CBS News: 60 Minutes: The Duke Rape Case

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Even weeks before his death, the late “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley was turning out Peabody-quality work.
His two-part report on rape charges leveled against three Duke University lacrosse players who had been charged with assaulting a hired exotic dancer at an alcohol-fueled party “stopped a prosecutorial rush to judgment in its tracks,” the Peabody judges found.
The rape charges were dropped in late December; all remaining charges were dropped in April of this year, just a week after the Peabody Award winners were unveiled.
It was Mr. Bradley’s second-to-last report, broadcast Oct. 15, less than a month before the correspondent died of complications from lymphocytic leukemia on Nov. 9, 2006. Counting this award, Mr. Bradley won six Peabodys in his career, including one for his role as host of National Public Radio’s “Jazz at Lincoln Center”; this will be the 12th Peabody for “60 Minutes.”
“It’s an honor to win a Peabody, but this carries added significance for us because it was Ed Bradley’s story and one of the last before he died,” said Jeff Fager, the program’s executive producer. “He always wanted to do important stories with impact.”
“The Duke Rape Case” was produced by Michael Radutzky and Tanya Simon, who continued to pursue the case in follow-up reports that aired after Mr. Bradley’s death. Mr. Radutzky, who had previously worked on other stories at Duke, “gave up his summer” to pursue the story in North Carolina, Mr. Fager recalled, ultimately tracking it for six months.
“When it first made news, we just agreed to stay on this story,” Mr. Fager said, noting, “Michael sensed that there was something wrong, and it was all taking place in that gothic setting,” where race and sex and privilege collided.
“Ed was 100 percent behind it,” he added, noting, “Look what happened in the end. You hope for a story like that to hit you once in a lifetime.”
The report included exclusive interviews with the three white men charged, as well as a second dancer at the party, who contradicted some of the claims made by the alleged rape victim, who was black. The team examined nearly the entire file in the case, more than 2,000 documents, and obtained video that showed the accuser dancing at a strip club two weeks after the alleged attack.
Challenging public sympathies that lay with the accuser, who declined to be interviewed, had its costs. After the report aired, the journalists took heat for what some commentators claimed was a one-sided approach that bashed the victim with hearsay. The accuser’s cousin complained they were trying to intimidate her relative to drop the charges, and some critics wondered whether the reporting was tainted because CBS News President Sean McManus is a Duke alumnus.
In an editorial that ran in the Raleigh News & Observer the day after the charges were dropped, Mr. Radutzky and Ms. Simon noted that when the story first broke, “The lines were quickly and predictably drawn: rich white boys at an elite university acting badly versus a black woman struggling to make ends meet and to complete classes at the historically black college on the other side of town.”
The team set out to produce a report on the party and look at the context: “We wanted to go beyond the headlines to examine whether the culture of elite college sports fraught with competition, entitlement, rowdiness and alcohol use may have incubated criminal behavior.”
But as the reporting progressed, they wrote, they started to question the fundamental basis of the case and the widespread assumption that the players were guilty. Aggressive reporting, they noted, can bring unexpected results and the Duke story, “more than almost any other, upended racial and cultural stereotypes, which often blind people, including reporters, to the truth.”
“The story underscored the importance of pushing through stereotypes. It allowed us to reveal a different but no less compelling set of central themes and lessons. Among them: If the system isn’t working for one group of people, it’s not working for anyone. That is the least—and the most—that journalism should do,” they concluded.
“That’s what we loved most about it,” said Mr. Fager. “It challenged conventional wisdom and turned the story upside down.” 


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