New Book Destroys Credibility of NYT's Duke Lacrosse 'Rape' Coverage

September 19th, 2007 3:11 PM

On Sunday, law professor Jeffrey Rosen reviewed for the New York Times the new book "Until Proven Innocent -- Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case," by Stuart Taylor & KC Johnson, which, among bringing other injustices surrounding the case to light, also excoriates the mainstream press's shoddy coverage, much of which presumed the guilt of the three white lacrosse players.

Rosen called the book "riveting," but devoted just two sentences to the frequent passages that rip apart the Times's shoddy coverage of the case, taking particular aim at reporter Duff Wilson and columnist Selena Roberts.

Rosen wrote:

"Nifong's sins are now well known, but Taylor and Johnson argue that he was aided and abetted by the news media and the Duke faculty. They are withering about the 'lynch mob mentality' (in the words of a defense lawyer) created by bloviating cable news pundits on the left and the right. But they are also sharply critical of what they call the one-sided reporting of the nation's leading newspapers, including The New York Times. With a few exceptions, the authors suggest, The Times's coverage consistently showed a 'pro-Nifong bias,' most notably in a front-page article apparently trying to resurrect the case after it seemed on the verge of collapse."

The book reveals that Times sports reporter Joe Drape could have been an early hero for the truth, but when Drape began to divert from the favored storyline of Times editors, he was replaced by another reporter, Duff Wilson, who hewed more closely to the pro-prosecution slant preferred by the liberal editors at the Times, who viewed the affair solely through the politically correct prism of race/sex/class.

Wilson proceeded to get everything comically if not tragically wrong about the case, uncorrected factual errors and burying exculpatory evidence.

Ironically, Taylor and Johnston write:

"…the New York Times initially stood out for its reasonably balanced coverage. The first Times reporter to conduct detailed interviewing about the evidence in the rape case was sportswriter Joe Drape….Drape's March 31 article especially stood out from the pack. He highlighted comments by defense lawyers challenging the accuser's credibility, vowing that the DNA would prove the lacrosse players innocent, and pointing the fishy features of Kim Roberts's 911 call….the more he pushed, the more Drape came to believe that Mangum was not credible and her rape charge was probably false….Encouraged by Drape's performance, Thomas provided all the evident of innocence then in his possession to the Times reporter. Thomas was expecting a great article, but in early April Drape called him and said there would be no article because he was 'having problems with the editors.' 'From my perspective,' Thomas recalled later, 'the interest of the Times in defense information came to a slow crawl with the departure of Drape. And soon after Drape privately told people at Duke and, presumably, at the Times that this looked like a hoax, his byline disappeared from the Duke lacrosse story. The word among people at Duke and defense supporters, including one who later ran into Drape at a race track, was that the editors wanted a more pro-prosecution line. They also wanted to stress the race-sex-class angle without dwelling on evidence of innocence. They got what they wanted from Drape's replacement, Duff Wilson, whose reporting would become a journalistic laughingstock by summer…"

Taylor and Johnson have another revealing insight into the politicization inside the Times.

After the paper's non-liberal columnist David Brooks penned "The Duke Witch Hunt" on May 29, 2006:

"…inside the New York Times, it was widely shrugged off as of little interest. Why? Because Brooks' brand of conservatism -- so moderate that he rooted for the Democrats to win control of Congress in 2006 -- still put him far to the right of almost every other writer and editor at the Times."

Most notorious was the 5,600-word front-page epic that appeared August 25, 2006, intended to counter the perception, slowly sinking in among the mainstream press, that the "rape" had in fact never happened. Taylor eviscerated Wilson's story at the time, and the authors do a post-mortem on the infamous piece for the book.

For the full version of this story, visit Times Watch.