Stuart Taylor Jr., the liberal but brilliant legal reporter for the National Journal, described the New York Times’ coverage of the Duke lacrosse rape case as “(w)orse, perhaps, than the other recent Times embarrassments.” For a newspaper that carries Maureen Dowd’s column, that’s saying something.
As the Times’ most loyal reader, this came as welcome news. I had briefly suspected the Times was engaging in fair reporting of the alleged rape case at Duke University. Taylor’s article documenting the Times’ massive misrepresentations restored order and coherence to my world.
The first part of the story — the lie part — was angrily reported in the Times. But as the accuser’s story began to unravel, the Times gave only a selective account of the facts, using its famed lie-by-omission technique.
Among the many gigantic omissions from the Times’ pretend-balanced article (“Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details but No Answers”) is the fact that the only remaining particulars about the case that are not completely exculpatory come from a memo by Sgt. Mark Gottlieb — written four months after the alleged incident.
Gottlieb, the lead investigator on the alleged rape case, took no contemporaneous notes when he interviewed the accuser, but rather waited for the facts to come in — and his case to be falling apart — to write a memo recalling her statements during that initial investigation. The statements he recalled were surprisingly favorable to the prosecution!
The only problem with his memo, besides being preposterous on its face, is that it is contradicted by the contemporaneous notes taken by other people involved in the investigation. Indeed, the only thing Gottlieb’s memo was consistent with were the facts as the prosecution was then alleging them.
Of course, it was hard to keep straight what facts the prosecution was alleging. The accuser made up so many stories about the incident that the Times was forced to offer her Jayson Blair’s old position.
The Times “No Answers” article gave no indication that Gottlieb’s memo was written four months after the alleged rape, but rather refers to it as the policeman’s “case notes,” falsely suggesting the notes were taken during the investigation and not after the frame-up.
Beginning with the strongest invented evidence from Gottlieb’s “case notes,” the Times reported that the nurse who examined the alleged rape victim told Gottlieb that the “blunt force trauma” seen in the examination “was consistent with the sexual assault that was alleged by the victim.”
Or at least that’s what Gottlieb wrote four months after talking to the nurse. It’s not what the nurse wrote the night she examined the accuser. To the contrary, the only sign of physical trauma the nurse noted in her written report immediately after examining the accuser were some superficial scratches on the woman’s knee and heel.
Indeed, in all 24 pages of the report prepared by doctors and nurses who examined the accuser the night of the alleged rape, there is no mention of any “blunt force trauma” or any injuries other than the scratches.
Also contradicting Gottlieb’s hindsight memo were the notes taken by another policeman during their interview with the accuser — not four months later — saying she described her assailants as “chubby,” with a “chubby face” and weighing “260-270” pounds.
That description fit none of the eventual defendants — whom she repeatedly failed to pick out of photo lineups until Gottlieb finally gave up and presented her with a photo lineup of only Duke lacrosse players, to ensure that she couldn’t guess wrong.
But according to Gottlieb’s hindsight memo, the accuser described one of her rapists as “baby-faced, tall, lean” — just like one of the actual defendants!
In repeatedly citing Gottlieb’s after-the-fact memo as if it were the Rosetta stone of the case, the Times also neglected to mention Gottlieb’s dark history with Duke students.
Gottlieb repeatedly jailed Duke students charged with minor infractions such as carrying an open beer or playing loud music, often throwing them in cells with violent criminals. He was not so tough on nonstudents, releasing one caught with marijuana and a concealed .45-caliber handgun.
A review of Gottlieb’s record published in the Raleigh News & Observer showed that, in the previous year, when he patrolled an area that included both a “crime-ridden” public housing project and Duke off-campus housing, he arrested 20 Duke students and only eight nonstudents. During that same period, the three other officers in that district arrested two Duke students and 61 nonstudents.
At this point, Gottlieb’s memo is the linchpin of the prosecution’s case, and every single other fact in the case exonerates the defendants.
I mention all this to point out the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of the Times Jan. 15 editorial titled “Politicizing Prosecutors.” The editorial had nothing to do with lunatic Southern prosecutors like Mike Nifong, Barry Krischer and Ronnie Earle threatening to put innocent people in prison for being Republican or “privileged white males.”
No, the Times was upset because the law allows President Bush to fill vacant U.S. attorney slots with temporary replacements. The Times is enraged that Bush may be choosing prosecutors he likes, rather than prosecutors Sen. Dianne Feinstein likes, for these interim appointments.
If Bush were choosing the most hack, unprincipled, out-of-control Republican Party operatives for these temporary U.S. attorney positions, they could not match the partisan witch-hunts of the prosecutors and policemen the Times lies to defend.