Prominent Critics Rip Into Awful Coverage of the Duke "Rape" Hoax

Former Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent called the Times' coverage "heartbreaking."

The Chronicle, a student newspaper at Duke University, talked to some prominent Times critics, including former public editor Daniel Okrent, to assess the paper's shoddy, slanted coverage of the Duke lacrosse "rape" case in the wake of the three accused players being declared totally innocent of all charges. (Hat-tip Romenesko's Media News.)

"'I think The Times' coverage was heartbreaking,' said Daniel Okrent, who served as the first public editor of The Times from October 2003 to May 2005. 'I understand why they jumped on the story when they did, but it showed everything that's wrong with American journalism.'"

National Journal columnist and former Times reporter Stuart Taylor Jr. toldThe Chronicle that the controversial 5,600-word lead story August 25 by Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater was "the worst single piece of journalism I've ever seen in long form in a newspaper."

At the time, Taylor wrote on Slate magazine that the story "highlights every superficial incriminating piece of evidence in the case, selectively omits important exculpatory evidence and reports hotly disputed if they were established facts."

Chronicle Reporter Iza Wojciechowska: "But The Times' news agenda appeared to support a moral agenda as well, advocating societal lessons emerging from the issues of race, sex and class issues brought to light in the case's early development, said KC Johnson, author of the 'Durham-In-Wonderland' blog that attracted national attention for its coverage of the case.

"'The best adjective to describe the news coverage of The Times is "duplicitous," ' Johnson said. 'The news coverage in March and early April should be faulted for accepting the Nifong line basically hook, line and sinker and making a morality tale of the case, drawing broad lessons of college athletes at the time when the facts of the case were really unclear.'

Taylor didn't spare the paper's columnists either in his interview with The Chronicle: "Times sports columnists Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton-who began writing about the story early in the case's development-were also widely blamed for rushing to judgment, printing in their opinion pieces what Taylor called 'vicious, hate-filled attacks on the lacrosse players,' and what Johnson described in his blog as 'outrageous writings.'

Times Watch took note of the vitriol that sports columnists Selena Roberts and Harvey Araton poured onto the innocent Dukies - in Roberts' case, her sliming of the players and their "white privilege" continued up until the day before the charges were dropped.