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April 04, 2012

KC Johnson: Unchastened, The New York Times Runs Another Smear Job On A College Athlete That Conforms To The Narrative

Via Instapundit, apparently the New York Times didn't mean it when it apologized about the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax.

Before the Patrick Witt case, I had some experience writing about how the New York Times handles cases of sexual assault allegations against high-profile college athletes--the Duke lacrosse case. After all that damage had been done, and after more than a hundred articles had been published in the New York Times, two Times editors, including Bill Keller, issued some half-hearted apologies for how the paper had mishandled the case, and "mishandled" is a generous word for what the Times did.

I had always worked under the assumption that when an institution apologizes, it also takes steps to ensure that it doesn't commit the same kinds of mistakes again. But the Times obviously has a different standard of apology than I do. And in the Patrick Witt case, the same sorts of mistakes were made in coverage -- a presumption of guilt when the allegation is sexual assault, and a decision to ignore critical procedural issue -- because they don't fit the preconceived storylines.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the details, a one-minute summary. Witt was a quarterback, and a very good one, at Yale. He was also a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. It turned out that his interview for the Rhodes coincided with the day of the Harvard-Yale game. After some thought, he decided to withdraw his Rhodes candidacy and play in the game, which, alas, Yale lost. But it was a kind of feel-good story of a high-profile college athlete putting his team's needs ahead of his own. And then for more than two months, the world forgot about Patrick Witt, as it should have, until the Times and a reporter, Richard Perez-Pena, swooped in with a nearly 2,000-word article splashed over the front page of the Times sports section detailing that the Rhodes fellowship had suspended Witt's candidacy, because it had learned that he had faced an allegation of sexual assault.

The story left everything else to insinuation, but any reader would have come away with the following conclusions: One, that Yale and Witt had conspired together to present a false explanation of why he had chosen to withdraw. Secondly, that Witt was something of a habitual criminal. And thirdly, that he likely had done it. Nearly one-tenth of the article was devoted to two extraneous and minor alcohol-related arrests of Witt, the inclusion of which in the piece seemed to have the sole purpose of smearing his character. This story received a good deal of public criticism, including from me. And in response, the Times sort of doubled down on the story--exactly what they did in the Duke lacrosse case. They did not reassign Perez-Pena, as they had not reassigned Duff Wilson, their lead reporter in the lacrosse case. But they did authorize the public editor, Arthur Brisbane, to do his own reporting. This is a very odd journalistic strategy: a public editor doing reporting that the paper's own reporter had chosen not to do.

You have to read the whole thing.

We still don't even know what the accusation consisted of, though Yale's definition of sexual assault is a bit broader than you low-functioning troglodytes might guess -- apparently at Yale it's a possible sexual assault if you cause someone "worry."

What the hell does "worry" mean? I'm guessing it means something like "a woman slept with you because she was worried if she didn't you'd be violent and/or rape her and/or do something or fail to do something harmful to her interests."

Could that possibly happen? Sure.

Can you lodge a complaint over a "worry"? Nope. At some point, when we're discussing criminal behavior, some actual criminal behavior has to exist.

Or am I just too retrograde?

But we don't even know what the allegation is, because the woman isn't talking. She didn't go to the cops; she wanted it handled informally.

But if you Google "Alex Witt Sexual Assault" you'll get 33,600 hits.


digg this
posted by Ace at 08:12 PM

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