Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

The Duke Lacrosse Case and the Blogosphere

Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

The Duke Lacrosse Case and the Blogosphere

Article excerpt

I

INTRODUCTION

On December 28, 2006, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong filed his initial response to the North Carolina State Bar grievance committee's complaint that he had unethically withheld exculpatory DNA evidence in the Duke lacrosse case. Nifong concluded his missive with a swipe at the blogosphere:

   A well-connected and well-financed (but not, I would suggest,
   well-intentioned) group of individuals--most of whom are neither in
   nor from North Carolina--have taken it upon themselves to ensure
   that this case never reaches trial. (And if this seems like
   paranoid delusion to you, perhaps you should check out websites
   such as former Duke Law School graduate and current Maryland
   attorney Jason Trumpbour's
   www.friendsofdukeuniversity.blogspot.com/, which has not only
   called for me to be investigated, removed from this case, and
   disbarred, but has also provided instructions on how to request
   such actions and to whom those requests should be sent.) (1)

A few months earlier, the District Attorney had similarly complained about the blogosphere. Asked in June 2006 by Newsweek reporter Susannah Meadows to comment on the mounting evidence of actual innocence, Nifong replied, "I have seen quite a bit of media speculation (and it is even worse on the blogs) that either starts from a faulty premise or builds to a demonstrably false conclusion. That is not my fault." (2)

Nifong was hardly the only prominent figure associated with the case who read the blogs. Sergeant Mark Gottlieb, the lead police investigator in the lacrosse case through the summer of 2006, stated under oath that he regularly perused blogs, looking for tips. (3) After the players' exoneration, defense attorneys publicly praised the work of several blogs; Jim Cooney (who represented Reade Seligmann) and Brad Bannon (who represented Dave Evans) even posted items on the Liestoppers forum, thanking bloggers for their efforts. (4)

All sides in the case, then, conceded that blogs affected developments in Durham. This article will examine the reasons why the blogosphere proved particularly well-suited to covering the lacrosse case and will analyze the potential drawbacks to the intersection between trials and the Internet.

II

THE LACROSSE CASE'S SUITABILITY FOR THE BLOGOSPHERE

Three major reasons accounted for the blogosphere's influence in the lacrosse case. Readers looking for information about accuser Crystal Mangum could find it more readily on the blogs, which then provided links to other Internet sources. The blogs established their credibility by exposing poor reporting by the mainstream media, especially that of The New York Times, and benefited from the Internet-friendly policies of Raleigh TV station WRAL and the Raleigh News & Observer. Additionally, the blogs provided superior coverage of specialized issues, notably the proper procedures for forensic nurses and the agendas of Duke professors, that were important on the fringes of the case.

A. Otherwise Unavailable Information

Between the first press reports of the charges on March 20, 2006, and Attorney General Roy Cooper's publicly declaring the three Duke lacrosse players innocent on April 11, 2007, no newspaper or television-news broadcast identified accuser Crystal Mangum by name. Instead, the mainstream media described her as "the woman," "the accuser," "the alleged victim," or "the victim." (5)

Such behavior is standard practice for rape and sexual assault cases. Rick Gall, news director for WRAL, justified his station's policy in an April 2006 interview, stating that nondisclosure was "really based on a community expectation that we don't release it. We believe the community would be appalled if we released it." (6) Orange County North Carolina District Attorney Jim Woodall explained the policy's rationale in the News & Observer: "Over the years, I have known so many, both women and men, who would tell me they did not want to go forward in a case because they did not want to let people know what happened to them, because of the stigma attached. …

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