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TV Coverage of Duke Scandal: lots of Heat, Little Light



I'm not sure what to believe regarding the allegations of a stripper that she was raped by three students on the lacrosse team at Duke University.

But I do know the TV coverage of the issue is starting to make me uneasy.

My misgivings started Wednesday, when NBC Chief Legal correspondent Dan Abrams led the Today show with an impressive scoop -- time dated photos of the stripper which showed that, if the time stamps are to be believed, she was not inside the house where the team members had their party long enough for the rape to occur as she described.

How did Abrams get those photos? They were leaked to him by the defense. Why did they leak to him? I haven't asked them, but it could be because Abrams has been a consistent voice challenging the allegations for some time.

On his MSNBC show legal show, The Abrams Report, he has consistently questioned the district attorney's tactics and methods, offering at times, um, involved scenarios to explain why the prosecution may be off base.

For example, in Tuesday's show discussing the past arrest of one suspect in the assault of a gay man, Abrams noted: "Is there a way that the defense can use it to say look, she wasn‘t able to identify these people initially. Then there are these articles in late March about how all the—about how the various players had criminal records. And this criminal record in particular was discussed in newspaper articles. Could the defense say, she maybe picked this one because he had a troubled past?"

Read Abrams' blog and you will learn that he is a graduate of Duke University who is particularly angry at columnists who would connect issues of race and class to the alleged assault of a black stripper by lacrosse players at one of the nation's elite universities.

Abrams' disbelieving tone was echoed by reports I saw today on Fox News Channel, where a story delivered during CNN expatriate Bill Hemmer's daytime show turned a cabbie's story about giving one of the suspects a ride during the time of the alleged rape into a near-exoneration of the defendants.

As I told a colleague, I worry about those who are passionately defending the accuser with little evidence, and I remain skeptical about her allegations. But given the emotional baggage already at play here -- some suggesting political correctness has pushed the prosecution, others saying the desire to defend two wealthy, white defendants is allowing defense attorneys to play the media -- we need journalists who can cut through the noise.

Instead, on cable at least, we're getting talking heads who are riding the controversy to career success. Guess I'm in the wrong business.

Payola Controversy Produces Less Variety in Music?

Those who thought New York attorney general Elliott Spitzer's fine work rooting out payola in the radio industry would produce more variety in station playlists nationwide are wrong, says Don Rose, president of the American Association of Independent Music.

Using emails as evidence, Spitzer alleged record companies and the independent radio promotion companies hired by them were trading cash, laptops, big screen TVs, lavish vacation trips and other goods in exchange for airplay for their clients on radio stations. And because some promoters had exclusivity contracts with stations or chains, only clients of that promoter would find their music boosted.

"Many of the big chains have now told their music programers that they cannot speak to any independent radio promoters,'' said Rose. "Since the major record companies have less need for independent promoters -- they have their own large promotion staffs -- they can still get airplay. Ironically, at this moment, independent record labels find themselves with even fewer avenues for access to programmers.''

Rose had met with an FCC commissioner to suggest the agency help break down barriers for indepdent record companies getting airplay. But then news broke today that the FCC has opened a full-scale investigation into radio payola.

Something tells me the fireworks have only just started.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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