The Man Who Shot Liberty -- Vadense
A week ago today, the News & Observer published Joe Neff's important expose of what many, including myself, equate to criminal and actionable prosecutorial misconduct wilfully undertaken by D.A. Mike Nifong between, at least, the last week of March through July 18, 2006, when indictments were returned, by a misled grand jury, against Reade Seligman and Collin Finnerty.
Unfortunately, in his report, Mr. Neff incorrectly noted "April 17th" and not, as was truly the case, "April 4th" to be the date on which DPD Investigator Michelle Soucie wrote the following internal memorandum:
"Mike Nifong stated that: Also need documentation on escort service and how they do business," she wrote in her notes. "Need to nail down what victim did on the day before arriving at 610 N. Buchanan so we can show that she did not receive trauma prior to the incident -- with witnesses."
On Tuesday, August 8th, The N&O appropriately issued a correction of the misstated date of Soucie's memo while, quite inappropriately, editorializing that:
"This error changes the implication of the first five paragraphs of the story: that the conversation between Nifong and Soucie was an example of the words and actions of police and prosecutors outpacing the facts in the file."
Also on August 8th, N&O "Public Editor" and "Readers Advocate," Ted Vaden, published proof of his factual ignorance and detachment from reality in a blog entry noting that:
"The correction said the story had incorrectly reported the date that a key conversation occurred between Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and police investigator Michelle Soucie. The story said the conversation -- having to do with the activities of the accuser before the alleged rape -- occurred April 17, when actually it was on April 4.
That's important, because the later date was after the lacrosse players were indicted*, suggesting that Nifong pursued their indictment before having all the facts in hand. Based on the erroneous information, the story asserted that 'the words and actions of police and prosecutors had outpaced the facts in the file.'
Any newspaper mistake is serious. This one is particularly glaring because it marred a story that was the newspaper's first thorough examination of the prosecution's case against the players. The misinformation formed the opening paragraphs of the story and was highlighted in an accompanying front-page graphic.
In today's correction, the N&O said 'the error does not affect the accuracy of the remainder of the story.'
That may be true. But it could affect readers' perceptions of the accuracy of the rest of the article and, potentially, of the newspaper's future reporting on this emotionally charged story.
That said, I haven't heard much from readers in reaction to the error. What are your thoughts?"
Readers immediately proved, unequivocally, that the corrected timeline actually strengthened Neff's conclusion that "the words and actions of police and prosecutors outpac[ed] the facts in the file," and, thus, that the contrary assertion of the editorial correction was, simply, wrong.
In a post made at 5:14p on the 10th, in the comments section of his own blog, Vadense even ACKNOWLEDGED that "I have read Robert K.C. Johnson's blogs and John in Carolina. Thanks for bringing those to my attention." Further, it is well known that Vadense was quite familiar with John and his work long prior to this week just concluded.
Despite his admitted knowledge of the foregoing, Vadense didn't use his column today to defend and amplify the wholly accurate conclusions of Mr. Neff, the only N&O reporter worth his scrivener's pay, but to throw him under the bus in a rebuke surprisingly stinging from one so aesthetically fey.
More insidious, and unforgivable, is this:
"THE BIG QUESTION FOR ME, in the aftermath of this case, is the effect on The N&O's credibility and its effectiveness in continuing to report on the lacrosse case. Will readers be less confident of future reporting?
Not from the immediate reaction I received. Most of the two dozen or so e-mails and blog comments excused this error and praised Neff's work, which was The N&O's closest examination to date of the DA's handling of the lacrosse case. Many of the comments, it should be said, were from people who have been highly critical of Nifong's performance and The N&O's reporting of the case. Several noted that the Soucie-Nifong exchange, regardless of the date, still raised questions about the prosecution's case.
But there were some who questioned the handling of the error and the correction. Eric David, a law student at UNC, said: "To say that an error renders the 'implication' of the first five paragraphs of a story obsolete, but 'does not affect the accuracy of the remainder of the story' is just not acceptable. The story ... was the implication. If the implication underlying the story is false, the whole story is false."
Pre-armed with knowledge of what the true date of Soucie's memo CONFIRMS, Vadense ignored the opportunity to figuratively empty all six between the dull, clouded eyes of one Eric David, a law student at UNC. Indeed, he ignored everything given to him by the "many...people who have been highly critical of Nifong's performance and The N&O's reporting of the case." The thinly veiled implication: We, the many, the highly critical of the N&O's reporting of this case, as might be expected from us, the many, the highly critical, "noted that the Soucie-Nifong exchange, regardless of the date, still raised questions about the prosecution's case." He might as well have written: "Even with the error, those wacky, pain-in-the-ass, impossible-to-please malcontents still liked a lot of the story."
I am just...numb.
The new Vadense article is here! The new Vadense article is here!
*Wrong. Seligmann and Finnerty were indicted on April 18th. Even if Vadense claims that he meant the indictment was handed up before close of session on the 17th but not reported until the following day, his premise is indefensible. That Nifong had ordered investigation of other possible explanations for Crystal's puffy pudenda as early as April 4th, and Johnson's statement was penned on the 6th, and there is strong circumstantial evidence that Nifong learned of the negative results of SBI DNA testing on either March 28th or 29th, and only, thereafter, did he order a new photo lineup designed to bypass all customary state and local procedural due process safeguards to get three, get any three, lacrosse players, and only, thereafter, did he refuse to meet with Seligmann's attorney to view exculpatory evidence in advance of the D.A. primary, well, as late as April 17th or, better stated, between April 4th and 17th, Mr. Vadense, the "prosecutor's actions continued to outpace the facts in the file." Idiot.