July 30 2005
by David Kopel
Kudos toDenver Postsports columnist Terry Frei, for his July 27 piece detailing the disappearance of the bookBuffaloed: Racism, Sexism, Injustice, and the Media Frenzy that Created a Scandal that Wasn't.Back on June 28, the Posthad reported a story from an unnamed source that the publisher Prentice-Hall had decided to cancel publication. The Rocky Mountain Newshas printed nothing on the story.
The Prentice-Hall decision to cancel the book came after the company received a letter from Baine Kerr, the plaintiff's attorney for Lisa Simpson (who claims that that she was sexually assaulted by CU football recruits). Kerr explained that, based on the press release and introduction to the book (which Amazon.com had published), he wrote a "very fact-based letter" which urged Prentice-Hall to fact-check eight to 12 issues. He says that he never asked that the book be killed, and that factual accuracy was his objective.
I asked Kerr for a copy of the letter he sent Prentice-Hall, or for a copy of it that redacted items he said might be considered confidential by CU. He did not supply a copy of the letter in either form.
I did find a three-part interview with the book's author, former Longmont Daily Times-Callreporter Bruce Plasket, on the University of Colorado's Buffalo SportsNews.net (http://colorado. scout.com/2/345490.html). Amazingly, only Part 1 of the Jan. 24-26, 2005, series was available for free. To access the other two parts, a reader must pay a "monthly" access fee is $9.95 (which will continue to be billed until the subscriber cancels). A more effective CU public relations office would have made sure that every word of Plasket's was as widely available as possible.
Whatever the merits of Kerr's unknown factual criticism of Plasket, one point made in Plasket's interview is undeniable: The local media hyped the charges against CU players, and downplayed evidence of innocence. For example, both Denver papers gave big play to the "sixth woman" who raised rape charges against CU football players. On Feb. 20, 2004, the Newson Page 5A and the Poston Page A9 reported the allegations of a woman that she had been drugged and raped in August 2002 by two big black men who might be football players.
One football player had already been cleared by DNA testing, while testing was in process for a second player.
On May 14, 2004, the Newsput the DNA exoneration of the second player on Page 26A. The Postdid not even report the exoneration.
One of the unattractive features of some forms of extreme religious fundamentalism is a tendency to make assertions about absolute distinctions between friends and enemies, even when the factual situation is more complicated. A similar criticism might be leveled at Jim Spencer's Manichean Postcolumn of July 13. Citing a physics professor, Spencer wrote about "stem-cell research debates that attack science in the name of fundamentalist objections to abortion and many forms of contraception."
Spencer continued: "Abortion foes consider an egg fertilized by a sperm a human being. Scientists do not." Well, it's not really so black-and-white.
Last October, 57 scientists sent John Kerry a public letter about stem-cell research. The signers were from Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic, and other universities and medical research centers around the nation. The scientists pointed to Kerry's own statements that human life begins at conception, and that fertilization creates a "human being." The scientists castigated Kerry for making "exaggerated claims" about the scientific potential of embryonic stem-cell research, and for dismissing "the entire history of efforts to protect human subjects from research abuse." The letter is at www.stemcellresearch.org/pr/kerry.pdf.
Of course there are scientists on other side of the issue who deny that a fertilized egg is a human being, or that it deserves protection from research abuse. There are also some scientists who share Spencer's extravagant hopes for the results of embryonic stem-cell research. But it's not accurate claims that "scientists" are all on one side of the issue.
A major article in Monday's Newsdetailed the famine in Niger, where 3.6 million people are in danger of starvation. The Associated Press article by Nafi Diouf did a good job of alerting readers to the catastrophe, but was very weak in explaining the underlying causes. In Diouf's piece, the only people at fault were Western aid donors, who were slow in responding to warnings which have been coming from Niger since November.
A more insightful article in the July 23 edition of Australia's The Age(theage.com.au) explained that until a few days before, Niger's government had denied there was a problem, had refused offers of Western food aid, and had threatened to imprison journalists who reported on the famine. According to the article, "The introduction by the French (Niger's former rulers) of cash crops unsuited to Niger's subsistence needs and ill-conceived land management programs funded by Western aid have hastened the southward march of the Sahara, which is engulfing the country."
Right-wing and left-wing critiques of media bias are both mostly correct, explains Judge Richard Posner, in his brilliant article in the July 31 New York Times Book Review.Posner explains the current bias problems as the inevitable result of modern media economics, because media supply their audience with what the audience really wants, and most people (of all political persuasions) do not really want neutral news.