Thursday, August 31, 2006

I've been paying intermittently close attention to the Duke lacrosse rape case over the last few months. The case against the lacrosse playeres has been slowly falling apart, as more and more evidence demonstrates the innocence of the Duke students and the contradictions and inconsistencies in the case of the stripper who accused them. Which is why I was at first surprised, and later disgusted, to read the Times page-1, 5,600 word piece on the subject - "Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers." The piece tells us, 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 [prosecutor] Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.
And what is this body of evidence? If you read the Times piece, you will discover the main evidence supporting the rape charge is....notes written down by a police sargeant from memory four months after interviewing the alleged victim. These notes, having been written at a time when gaps in the case have been leaked to the press, appear to have the alleged victim saying things that patch up the very same holes. Moreover, they have her saying things that directly contradict what others (who took notes at the scene) have her saying at the time:
As recounted in one investigator’s notes, one of the indicted players does not match the accuser’s initial physical descriptions of her attackers: she said all three were chubby or heavyset, but one is tall and skinny. In Sergeant Gottlieb’s version of the same conversation, however, her descriptions closely correspond to the defendants.
The Times takes this extremely shaky piece of evidence produced by a beleagured and criticized police department and runs with it - downplaying many inconvenient facts. Facts such as: one of the players the alleged victim identified as having raped her has an airtight alibi (an ATM video camera has him a mile away from the crime scene, coupled with an affidavit from a taxi driver and the record of a key-card swipe at his dorm, all spanning the time period when the rape allegedly occured); the complete lack of DNA evidence (despite the alleged victim's statement that she spat out semen onto the floor, and that her rapists did not use condoms, both of which, it goes without saying, leave DNA evidence); the fact that the other stripper at the party told the police she was not away for the accuser for more than five minutes, and that she did not observe the rape (by constrast, the accuser says she was raped for 30 minutes).

If you are interested in more details, see this piece at Slate, which does a good job of running through the many contradictions/inconsistencies in the case. See also an open letter to the Times, by Brooklyn/CUNY history professor K.C. Johnson.

In short, its disgusting to see the lengths to which the Times will go to push its own political agenda. Besides the obvious immorality of biasing news towards one's preferred conclusion, there is also the future of the students accused which is at stake.

I'm wondering how people on the left approach this incident. Do you agree that there is something clearly wrong with the New York Times here - perhaps a simple lack of journalistic ethics, perhaps an inability to separate facts from one's preferred version of the events? How could such blatant violations of ethics occur, especially given that the story has been written by two reporters and looked at, most likely, by a multitude of editors? How widespread is the problem - is it limited to this article/issue or does it pervade the Times coverage generally?


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