on the Barry Bonds chase, it’s easy to believe that this is what sports is all about, this brazen chase of glory, the suspicions that infect the air, the passionate arguments on both sides, the unmistakable fact that Bonds’ former trainer is in jail for refusing to testify, Hank Aaron’s silence and grace, Bud Selig’s rather pitiable attempt to disentangle himself from the steroid era he directed and so on.

But, of course, there is so much more to sports and life — this isn’t the real world. I want to tell you a story about someone else, a story that I had promised I would not share. But I think this is the right time. A few years ago, I was a columnist in Cincinnati, and one of my favorite subjects was Xavier basketball coach Skip Prosser.

It’s funny, a few of us friends were talking about Skip on Thursday, and we kept coming back to the same description: He was a “real guy.” Prosser grew up in Pittsburgh, and he liked Pittsburgh things: the Steelers, good friends, chipped ham, beer, hard-working people, the way downtown looked just as you came out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

“It’s the most beautiful sight in the world,” he said.

“You know,” I said, “there’s Paris in the springtime, there’s 17 Mile Drive in Monterrey, there’s the Sydney Opera House overlooking the harbor …”

“Give me Pittsburgh at night,” he said.

"Pittsburgh at night"
Click photo to enlarge.

Skip became a college basketball coach the hard way — he started in high school as a freshman coach, then junior varsity, then varsity. He became an assistant coach at Xavier, he got a head coaching job at Loyola (Md.), went back to Xavier as head coach and finally got the closest thing he ever got to a big-time job at Wake Forest. He stayed with it for all the usual reasons. He loved being around young people. He wanted to teach. Skip was one of those guys who would call you up to tell you about some great quote he had just read from Plato or Chuck Noll.

“Think about that,” he would say, whether he was quoting, “Death is not the worst that can happen to men,” or “The thrill isn’t in the winning, it’s in the doing.”

Oh, he wanted to win. Needed to win. I sometimes think this is the one defining quality of a successful coach … these are people who need clarity and plain answers. Prosser once told me that the best part of his job was that at the end of the day, the team wins or the team loses, and there is no ambiguity, no excuses, no way to delude yourself.

For these reasons, though, Skip took losses hard. They all do, of course, all coaches, but I saw it up close with Prosser. I saw the way he would stare out at nothing after losses; the way he sat at a table, uneaten food in front of him, and he just glared at the wall. In those moments, he seemed to despise himself. I asked him once what he thought about when he was in one of those funks. Was he replaying the game? Was he thinking about strategies he might have used?

“No,” he said. “I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

Skip Prosser was brutally honest, too.

Anyway, before Xavier played in an NCAA Tournament game, one of his players got in some sort of serious trouble. I don’t remember what the trouble was, and it isn’t important, but I remember that Prosser seemed torn about what to do. This was a player who mattered. Prosser wanted very much to win a tournament game — he felt as if his team deserved that. His hunger for victory was always about them. Whenever people would ask him, “What’s your career record?” he would always say, “I don’t have a career record. The players win the games.”

He wanted his team to have that experience of winning in the tournament. But Prosser was a principled man, too. And he refused to make an announcement. When asked what he was going to do, he simply said, “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

I was a young newspaper columnist then, much more certain that I understood right and wrong, and I wrote a scathing column saying that Prosser needed to do what he knew was right and suspend the player. It just seemed obvious. It always does when you’re young.

Skip called me and yelled at me for a while about that one.

Then, much later, long after the game had been played, he called me. He wanted to tell me about what had happened. He had agonized over the decision. He explained that his players had worked so hard all year to make the tournament, and they had begged him to keep the player on the team. They desperately wanted a chance to win a tournament game and show all of America what they were about. He wanted that so much for them.

Then he called around to all the coaches he knew in the business — dozens of them. He asked them, “What would you do?” He said that all of them but one said they would play the kid. That would serve the better good, they said.

The one who said “No,” happened to be Skip Prosser’s best friend.

So Skip thought about it. He did not sleep. He did not eat. And he decided.

He suspended the player. And his team lost in the first round.

“It’s like Adlai Stevenson said, Joey,” he told me. “He said, ‘There are worse things than losing. It’s worse to lose your convictions.”

Thursday, Skip Prosser went jogging at Wake Forest and then collapsed in his office. Medical technicians could not revive him. He was 56 years old. All the newspapers report that his career record was 291-146, but he would have told you that was the players’ record, not his. His record was in the way he lived. Skip Prosser died with his convictions.