The New York Times' public editor, Byron Calame, posed two fascinating questions in his April 22nd column Revisiting The Times's Coverage of the Duke Rape Case.
In response to what Calame referred to as "a flood of critical e-mails," he questioned whether, as readers demanded, the newspaper should write a public apology to the three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and whether it should also reveal the name of their accuser.
These questions, prompted by offended readers, strike at the heart of journalism's woes today.
And Calame's non-response may, in part at least, explain the dire state of the newspaper industry.
Boiled down to its minimum, here is what the NYT is running away from: in a 5,700-word Page 1 article on August 25, 2006 entitled Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details But No Answers, lead reporter Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater concluded that upon reflection there existed "…a body of evidence to support his [then-District Attorney Michael B. Nifong] decision to take the matter to a jury."
Bottom line: no apology will be forthcoming from the NYT to David Evans, Reid Seligman, and Colin Finnerty even though the charges against them have been dropped because of a total lack of solid evidence—including DNA evidence—against them and wildly conflicting stories by the accuser.
As for naming the accuser, there's no chance of that either. According to Keller, the NYT has a long-standing policy against identifying accusers in sexual assault cases.
Calame concurs. Although the ombudsman says he hopes the day will come when the NYT will revisit its policy involving false claims, in the Duke case he agrees with Keller because of his concern for the "mental health" of the accuser.
The question that remains is: why won't the NYT apologize for its story?
And why won't it reveal the accuser's name? Wouldn't so doing help restore the newspaper's tainted reputation? [VDARE.COM note: Our major piece on the Duke Hoax mentions accuser Crystal Gail Mangum by name, because our editorial position is that Ms. Mangum is not the victim in this case.]
The NYT is still, after all, reeling from the Jayson Blair scandal.
And are we to conclude from the NYT (and other newspapers that have taken similar positions) that the reputation of the accuser is more important than those of the three Duke students?
The NYT realizes its responsibility to be impartial—but isn't capable of following through.
In a 2000 internal memo "Guidelines on Our Integrity", now posted on the Internet, the NYT states that "…the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach" and "Because our voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small."
Yet The NYT, despite its lofty language, did not take advantage of its chance to be a leader in righting the wrong done to the Duke lacrosse players. And its failure is one of many reasons why so many newspapers have lost credibility.
The NYT used poor judgment in refusing to back down. The press is accountable to the public. When it isn't honest, trust is lost.
And once gone, it takes a long time to regain…if it ever can be.
Pulitzer Prize winner David Broder, writing in the Washington Post, hit the nail on the head when he asked, "When will we start to think about the people who are hurt by our coverage? And when will we take our responsibilities seriously?" [The Media in the Mud, David S. Broder, Washington Post, April 19, 2007]