ABC News Anchor Admits Media Irresponsibility, Bias on Duke Rape Case

Thanks to the media's politically correct groupthink, “It was difficult to report on [the Duke lacrosse rape case] fairly,” Chris Cuomo said on Good Morning America September 4.

The early days of reporting on the alleged rape of an African American woman by members of the Duke University lacrosse team “gave me such pause,” said Cuomo. “…[T]here was so much pressure about pushing the angle that something had to happen.”

Cuomo's criticism of the media rush to judgment of three Duke athletes was prompted by the publication of a new book, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, by journalist and Brookings Institution scholar Stuart Taylor and history professor K.C. Johnson.  As it turned out, the three young men had effectively been framed by rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong, who hoped to use the case to guarantee reelection to his office.

This striking exchange between Cuomo and the authors admits the bias and lack of responsibility exercised by many journalists reporting on the story, and reports the corresponding lack of responsibility and integrity on the part of the Duke faculty.

CUOMO: …It was difficult to report on this story fairly because there was so much pressure about pushing the angle that something had to happen. It couldn't be nothing. Why did the media fall into it, in your opinion?

STUART TAYLOR: We call it "politically correct sensationalism." It's an obvious thing. It's not necessarily political. This was a sensational allegation. In this case the desire to ballyhoo the sensational allegation coincided with a lot of the political prejudices that a lot of journalists have -- in particular the kinds of race-class-sex obsession. You find privileged white males, you find an underprivileged black female who says, “they raped me” -- they loved it. The New York Times loved it, or a lot of people at the New York Times loved it. USA Today loved it. Nancy Grace on CNN loved it. A lot of journalists behaved in a shameful fashion, present company excepted I'm glad to say.

CUOMO: Yet, it also brought out the best in journalists. You mentioned the AP, they were working hard to ferret out clues. Dan Abrams that worked at some other place. It brought out the best in people as well. Brings us to this. What is the lesson here? What did we learn other than what people have suspected, which is be careful what you hear from the media. What is the lesson?

K.C. JOHNSON: This was the highest profile case of misconduct to unfold in American history and groups that we think of as defenders of due process and opponents of this kind of behavior, the media, leftists in the academy, civil rights organizations especially in North Carolina, not only didn't protest against Mike Nifong's behavior, they embraced it. This suggests a corruption of elements of our culture that's depressing.

This fascinating exchange gives alarming insight into media bias.  A member of the mainstream media acknowledges the pressure to report a story a certain way, a way that lines up with the liberal world view in which privileged white males are automatically presumed guilty when charges are leveled against them by a minority. The book's authors, both academics, also acknowledge the effects of political correctness in the academic community.

Johnson said he helped write the book because he was disturbed by what he saw Duke professors doing.  “Even before there were indictments, well before, 88 professors at Duke came out with a public statement saying something happened to the accuser, thanking protesters that carried a 'castrate' banner,” Johnson said.  “This was such an extraordinary betrayal of what professors are supposed to do. They are supposed to stand up for due process and dispassionate evaluation of evidence. What we had here were professors exploiting their own students' difficulties for their own agenda,” he continued.

The bottom line in this mess is that three innocent young men were nearly sacrificed on the altar of a prosecutor's ambition, with the complicity of a media steeped in “political correctness.”  Kudos to Cuomo for bringing the bias into the light of day.  The real test will be the next time political correctness and sensationalism meet.  Will journalists remember the lessons of Duke?  Will they exercise more responsibility in their reporting? Who will hold them accountable when they don't?

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.