In a more visceral example, consider the scandal currently engulfing Duke University’s lacrosse team. The alleged victim, an “exotic dancer” hired to do a strip routine at an off-campus party last month, claimed she was forced into a bathroom and abused and sodomized by team members, who denied the accusations. When DNA tests came back negative, failing to link any of the men to the alleged attack, the Times, instead of focusing on whether the alleged victim was lying and the local North Carolina prosecutor had been fooled, actually bought the misleading line of the district attorney (currently running for re-election) that DNA evidence is not present in every sexual-assault case.

And who can forget the extent to which former Times reporter Judith Miller carried the administration’s water by publishing leaks about Saddam Hussein’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” on the basis of which the Bush administration tried to justify going to war?

Surely there comes a time in the life of a newspaper, after repeatedly making bad calls, when it must question the motives of government leakers and spinners. These stories often lead to big headlines, but the disappointing aftermath too often leaves the newspaper with egg on its face. It’s a good bet that the story of Jared Paul Stern’s “extortion” of Ronald W. Burkle will be the latest Times rush to judgment by welcoming too heartily the proverbial Greeks bearing gifts.

On the Web
Bowdlerized Snippets of the Stern Transcript:
Definition and explanation of "extortion":
The Times' gossipy graphic:

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