- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Did the three Duke University lacrosse players get short shrift in the mainstream media? Some news organizations were eager to cover radio host Don Imus and the incendiary fallout from his recent on-air racial slur — with less attention paid to the outcome of the former Duke students, who had faced a 30-year prison sentence.

“The convergence of these stories provided an interesting crossroads for the press, which went pedal-to-the-metal on Imus and virtually ignored the outrage of the three Duke lacrosse players,” Tim Graham of the Media Research Center said yesterday. “The press was not supplying much news in either story. It was two sentences of genuine content followed by 23 hours of speculation.”

On Wednesday, the New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post splashed the Imus story across the tops of their front pages. Although the Duke students were at the top of the New York Times’ front page yesterday, the story was relegated to the bottom half of the front page in The Post, and in the case of USA Today, referenced to Page 3.

ABC News correspondent Terry Moran connected the cultural dots.

“These young men will get on with their privileged lives. … They are very differently situated in life from, say, the young women of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team,” Mr. Moran said.

The commentary irked Ken Shepherd of NewsBusters.org, an online media watchdog.

“Moran is fixated on the financial resources and connections of the accused, calling into question the fairness of the justice system nationwide, but not once indicting the media for taking what was a local crime story and blowing it up into a national obsession,” Mr. Shepherd said.

“Both the Imus and Duke stories are, essentially, about race in America. But they evolved with huge differences,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“Duke coverage started lurid, but the narrative changed radically — never a good thing for the press, which jumped from one version of the truth to the next. By assuming the students were guilty from the beginning, journalists failed to be sufficiently skeptical of the charges and got it wrong,” Mr. Rosenstiel said.

“The Imus story is simple. You hear a sound clip of the slur, you get the picture in 30 seconds,” he said.

Dick Meyer of CBS News yesterday condemned both the Imus and Duke coverage, noting, “This sordid personality destruction has become a repetitive public ritual.” Our culture, he said, was “rooting for the fall of these privileged white boys playing with strippers.”

But Roy Peter Clark of the Florida-based Poynter Institute said recent coverage provided an adequate forum for both the Duke and Rutgers students.

“They were asked to step up and help make sense of the gross malpractice of grown-ups,” Mr. Clark said.

Editor & Publisher magazine, meanwhile, declared the Duke news coverage a bust, with “the players and accuser viewed less as individuals than as avatars of competing political and cultural agendas.”

Mr. Graham sensed a deeper bias emerging, however.

“There’s hypocrisy. If conservatives go to a news organization like NBC or the New York Times and say, ‘You’re insensitive and inaccurate,’ they get the brushoff. If the Reverend Al Sharpton speaks, they kiss his ring. The press is just more sensitive to liberal criticism,” he said.

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