Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Monday, June 12, 2006

New York Times: Duke v. Penn State

This past Sunday, Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times wrote an opinion piece (fee-based access) about recent events at Duke University. Those events are, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months, the rape allegations against three members of the men’s lacrosse team.

“As more facts come out about the Duke lacrosse scandal, it should prompt some deep reflection,” opened the piece. “No, not just about racism and sexism, but also about the perniciousness of any kind of prejudice that reduces people — yes, even white jocks — to racial caricatures.”

Kristof then used his 750 or so words to outline and analyze the sequence of events, the reaction of the media, the motivations of those who participated in the process of prosecution and coverage, and explore questions of race and racism.

I welcome thoughtful reflection on the complex issues of today’s world. But Kristof’s piece left me reflecting on something else:

Why is the New York Times so enamored with covering the problems at Duke while it has all but ignored the allegations of institutional homophobia and racism plaguing Penn State and their women’s basketball coach Rene Portland?

Think I’m overstating the situation? Even I was stunned by what my search of the Times’ website revealed:

* Between October 2005 and April 2006, the Times published four AP articles related to the Penn State bias case

* Between 3/29/06 and 6/11/06, the Times published a total of 49 news pieces on the Duke lacrosse legal troubles and their subsequent implications

A closer analysis reveals the following:

* 25 of the 49 articles published about Duke were written by Times reporters Viv Bernstein, Shalia Dewan, Karen Arenson, William Yardley, Duff Wilson, Juliet Macur, Ann Farmer, Joe Drape, and/or Pete Thamel

* 12 articles were in AP or News Summary form

* 8 were columnist and/or op-ed pieces by Harvey Araton, Allan Gurganus, Selena Roberts, Byron Calame, and Kristof

* 3 were Letters to the Editor

* 1 was a correction

By my rough calculation, that adds up to over 29,000 words about the Duke case.

On the flip side, the four AP articles that mentioned the bias case were short “Sports Briefings” totaling close to 2,500 words. The number of words devoted to the Penn State case? 511.

(Apologies if I’ve missed any Times writers or articles. For a while the paper made it REALLY easy to find the Duke articles on the web because they were grouped under the title “Duke Rape Allegations” with a handy dandy Duke Blue Devil logo to click on.)

So, how does one begin to explain the discrepancy in coverage?

It’s difficult to argue that one story is more “important” or “significant” or “news worthy” than the other. Both stories involve athletes at major Division I schools. Both involve questions around leadership and responsibility (both at the institutional and coaching level). Both involve issues of abuse, racism and sexuality, and both involve court cases.

And yet, for the Duke case, the Times has produced "home grown" pieces exploring race, privilege, freedom of speech, stereotypes, media coverage and responsibility, politics, status, due process, group responsibility, elitism, education, and selective silence.

All this for a sport that, for most people, wasn’t even a blip on the national sports radar.

One could easily argue that the Penn State case raises similar issues, with additional hot topics such as homophobia in sports, civil rights, personal beliefs vs. public actions, educational policies and enforcement, institutional cowardice and protection, societal change, women’s roles, religious mores, financial ramifications, and the significance of women’s sports.

Not to mention that Portland is a two-time WBCA Coach of the Year, her team went to the Final Four in 2000 and was a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament as recently as 2004.

Talk about a newsroom goldmine. And yet the Times has remained silent.

So, what is exactly is the New York Times afraid of?

P.S. If you have only been reading the Times, you’d be forgiven if you don’t know that former Penn State player Jennifer Harris has accused Portland of gender and race discrimination. Unlike the Times, this blog has provided extensive coverage. While Penn State reprimanded and fined Portland after an internal investigation, the coach has denied the allegations and claims the school's process was "flawed." Harris, with the support of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is pursuing her actions in federal court, and there are reports that several generations of players are preparing to speak out against Portland.

New York Times: Men's National Team v. Women's National Team

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April 2008

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