Fake News and the New York Times

With all of the recent accusations that mainstream media outfits like the Washington Post have unloaded regarding what some journalists call “fake news,” a simple truth regarding the media establishment seems to be lost: the very mainstream and respected New York Times has been publishing real-live fake news for the past eight decades.

Most people familiar with the modern history of the NYT and its Progressive ideology are familiar with the paper’s denial of the Stalin-induced famine in the Ukraine in 1931 and 1932 that killed up to seven million Ukrainians. Its lead reporter, Walter Duranty, was a True Believing Stalinist and believed that whatever Stalin did to promote his version of communism was a good thing. Even though some editors at the NYT were very suspicious of Duranty’s claims – that there was no famine at all in the U.S.S.R. or the Ukraine – nonetheless the newspaper ran his dispatches and accepted the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for the Duranty stories.

To put it in present terms, the NYT gave its readers fake news and for many years refused to acknowledge that its Pulitzer Prize was based upon fraudulence that made the Washington Post’s “Jimmy’s World” hoax seem to be the definition of Truth. (At least the Post had the good sense to admit what happened and return the Pulitzer Prize; the 1932 Pulitzer still is acknowledged in the NYT lobby.)

Instant Access to Current Spot Prices & Interactive Charts

Had the NYT made only one significant error, perhaps one would lay off the Grey Lady, given that even the Pulitzer exhibit of Duranty’s work admits that it was “discredited.” Unfortunately, that is not to be. While the New York Times has been blessed with talented writers and has possessed (at least in the past) a lot of money to pay those talented writers, one cannot always believe what one reads in the Times. In fact, if I read it in the NYT, I am prone to check elsewhere just to make sure.

Part of this is personal with me, as I was one of the most aggressive writers dealing with the infamous Duke Lacrosse Hoax in which a black stripper falsely accused three young men from Duke University of raping her. Spurred on by the positive (and, frankly, outright adoring) coverage from the NYT, prosecutor Michael Nifong indicted the three lacrosse players in a move that from the very start reeked of lies and omissions.

In fairness to the NYT, a lot of other people and especially a lot of journalists, drank the Kool-Aid, but after the initial rush in which confusion was mixed with facts, it was clear that all of the journalists imbibed voluntarily, and the reporters and editorial writers from the NYT seemed to demand extra doses of whatever was spiking their drinks. On the local level, the Durham Herald-Sun tried to outdo its New York media counterparts, insisting all the way until North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper formally dropped the charges that the players were guilty.

(One of the DHS writers, BriAnne Dopart, published a story a few days before Cooper’s actions, that claimed the accuser had a “swollen” face from beatings the lacrosse players allegedly gave her, and one of the editors claimed that there seemed to be a five-minute “window” in the narrative, which was “proof” that the accuser, Crystal Mangum, was telling the truth. Afterwards, the newspaper praised itself for its great coverage, but gave up trying to convince readers that there had been a rape. To put it another way, the DHS was creating fake news even before it became a household word.)

While I believe that anyone – even a journalist (or especially a journalist) – can rush to judgment because of social narratives one might follow, nonetheless after the initial wildfire, there is no reason to allow rumors (and especially false rumors) to become a conflagration of lies. Yet, that is precisely what the NYT and other media did, and even when it became clear that there were huge holes in the story, the mainstream media pressed on with the narrative. As Evan Thomas from Newsweek declared afterward, “The narrative was correct, but the facts were wrong.” (Actually the narrative – that white men regularly rape black women and that loutish, drunken white college athletes do it even more – also is wrong, at least if one believes police crime statistics.)

Rush to judgment or bad narratives withstanding, it is breathtaking to see just how hardcore fake news that allegedly was true simply did not happen. For example, the Today Show reported that Mangum broke down in sobs when she saw a picture of one of the lacrosse players that assaulted her. The sobbing breakdown never happened. (Instead, as the video of her phony ID session demonstrates, she calmly went through the photos police showed her and just happened to pick out the three athletes from the highest-income zip codes.)

The ever-lying Nancy Grace and her dishonest sidekick, Wendy Murphy, lied on CNN from beginning to end, ginning up one fake account after another. Murphy insisted that the players did not leave DNA on Mangum because they assaulted her with a broomstick. Now, such an assault would leave horrific injuries and would have been detectable in the emergency room examination given Mangum, but Murphy, Grace, and Cable News Network, which employed Grace, could care less about facts, medical and forensic. They just made it up as they went along, and CNN encouraged the lying.

Despite Evan Thomas’ claim to American Journalism Review that the “facts kept changing,” they did not nor could they. Either something happened or it didn’t, and that could not change over time. It would have been better for Thomas to argue that what he and his fellow journalists knew (or found out) was changing. However, even that would be weak, since it was not hard to apply simply logic and timelines to what they knew was the case, and also to do a few simple investigations. Of course, to do so also would have disturbed the racial/sex narrative that was driving the coverage in the first place.

For example, in April 2006, CNN interviewed Moez Elmostafa, an African immigrant and cab driver in the area, and he said that Reade Seligmann, one of the three players accused, was one of his passengers at the same time Nifong was claiming that Seligmann was raping Mangum. When I saw the interview, I posted on the LRC Blog that Elmostafa would be in danger of arrest, and I even wrote a letter to a Durham lawyer, Bill Thomas, saying the same things. Three weeks later, Nifong had Elmostafa arrested on false shoplifting charges. (Elmostafa went to trial, where he was acquitted. Nifong sent cops there to intimidate Elmostafa and the rest of the court, but the evidence was so specious that the judge had no choice but to acquit.)

That arrest alone should have sent a huge red flag into the case, but the media yawned. Yeah, it is a coincidence but, hey, when the stakes are this high, prosecutors have to be able to do their jobs, right? What we did hear from the mainstream media was silence. No journalist wanted to disturb the narrative. Even when the official DNA results found no DNA on Mangum’s body, nor in any place where it would have been found if the alleged actions were true, the NYT trotted out Peter Neufeld, founder of The Innocence Project to claim that “absence of evidence” did not mean very much.

In August, 2006, the NYT published a front-page story on the case that was so full of errors that most of in the blogosphere had blown it apart within a day after it was published. Essentially, the NYT wanted readers to believe that two plus two equals seven, or that DNA could be wiped away with “magic towels” that left some DNA intact but made other DNA disappear. Yes, that along with an unhampered belief that a police officer could write a 33-page single spaced report from memory using no notes at all that just happened to paper over every hole in the story and also contradicted all of the police reports that had been made public by that point.

There is no way this story should have passed a laugh test. Anyone remotely familiar with the case and its facts could see that the NYT was trying to prop up a false story, and that it would resort to anything it could, including the obviously-fake report and the fake magic towel. To put it another way, the NYT was producing fake news, and really fake news at that.

Ultimately, we knew the end of the story. The North Carolina AG investigated, concluded that the entire thing was fiction, and ordered the charges dropped. In the aftermath, there was little so-called soul searching by media figures. The NYT editor Bill Keller declared that the paper’s coverage had been outstanding and that any mistakes that might have been made were committed by columnists such as Selena Roberts, who covered the story with the imagination that a fiction writer would have envied.

Roberts claimed that the “culture” at Duke led to all of the troubles, and she never backed down while at the NYT. However, I would like to go a step further: the culture of Political Correctness and Identity Politics at the NYT not only led to the disaster that was the Duke Lacrosse Case, but also fuels the lies that somehow the Russians magically hacked the U.S. election and made Donald Trump the president-elect. At the NYT, the narrative rules, and if facts do not conform to the narrative, then the facts be damned.

This is the mentality that led to the newspaper becoming an apologist for the worst deeds of Josef Stalin and the enabler of the serial liar Duranty. The narrative has not changed in nearly a century, and it never will change. If the New York Times can fake it, then expect fake news to rule.

There is an epilogue to the NYT’s fake news Duke coverage. When William Cohan published his infamous book on the Duke case, The Price of Silence, the NYT gushed in praise of this execrable work in which the author cannot even accurately give a coherent amount of money that Duke University paid out to the three accused players. (Cohan claims it was $60 million when, in fact, it was about $20 million total, not $20 million to each person.)

This is a milestone for the NYT. The newspaper publishes a review of a book full of fake news that covers an episode created by fake news. A feat this notorious would seem to require great effort, and the NYT has been up to the challenge. In fact, when it comes to publishing fake news, the NYT ALWAYS is up to the challenge.