Archive for February, 2008

My letter to the N&O

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Yesterday I posted a point-by-point rebuttal to a column by Barry Saunders published earlier this week in the News & Observer. Today I post a copy of my formal complaint about the column, which was filed with N&O public editor Ted Vaden, who represents the interests of readers to the paper’s management. Will there be a response? Stay tuned.

For the past eleven months, my relationship to the News & Observer has been that of a paid subscriber — and nothing else. As a consequence, where I once would have simply wandered into your office to chat informally, I now am reduced to sending this complaint via email. I just hope that whatever meager influence I once had as an N&O employee hasn’t evaporated entirely.

I thought Barry Saunders’ column on Tuesday was an embarrassment. On my web site today I deconstruct the column’s specifics, and as you’ll see Barry’s careless slap at the newest Duke lacrosse lawsuit was lazy and ill-informed. But Barry is paid to offer opinion, and I understand that opinion is neither right nor wrong. None of what follows here, then, should be construed as a call to prevent Barry from writing strongly worded columns, even those with which I would disagree.

Still, I’m asking you, in your capacity as the readers’ advocate within the paper, to address two things:

First, I’d like you to grapple with the parts of Barry’s column that are clear failures of context and logic. I’d also like you to address the fact that Barry pursues the “hooligan narrative” — which is to say, the idea that the lacrosse players were wildly out of control — even after that narrative has been put to rest by a preponderance of evidence that shows Duke students as a whole exhibit exactly the same behavior. When did the N&O start trafficking in crude stereotypes?

Second, I’d like some assurance that the N&O’s editing capability is up to snuff. Seeing Barry’s column go into print with no apparent challenge from an editor over context, logic or coherence can cause any reader to wonder what other stories suffer from a similar haphazard handling. I hope it’s not too much for a reader to ask that articles from all N&O writers — even those involved in the commentary side of the process — undergo a rigorous vetting.

As an aside, I’ll add that I wonder if the N&O actually grasps the important issue that lies at the heart of the Duke lacrosse lawsuit. A substantial number of Duke faculty members have implicitly declared that “academic freedom” gives them the unfettered privilege to trample anyone’s constitutionally protected right to a presumption of innocence (not to mention invade the lacrosse players’ privacy, harass them publicly, and encourage noisy demonstrations by activists who hold up signs in front of the players saying “Castrate”). The lawsuit, if heard in court (as I hope it will), could prove to be a historic showdown between the often-abused rights of professors and the often-ignored rights of students. This is beyond your sphere of influence, of course, which is why I’m copying this note to John Drescher. In any event, it would be nice to know that a smart story on this conflict is already in the works.

This letter to you will be posted on my site, and I’ll be happy to include your response there as well.