To: The New York Times
We, the undersigned, urge the New York Times to issue a public apology for its erroneous, inflammatory and irresponsible coverage of the Duke Lacrosse Case. We further appeal to the three Times journalists most directly involved in that coverage – Duff Wilson, Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton – to individually apologize for their reckless reporting and account for the harm it caused.
As former Times public editor, Dan Okrent, pointed out last October, “The only thing we can look forward to now is what the Times will say to the accused once the charges are dropped.”
That time has now arrived and a news organization that enforces accountability and openness on others must live up to that same standard itself.
These three examples illustrate the improper journalism at issue:
• On August 25, 2006, Duff Wilson reported:
“By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong's case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.”
• On April 10, 2007, Wilson apparently contradicted his own reporting, saying to New York Times radio:
“[The case] amounted to, really, Mr. Nifong believing that if somebody said she was raped, and if he believed her, he was supposed to take that to a jury, despite overwhelming lack of other evidence.”
• In a column on March 31, 2006, Selena Roberts wrote, “something happened March 13 [that] threatens to belie [the players’] social standing as human beings.” She also erroneously wrote that none of the players “have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account” and compared them to “drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.” She further gave space to a falsehood that the accuser was “reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with assault and rape.”
• On May 26, 2006, Harvey Araton wrote, “does cross-team friendship and university pride negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke? Has anyone…reminded the players of the kind of behavior they are staking their reputations on?”
Now that the accused players have been formally exonerated by the legal authorities – indeed, declared innocent by those authorities – we the undersigned call on the New York Times to set the moral and factual record straight.
Honesty, the trust with readers, and basic human decency demand no less.