Desperate Times

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With Michael Nifong’s bogus case against the Duke LAX players going further into the toilet, the New York Times steps in to try to rescue its “prosecutor as hero.” In its latest story (August 25, 2006) the Times claims there exists “a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury,” According to the "newspaper of record," the typewritten report by Durham Police Sgt. Mark D. Gottlieb contradicts the defense claim that the accuser changed her story on a number of occasions.

The first thing to remember is that the Times is desperate for this story to be “true,” and if the facts don’t warrant its truth, the Times will use other methods. This is the newspaper that tried to stoke the fires of the bogus Tawana Brawley case nearly 20 years ago, assigning top reporters like Fox Butterfield to cover it, only to find that the entire thing was fiction. One can bet that the editors do not want to be burned again, and what better way to keep things going than to tell readers that Gottlieb’s story is the gospel truth?

We need to remember a few things here. First, Gottlieb admittedly took few notes and wrote this report long after the defense had begun to pick this case apart. Was there no evidence for rape? Well, now Gottlieb remembers that the woman had suffered “blunt force trauma,” something missing from the original investigation.

Second, he tries to fill in the other holes, claiming that these are things from his “memory,” as opposed to documents that existed at the time. As attorney Joseph B. Cheshire has said, this report was "transparently written to try to make up for holes in the prosecution’s case." In other words, it was written after the fact in an attempt to fill in the gaps that existed in the state’s case.

Of course, the Times seems to accept Gottlieb’s words at full value, failing even to be the least bit skeptical. Furthermore, the article wastes no time is rehashing the old lie that the Duke lacrosse players were refusing to cooperate with the police:

About a week later (after the initial claim of rape), the sergeant Gottlieb) met with the Durham County district attorney to go over the case. For several days, the prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, had been beseeching Duke lacrosse players to break their "stonewall of silence" about what had happened at a team party on March 13. Now, he turned up the pressure, telling Fox News that there was "no doubt in my mind that she was raped."

Anyone who has followed the case knows that the Duke athletes, in fact, did cooperate with police in the aftermath of the alleged incident, but the Times seems to be the only entity that still has not heard that bit of news. Unfortunately, that is not the only example of sloppy reporting in this story, as we also have the following:

The police recovered semen from beside the toilet — about the same spot where the woman said she had spat out semen from someone who orally raped her. It matched the DNA of Matt Zash, a team captain who lived in the house and has not been charged. His lawyer said the semen had come from other, innocent sexual activity.

This is quite interesting. As the Times notes, Zash was not charged, so there is no way that the discovery of semen "about the same spot" is relevant — unless Zash raped her. However, since the editors of the Times are sticking by their man, Nifong, Zash must be innocent, since Crystal Gail Mangum did not pick him out of the photo lineup and he is not charged.

However, if Mangum is telling the truth, then not only would the semen of one of her alleged rapists have been found on the floor, but also Mangum’s DNA, too, since her saliva would have been mixed with whatever she spit out. Since neither were found at that spot, the Times simply is engaging in very fraudulent speculation, something that any decent editor should have spotted.

The Times’ dishonesty continues in the article’s next paragraph:

Investigators also found a towel in the hallway near Mr. Evans’s bedroom with semen matching his DNA. The woman had told the sexual assault nurse that someone had wiped her vagina with a rag. Mr. Evans’s lawyer said that this towel had nothing to do with her accusation, and that the semen came from other activity.

The reporters leave it at that. However, there is are a number of obvious questions:

  • If Evans really did commit rape, as Mangum claims, then why is Mangum’s DNA missing from the towel? Certainly her body fluids would have been detected by DNA testing if she were telling the truth. No one from the Times (or any other mainstream newspaper like the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer) has seen fit even to ask raise questions about what is an obvious discrepancy between what Mangum claims and what actually happened.
  • Does this finding aid the prosecution or defense? If the prosecution claims that Evans used that particular towel to wipe off his semen from Mangum, then it would contradict Nifong’s claim that Evans could have used a condom. In fact, just before informing readers of the "discovery of the towel," the Times said:

    It was clearly a setback, though — and a turning point in the public view of the case. (After telling the media that DNA evidence would prove that the Duke players raped Mangum, Nifong changed his story when the results came back negative.) The woman had initially told doctors and nurses that her attackers had not used condoms, suggesting that there would be a lot of DNA evidence to test. Mr. Nifong later suggested that she might not have noticed the use of condoms, or that the rape exam might have missed some semen. (Emphasis mine) The woman gave differing versions of whether her attackers had ejaculated inside her: she told the sexual-assault nurse she did not know, but she told Officer Himan that she thought one of them had.

    Outside experts say it is possible for a rapist to leave no DNA evidence. But they say juries often expect to see such evidence.

The dishonesty here is breathtaking. Nifong and the Times are trying to have it both ways by claiming DNA "evidence" with the presence of Zash’s semen and the towel, yet also trying to say at the same time that the "attackers" wore condoms and left no evidence. Furthermore, the Times fails to point out that had the attack gone as Mangum described to the police, there is no way that there could have been no DNA traces left on the woman. One cannot physically attack someone in the manner that Nifong has claimed and not leave evidence.

In other words, the "discovery" of the DNA of Zash and Evans, far from bolstering the prosecution, provides further proof that Mangum is not telling the truth. Moreover, it also tells us that the New York Times is not interested in asking obvious questions that go to the heart of this case.

Not surprisingly, a number of the blogs already are tearing into this article, which first was linked on the Drudge Report. From Liestoppers to John in Carolina and Durham-in-Wonderland, to the Johnsville News, bloggers have been quick to respond, and well they should.

While supporters of Nifong will claim that this article from the "newspaper of record" sheds further light in favor of the prosecution, it actually does the opposite. First, and most important, it tells us that the most important "mainstream" newspaper in the world does not ask serious questions when clear discrepancies are raised. Second, it also tells us that when an agent of the state lies, and uses the prosecutorial apparatus in a dishonest and abusive way, the agent can find refuge in the New York Times if the desired outcome can validate the Times’ politically-correct view of the world.

Tawana Brawley disappointed the editors of the Times, who obviously were hoping that the girl’s story was true. Having been burned once, the editors this time apparently have decided that they will continue to press the lie no matter what the truth may be. They will stand by their man, Michael Nifong, and stand by him to the bitter end. But they will stand by him.

August 26, 2006

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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