Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Snooze Room Update

In response to our article yesterday morning, a concerned LieStoppers reader sent the following email to the Herald Sun’s Bob Ashley:
“I am very disturbed by the Herald-Sun's treatment of the district attorney's race in its votebook. Until this week, you listed Mr. Nifong as running unopposed. Now you have admitted Mr. Cheek is on the ballot, but you indicate he wanted his name off the ballot. You have also refused to link to Mr. Cheek's campaign website, or provide the opportunity for the campaign to respond to your candidate questionnaire.

Denying these opportunities to one candidate while affording them to all others smacks of favoritism in a voter's guide which is supposed to fully educate voters concerning the upcoming election. The votebook is NOT your editorial page.
You have not yet indicated any understanding of this election. The two-week petition drive which succeeded in putting Lewis Cheek's name on the ballot is unprecedented in the State of North Carolina. The response from Durham County voters indicated a deep desire to see Mr. Nifong replaced as District Attorney.
The campaign to recall Nifong has continued despite Mr. Cheek's announcement that if elected he will not be able to serve as District Attorney. Every time you mischaracterize it, or try to pretend it does not exist, you are angering, at a minimum, the entire 15,000 registered voters who ultimately signed the Cheek petition. You are also angering many others who have been following the ins and outs of the election and the recent goings-on in Durham's criminal justice system.
As a citizen of NC, I am utterly appalled at Mr. Nifong's reckless willingness to ignore the truth to tell a story about the happenings of March 13-14 that inflamed and divided the community, for no apparent reason than to win the May primary election. I am also appalled at the Herald-Sun's generally miserable news coverage of this issue, and at your editorials on the election which have been as full of inaccuracies as your votebook.

Please change the votebook to accurately reflect Mr. Cheek's desire to see himself elected, to point out that a gubernatorial appointee to replace Mr. Cheek would serve for two years, to afford him the same opportunities allowed his opponent, and to link to his campaign website.
Thanks very much.”
To the Herald Sun’s credit it appears they responded promptly, however, from their response it is quite clear that they are not content to merely deceive their readers on the pages put forth by the Snooze Room but also find it necessary to attempt to distribute untruths privately by email as well. The response to the email sent to Mr. Ashley comes from managing editor Bill Stagg:
“Information about Mr. Nifong's opponents has been noted on VoteBook for 2 weeks.
I also have invited Mr. Cheek and Mr. Monks to respond to our questionnaire.
We also are inviting both to a candidates's forum later this month or early next month.
This is uncommon ground for our VoteBook site and we're trying to navigate as best we can.
Bill Stagg
managing editor
The Herald-Sun”
From Mr. Stagg’s response we note two items that appear to be factually incorrect. First, the vote book was not updated to “note” information about Mr. Nifong’s opponents two weeks ago. Second, Mr. Cheek, at least, did not receive an invitation to respond to the Herald-Sun’s questionnaire until after one o’clock yesterday afternoon, nearly three hours after Mr. Stagg’s response to our reader.
While technically, what appears on the pages of the votebook now is “information,” it hardly appears to qualify as “information about" the other candidates. The votebook currently reads:
“Nifong faces opposition on the Nov. 7 ballot from Republican write-in candidate Steve Monks and Democrat Lewis Cheek. Cheek decided against formally opposing Nifong. But, under state law, his name will remain on the ballot as an unaffiliated write-in candidate.”
This is a change from yesterday morning before we posted criticism of the misleading votebook entry, which had read:
“Nifong faces opposition on the Nov. 7 ballot from Republican write-in candidate Steve Monks and Democrat Lewis Cheek, who decided against formally opposing Nifong too late to have his name removed from the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.”
We would quibble with both wordings in that they say “Cheek decided against formally opposing Mr. Nifong,” when in fact Mr. Cheek stated that he had decided he would not actively campaign for the office of District Attorney. He is obviously formally opposing Mr. Nifong on the ballot.

The question, however, is whether the votebook contained information about Mr. Nifong’s opponents two weeks prior to Mr. Staggs note. Twelve days prior, in an article dated Thursday, September 21, 2006, Professor KC Johnson notes that the votebook indicated that DA Mike Nifong was running unopposed.
“On October 16, 2000, Missouri governor Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash, while campaigning for the Senate against incumbent John Ashcroft. Under Missouri law, Carnahan's name couldn't be removed from the ballot; after a several-day hiatus, Democrats announced a "Stick with Mel" campaign. On November 7, a narrow majority of Missouri voters cast ballots for Carnahan, meaning that the governor would appoint the state's next senator. Governor Roger Wilson named Carnahan's widow, Jean, to the seat.

Under the logic employed by the Durham Herald-Sun, John Ashcroft won the 2000 Missouri Senate race; indeed, he ran "unopposed." Or so you'd have to conclude from the Herald-Sun "votebook" page on D.A. Mike Nifong. The heading? "Candidate is Unopposed."
Realizing that some people might consider this argument that 12 days is not two weeks to be a bit nitpicky, we made additional inquiries to see if we could ascertain when the votebook was updated to include “information about” the candidates opposing Mr. Nifong. Apparently, ten days prior to Mr. Stagg's not, the situation remained unresolved. Beth Brewer of the RN-VC campaign forwarded the following email exchange with Bob Ashley which is dated Saturday September 23, 2006.
"Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2006 07:39:26
Subject: HeraldSun Vote Book
Once again I'm not certain who to direct this to ... but one of the blogs directed me to the HeraldSun VoteBook and the fact that it shows Mike Nifong running unopposed. Since there is at least one other name on the ballot and a line for a write in candidate, is the VoteBook fair to what is really going on in the DA race??
Beth Brewer"
Ashley's response:
"Subject: Re: HeraldSun Vote Book
Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2006 14:44:11 +0000 GMT
We're in the process of updating Votebook. All races reflect situation at end of May primary, and we recently realized we needed to account for some changes.
It appears certain that the votebook was not updated two weeks ago as managing editor Bill Stagg attempted to misinform our mutual reader but rather changes were made sometime less than 10 days prior to his claim. Our first notice of the intital change was five days ago. While it is also difficult to imagine that Mr. Ashley, on September 23, more than two months after Mr. Cheek qualified for the ballot, had “recently” realized the District Attorney’s race had changed, it is, after all, the Snooze Room we are talking about.
At least, to the Herald Sun’s "credit", they do not deny being asleep at the wheel while many blogs and other commentators seem to have a clear understanding of the nature of this race.
Snooze Room:
“This is uncommon ground for our VoteBook site and we're trying to navigate as best we can.” - Bill Stagg
“We recently realized we needed to account for some changes.” - Bob Ashley
Perhaps Ashley's insistence on describing Nifong as "unopposed" and informing his readers that Cheek said "supporters shouldn't vote for him after all" suggests that he fears the strength of the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek movement. The group looks and acts very much like a campaign that is urging Durham County residents to vote against the "unopposed" district attorney by selecting the other name on the ballot:
  • The RN-VC effort is raising money.
  • It soon will be distributing campaign signs.
  • It has received public endorsements from Durham residents.
  • Its coordinator, Beth Brewer, has made public appearances urging voters to select Cheek, the name on the ballot other than the "unopposed" district attorney.

The Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek effort has the potential to be this year's Carnahan campaign--performing the unprecedented by unseating a sitting district attorney through a petition campaign. Perhaps Durham residents should begin a petition campaign directed at Paxton Media Chain to unseat Editor Ashley as well.

Duke Basketball Report:

We're hesitant to tell anyone how to vote, but having learned what we've learned so far about the lacrosse case, we've become deeply skeptical about that and more importantly, about the fairness of the D.A.'s office. If you live in Durham, one of your choices is to get shed of Mike Nifong, and if you think that's the right course of action, then you should visit

The Johnsville News:

"The District Attorney's Office is ill equipped to protect witnesses in any situation or protect the citizens of Durham from gang violence because the office is totally distracted by this lacrosse hoax. Until this hoax is dropped and Mike Nifong is removed from office the Durham District Attorney's Office will be fighting crime with one hand tied behind its back.

Who does not think that Mike Nifong is emotionally involved with this case? His obsession certainly impacts the performance of the entire DA's office.Nifong is spending his time filing ridiculous legal motions in the Duke case about telephone surveys that involve his wife. Last Friday he spends basically the entire day at courthouse on his hoax. This doesn't count Nifong's countless hours of case related preparation, time obsessing about the case, and time spent dealing with at least seven outstanding defense attorneys.

Forget the time he is now investing in his re-election bid against "Recall Nifong - Vote Cheek." Nifong spends his evenings reviewing what's been said on the Internet about the case and responding to email criticism. Nifong wasted $23,000 of tax payer money on needless DNA testing at an outside laboratory when the money should have been spend on real public safety matters. The trial if it is held next year could be the longest in Durham and maybe North Carolina history."

TJN again:

"What happened to Mike Nifong's concern about gangs? What has he done about the gang problem in the four months since the primary election? The answer is - nothing. Nifong does not care about the gang problem; instead he has staked his professional reputation on prosecuting the Duke rape hoax. The Duke case consumes his mind and all of his energy. Someone else will have to worry about fighting gangs.

Nifong was able to offer a sound bite about the gang problem after the Durham courthouse erupted in a gang melee last Tuesday:

Tuesday's courthouse melee erupted on the fifth-floor, after key witnesses backed out of the Nicholson trial. They said they were being threatened.

"An incident occurred when information came up that caused people from one courtroom and gang to come to the other courtroom, where members of a rival gang were involved," said Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

Durham police are investigating the threats, which are a major challenge in prosecuting gang-related trials.

"You can't really conduct trials in an atmosphere, where there is intimidation of witnesses, or where there is fear that something might happen," Nifong said. "The District Attorney's Office is not equipped to protect witnesses in any situation. There aren't any local witness protection programs, or anything of that nature. The fact is people are to some extent on their own, in terms of their protection." [bold added]

So when it comes to prosecuting gang-related crimes and witness protection the good people of Durham are "on their own." Thank you, Mr. Nifong, for your concern. Maybe the thousands of dollars you are wasting on the Duke prosecution could be used to do something for witnesses in the 200 gang-related cases that end up in your office."

John in Carolina:

Confirming what was first reported here Saturday, Durham County Board of Election Director Mike Ashe today announced Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek’s name will be on the November ballot as a candidate for District Attorney. From

County Commissioner Lewis Cheek will appear on the November ballot as a challenger to District Attorney Mike Nifong, elections officials say, even if the veteran Democratic politician decides not to run against the embattled prosecutor.

Ashe said Cheek’s name will be on the ballot regardless of whether or not he actively campaigns for the office.

Mike Gaynor:

"Mr. Cheek's advice to Durham County voters who are disgusted with Mr. Nifong: Vote for him (he'll vote for himself) and if he wins without campaigning, he'll decline office and Governor Michael Easley (a Democrat who appointed Mr. Nifong) will appointed the district attorney.

Good News: Mr. Cheek still remains on the ballot, giving voters a choice."

With regard to Mr. Stagg’s claim that he had invited both of Nifong’s challengers to respond to the votebook questionnaire, the false impression is given that the invitation had been sent voluntarily some time ago. We have been informed by the RN-VC campaign that Mr. Stagg has indeed invited Mr. Cheek to respond to the questionnaire. He made the invitation yesterday afternoon, three hours after implying that it had been done some time prior. It appears he extended the invitation only in response to an email that Cheek sent to the Herald Sun yesterday morning to inform them of the erroneous information they presented.

In any event, the Herald Sun votebook now features a highlighted, click-able link to slightly more information about the campaign to Recall Nifong - Vote Cheek. We note the parenthetical: "(Candidate did not respond to questionnaire)" on Mr. Cheek’s brand new votebook page. Considering he had not yet received the questionnaire yesterday afternoon, we believe the parenthetical notation to be as misleading as the rest of the Herald-Suns coverage of the District Attorney’s race. We are hopeful that the Snooze Room will stay awake long enough to actually enter the responses from Mr. Cheek, once he has had a chance to compose them.

Now, if we can only get the News and Observer to comply, as well. Yes, it’s true, the N&O’s “Voter’s Guide” lists only one candidate for Durham County District Attorney. You know the drill, don’t you?

Snooze Room Two’s Voter Guide

Contact Executive Snoozer by email

Or Tell Melanie that Joan Foster says hello @ 919.829.8986


Anonymous said...

The DA's office of Durham County (Mike Nifong) can't offer a witness protection program to help stem the tide of the gang problem, but is willing to use State money to offer protection and hiding to CGM all summer while he continues the Hoax. Durham citizens, you have a lot of questions that need to be answered by the DA's office and city officials.

Anonymous said...

Snooze Room Update

Ace Herald-Sun reporter John Stevenson reported yesterday that a Durham grand jury returned a “not-true bill” involving a homicide charge against Rodney Thomas Melvin, who was accused in a 1998 shooting.

What ace reporter Stevenson does not disclose is that the Durham grand jury returned a “not-true bill” in the homicide charge against Melvin because the grand jury determined (in the 3 minutes of grand jury deliberation allocated to each Durham case) that Melvin was dead at the time of the 1998 shooting.

[The first paragraph above is factual. The second paragraph above is bereft of fact. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at both the Durham system of justice and the deceptive (borderline fraudulent) reporting utilized recently by reporter Stevenson under the stewardship of Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley. What is true however is the annual number of "not-true bills" returned by Durham grand juries often can be counted on the fingers of one hand.]