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Fox News Botches Duke Rape Coverage

Reported by Judy - December 15, 2006 -

Fox News continues to botch coverage of the alleged rape by members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The news channel's website already has identified the victim in the case, despite having the policy that it does not identify rape victims. But more mistakes came Friday (December 15, 2006).

On Friday, Foxnews.com was reporting that it had confirmed that the alleged victim in the case had given birth. The story cited conversations between Fox News reporter Greta Van Susteren and five family members.

At the same time, however, Foxnews.com was carrying another story that quoted Prosecutor Michael Nifong as saying that the alleged victim (or the accuser, as Fox News identifies her) is not due to give birth until February.

As if that were not confusing enough, Martha MacCallum on the "Live Desk" continued to ask about the relevance of the pregnancy to the alleged rape. Even after Van Susteren told MacCallum that Nifong said in court that the pregnancy occurred after the alleged rape incident and that the baby was not due until February, MacCallum continued to bring up the issue of the relevance of the pregnancy to whatever happened at the lacrosse team's party last March.

"You know, Mike Nifong said just a little while ago that he doesn't believe that this baby is a result of the events of that night, so how would he rule that out if indeed he believed that there was a crime committed here," MacCallum said.

Finally, Van Susteren had to explain to MacCallum that by counting the number of months backward from the due date, it was clear that the pregnancy was unrelated to the accusations involving the team members.

"Very interesting time-lines," observed the mathematically-challenged MacCallum.

Fox News also showed a lengthy portion of a news conference of the players' defense attorney, Joseph Cheshire, which allowed him to once again identify the alleged victim by name, again despite Fox News policy of not identifying alleged rape victims.

Throughout the news conference, Fox News also displayed banners for long periods of time touting the defense position, including ones that read: "Def Attys Want Paternity Test of Duke Rape Accuser's Child" and "Defense: Impossible for Defendants to Be Father" despite the fact that a due date in February makes it clear that that's the case already. The banner reading "Defense: I Think This Is a False Accusation" also was on the screen for a sustained time.

Fox News needs to stop picking sides in this case and start concentrating on getting the basic facts correct. Fairness is probably too much to ask, but maybe Fox News could just strive for accuracy.