Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Our Collective Voice - Praise for Propaganda Bob

I have to say that all this criticism of the Herald-Sun as a talentless hack newspaper is unfair. The writers of this editorial demonstrate a deft mastery of the art of persuasive writing. Unfortunately they also demonstrate unequivocally both skilled cunning and bad faith on the part of the H-S. Anyone familiar with the case knows the authors 1) were equally well informed of the facts of the case and 2) are dissimulating as furiously and intentionally as they can.

I have to admit, taken as a whole, it's an impressive bit of work, especially given what Nifong has given the H-S to work with. I took Duke's University Writing course (A-) and we did a good bit of work with persuasive writing. Let me apply what I learned to take a closer look at this editorial.


"There is immense pressure building in the Duke lacrosse case. The pressure is to toss out the rape charges against three players, and it's coming from the players' families, their defense lawyers and their many supporters on campus and across the country. It is directed against anyone who thinks the case should be decided in a court of law, not the court of public opinion, and it has two basic targets -- the accuser and District Attorney Mike Nifong."

** Good lead. It sets the stage, pitting family members and defense lawyers AGAINST anyone who believes in the American legal system. (H-S reader, this means you!) The stripper and Nifong are targets of this attack, so if you don't support them, dear reader, you're against America. Strong and confident thesis. Let's see how they support it.


"Let's consider the case against Nifong. There is no question the DA has made mistakes in handling this hot potato of a case. He said things he shouldn't have, such as calling the players "hooligans" and wrongly predicting DNA tests would implicate them. He gave too many media interviews at the start, a mistake he has corrected by falling competely silent except in court. Now the defense lawyers have made up the slack, taking every opportunity to spin their case in public."

** Concede that mistakes were made. If you don't, even readers with only a slight grasp of the details will know enough that you are hopelessly out of touch with reality. (Evidence enough that Nifong is not the author of this piece.) Make these mistakes sound minimal ("he said things he shouldn't have") and perhaps the result of an honest mistake ("wrongly predicting DNA tests would implicate them"). Spin the fact that Nifong has shut up since the facts began to come out as an admirable bit of recently learned restraint rather than an unwillingness to answer questions that might be a bit pointed. Then use "spin" to describe the work of defense counsel, tacitly equating Nifong's choke-hold demonstration and general rabble-rousing with Joe Cheshire's understated use of the word "troublesome" to describe the Nifong-Meehan conspiracy to withhold evidence admitted in open court. When possible, pepper the text with the phrase "defense lawyers." Nobody likes or trusts them.


"One serious problem for Nifong is his inexplicable use of a lineup in which the accuser was asked to choose the assailants from a group of photos that included only lacrosse players. That flawed process led her to identify the three players who are now indicted. Such a fundamental misstep may well come back to haunt Nifong."

** With people aware of so much he has done, there are even more concessions to make. You've got to mention the lineup, because, well, you've got to. Your readers have seen the video of the accuser on TV. Call it "inexplicable" to sound credibly impartial so no one wonders whether Nifong's DNA might be found in your panties, but gloss over it ignoring troublesome details. Don't mention the two previous unsuccessful lineups with fillers or that the accuser was TOLD there were no fillers, leaving her free to pick any three as her "assailants." Understate the severity of the problem with the lineup and the probability that it will be thrown out; "such a fundamental misstep may well come back to haunt Nifong" sounds again like a well-meaning slipup that might have hazily indefinite future consequences. Kind of like not wearing sunscreen.


"And as we learned in court Friday, the director of a DNA lab in Burlington at first withheld results showing the accuser had DNA from other men -- not the lacrosse players -- in her underwear and on her pubic hair. The defense is trying to imply a conspiracy existed between Nifong and lab director Brian Meehan to keep the results secret. But those alleging prosecutorial misconduct have to deal with a simple fact -- Nifong did turn over the data. Defense lawyers' only real complaint is that they had to fight to get it."

** Still listing problems with Nifong's handling of the case. Quite a laundry list you've got there. You can't NOT talk DNA here, but muddy the waters. Instead of saying, well, that Meehan admitted to criminal conspiracy with Nifong to obstruct justice in open court, let's make it sound like it's just a defense allegation: "the defense is trying to imply a conspiracy existed." Defense lawyers, everyone knows, will say anything to get their (guilty) clients off the hook. Say he turned over the data without mentioning it was months late and that the defense had to 1) realize the report they had been given was incomplete, 2) move to compel discovery (in a state with "open discovery" laws), and 3) wait more than another month after listening to Nifong read a letter from his co-conspirator Meehan about why it would be an excessive burden to give the report to the defense. Mention "defense lawyers" one more time for good measure and sound snarky. No one likes defense lawyers, at least no one not under indictment.


"Nor did Nifong explain the information sufficiently, defense attorney Joe Cheshire complained. "We had to try to discover what it meant," he said. Sorry, but we don't think a judge will dismiss the case because Nifong didn't provide Cliffs Notes."

** My high school English teacher taught me the value of well-chosen synonyms. Using "defense attorney" instead of "defense lawyer" makes it sound a bit different but carries the same tacit message. Throw in a bit more snark for good measure. These "defense lawyers"/"defense attorneys" really can be irksome, can't they, folks? They want the poor DA to do all their work for them.


"Of course, Friday's DNA revelation was as much about the accuser as it was about Nifong. We may find the results disturbing, but let's remember what we're supposed to know about rape cases. Rape is still a crime even if if the accuser was provocatively dressed or if she was a stripper. Rape is still a crime if the accuser had consensual sex with other people. We know she is not a paragon of virtue. But that does not rule out rape."

** A nice bit of misdirection. Turn the accuser into an asset (as much as is possible) by bringing up the rape boogeyman and mentioning her only in the vaguest of terms. Rape is a terrible crime. Anyone can be raped, even strippers. You're not FOR rape, are you, dear reader? Then you can't be against the accuser (or her stalwart defender, Mike Nifong). (So you must be for them?) Also this makes a nice segue away from the long list of Nifong's transgressions back to the larger and somewhat more abstract theme of "justice" announced both in the headline and in the topic paragraph.


"The biggest elephants in the room are still sitting there -- the accuser's charges and the players' presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Yes, there is information that may cast doubt on whether a crime was committed. But is it enough to outweigh the accusation? That's for the courts to decide. There have also been instances of, at a minimum, prosecutorial sloppiness. But are they enough to toss the case? "That's for a judge to decide, as part of the judicial process, which should be allowed to work."

** As in any good essay, the conclusion comes full circle back to the beginning. Juxtapose the accuser's charges with the players' presumption of innocence to imply they are of equal weight. After all, a lot of your local readers seem to think that the accuser is entitled to her day in court, when in American jurisprudence it is the defendants who have the right to a trial. Finish with a flourish of open-ended questions. Then, at the very end, after introducing these questions, suggest that the "judicial process" is the way to answer them. No one can dispute that the "judicial process" should be allowed to work. You can't be against the "judicial process" and be a good American. Just suggest (again by juxtaposition) that the "judicial process" is embodied wholly in the person of the trial judge, not also in, say, the NC State Bar association or the US Attorney General's office, who might be seen by some as part of the "judicial process" and a check on the powers of a prosecuting attorney gone wild.

I have to say, this was some excellent work on the part of the Herald-Sun. I give it an A, particularly given what Nifong gave them to work with. Lord knows what they could do with decent material.
Submitted by Duke 93


Anonymous said...

Wonderful article about the duke lacrosse hoax and the herald sun which is an enabler of the hoax. It seems that the herald sun is working in conjunction with nifong to convict the three innocent duke boys. Isnt it wonderful that this out of control, wacko, rogue prosecutor nifong has an ass kisser in the local media. This case is an absolute travesty of justice and the herald sun should be disbanded.


Anonymous said...

Duke 93 - An excellent and appropriately "snarky" break down of this ridiculous editorial! Jen

Anonymous said...

The real nonsense in the HS editorial is that the whole point seems to be to castigate the players' supporters for arguing the case should be thrown out while all the time the editorial is laying out in detail a strong argument for doing just that.

And the editorial argues it should be up to a judge to decide whether to throw out the case. Isn't that exactly what the players' supporters are asking for? Why castigate them for doing exactly what the HS seems to insist is appropriate: having a judge immediately decide whether or not to let the case go forward.

And note that the HS has given up on arguing the case should go to a jury. It's also given up on the pretense that the accuser is, as the paper originally suggested, a hard-working mother trying to make ends meet. Now she's a prostitute (who obviously has lied to the police about her activities).

The paper, in short, is shrugging of the malfeasance of the prosecutor and the lies of the accuser as somehow not important and lambasting those who dare to point out these issues.

Anonymous said...

This H-S article is just unbelievable. They have sunk to a new low, something I wouldn't have thought possible, given their prior coverage. Nifong's criminal attempt to frame 3 demonstrably innocent young men is somehow just excusable "sloppiness." Right. I guess that drug dealer who fatally shot another man through the head during a Durham drug deal (and recently got off with just a slap on the wrist) was really just a busy entrepreneur with an abnormally sweaty trigger finger, who also got a little "sloppy" while he was doing business. Totally understandable.

Excellent analysis of the H-S' BS, by the way. What a steaming pile that paper is.

Anonymous said...

God what a toolbag...I wonder if this guy is related to the stripper, because anyone who sugar coats this case in favor of the DA/Accuser this much must either be a.) dillusional b.) related to Nifong or the hooker or c.) invested a lot of money early on on the outcome of the case in favor of the prosecution.

Does anyone have his email address? I'd love to write to him and explain to him the most basic fundementals that I learned on JOUR201-News writing and reporting I. He seems to have missed a few classes...

Anonymous said...

Duke93 - Finally I see the value of the $120,000.00 education. I suspect you went to Duke with this splendid writing ability. Wonderful clear and coherent article. Thanks

Anonymous said...

To describe intentionally witholding exculpatory evidence as sloppiness is beyond belief. One question I have for editorial writer. If the defendants were poor and could not hire expensive attorneys and scientific experts, do you think that Nifong would have eventually disclosed the exculpatory evidence. I am not sure what is more disturbing: 1) that Nifong got caught red-handed or, 2) in a more routine case he probably could have gotten away with it.

Anonymous said...

Gettin g away with it in a routine case has got to be the worst.