If you're the New York Times and the story is the alleged gang rape of a black woman by three white Duke lacrosse players—a claim shown by mounting evidence to be almost certainly fraudulent—you tone down your rhetoric while doing your utmost to prop up a case that's been almost wholly driven by prosecutorial and police misconduct.Problems with the story:
And by bad journalism. Worse, perhaps, than the other recent Times embarrassments. The Times still seems bent on advancing its race-sex-class ideological agenda, even at the cost of ruining the lives of three young men who it has reason to know are very probably innocent. This at a time when many other true believers in the rape charge, such as feminist law professor Susan Estrich, have at last seen through the prosecution's fog of lies and distortions.
The Times took its stand in a 5,600-word, Page One reassessment of the case on Aug. 25, written by Duff Wilson, a sportswriter responsible for much of the paper's previous one-sided coverage, and Jonathan Glater. The headline was "Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details But No Answers."
Accuser's inconsistent stories: The accuser told police and hospital personnel at least five inconsistent stories of being raped by five, three, two, and zero men (depending on the version). But the Times asserts that "aside from two brief early conversations with police, she gave largely consistent accounts of being raped by three men in a bathroom."
Consistent? Just about the only consistent theme was her eventual settling on three attackers, while variously denying and then alleging that she was hit or kicked.
On March 14 the accuser told a sexual-assault nurse that the other dancer, Kim Roberts, had helped a lacrosse player drag her back into the party house to be raped and "took all my money and everything." But on April 6, in her only written police statement, she claimed that "three guys grabbed" Roberts and "separated us ... while we tried to hold on to each other."
Identifying assailants: When Sgt. Gottlieb and Det. Benjamin Himan visited the accuser on March 16, Himan's handwritten notes had her describing her rapists as (respectively) "chubby," having a "chubby face," and weighing "260-270." These descriptions match none of the three subsequently indicted defendants and could not possibly refer to one, Collin Finnerty, who is 6-foot-4, thin, and baby-faced.
Enter Sgt. Gottlieb: In his only account of the same interview—prepared four months later, remember—the accuser's descriptions contradict those recorded by Himan but miraculously match the three now-defendants almost perfectly.
Again, the Times notes the contradiction but avoids the obvious inference: Gottlieb's version was made up to fit the defendants. That's the only way to explain another fact omitted by the Times: Gottlieb's police team did not include a photo of Finnerty—the only team member who fits Gottlieb's account of a "baby-faced, tall, lean" rapist—in the 36 photos shown to the accuser later on March 16 and on March 21. Nor did she pick Seligmann and Evans until the rigged April 4 session, when she said she would be 90 percent sure that Evans had raped her if he had a mustache—which he has never had.
Medical evidence: The 23 pages of hospital reports described above, which offer little or no evidence of rape, are a crippling weakness in Nifong's case.
Enter Sgt. Gottlieb again. The Times treats as established fact his memo's less-than-credible claim that the sexual-assault nurse told him on March 21 that the accuser had been subjected to "blunt force trauma" consistent with a sexual assault. The piece also glosses over the contradiction between her supposed statement to Gottlieb and her own report. Under "Describe all signs of physical trauma," she listed only nonbleeding scratches on the accuser's right knee and heel.
DNA and innocence: The article quotes half a sentence from Nifong's March 23 application for an order to obtain DNA samples from the 46 white lacrosse players—"Mr. Nifong's office had written that the tests would 'show conclusive evidence as to who the suspect(s) are in the alleged violent attack upon this victim.' "—while omitting the first half: "The DNA evidence requested will immediately rule out any innocent persons." Nor did the article explain how blatantly Nifong was to contradict this assurance after learning the DNA results.
Condoms, date rape: The Times cites Nifong's suggestion in early April that the reason no semen had been found might be the use of condoms. It fails to explain how deceptive this was: Nifong's own files showed the accuser saying her rapists had not used condoms and that she had spat semen onto the floor.
The article also mentions police speculation that the lacrosse players might have slipped the accuser a date-rape drug to incapacitate her. And Joseph Cheshire, Evans' lawyer, noted in a recent e-mail exchange with me that the prosecution "has suggested to the media numerous times in the past that the accuser had been given such a drug." Another deception? "A toxicology report that the defense was informed of last week was negative for any date rape drug in the accuser's system," Cheshire tells me.