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April 12, 2007

Time For The Media To Do Some Self-Examination

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post rightly points out that the media should take a good hard look at how they handled their reporting of the Duke lacrosse scandal and learn a few things from the whole sordid episode:

There's a lot going on the last couple of days--MSNBC booting Imus, McCain's big speech on the war, Fred Thompson's cancer, Larry Birkhead prancing before the cameras, and, oh yeah, the Duke sexual assault charges were dropped.

I hope that last one gets plenty of coverage, even though it's been clear for some time that the case had fallen apart. As long as we're talking about how the Rutgers women were unfairly disparaged as "ho's," consider the nightmare that the three Duke lacrosse players have lived through.

But in all the coverage you read and see about the clearing of these young men, very little of it will be devoted to the media's role in ruining their lives. I didn't hear a single television analyst mention it yesterday, even though two of the players' lawyers took shots at the press.

It was an awful performance, no question about it. News organizations took one woman's shaky allegations and turned them into a national soap opera, pillorying the reputations of the players. Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans were presumed innocent in a legal sense, but not in the court of media opinion.

We will now read 100 stories about how an obsessive prosecutor overreached in bringing the indictments in the first place, and that's fine. But keep in mind that the Duke case was all over the network newscasts, the morning shows, the cable channels and the front pages. Newsweek put two of the defendants' mug shots on the cover. "I'm so glad they didn't miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape," Nancy Grace said on Headline News.

The North Carolina AG spoke of "a tragic rush to accuse," and he just as easily could have been talking about journalists as Mike Nifong. Commentators have been chattering about whether Nifong will be disbarred, but no one gets to disbar the media.

What made this a case of aggravated media assault is that news outlets weren't content to focus on the three defendants. Attorney General Roy Cooper said there was a "rush to condemn a community and a state." Remember all the "trend" stories about "pampered" and "privileged" student athletes being "out of control"? Remember how the lacrosse players' homes were shown on TV? How the coach lost his job? How this case was depicted as being about the contrast between a white elite institution and a poor black community? All of that was built on what turned out to be lies.

Once discrepancies surfaced in the account of the accuser--who has still not been identified by the MSM, even though she's now been exposed as a liar--some news organizations did a good job of pursuing them. But just about everyone joined in the original frenzy over race and sports. And given the media's track record going back to Richard Jewell, I have zero confidence that this won't happen again.

I'd have to agree with Howard. I doubt that the media will change its ways.

However,>here's one journalist who gets it (click on the second video clip).

Posted by Tom at April 12, 2007 06:32 PM

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