The content of the program aside, the 60 Minutes report is noteworthy because news organizations throughout the country will publish summaries in tomorrow's papers, and new interest will be sparked in this angle: Nifong's incompetence is the story here, not the lacrosse players themselves.
One glaring example of this domino effect is in the New York Times, which will publish its own summary of the 60 Minutes expose [link], and the Associated Press has already put together its own synopsis [link].
So let's be clear: The report was surgical in its dissection of the case Nifong has built, or as we ought to ask, the case he hasn't built.
60 Minutes, led by veteran reporter Ed Bradley, scrutinized that which Nifong has used to indict three former Blue Devil lacrosse players, and very clearly demonstrated that gaping holes exist, and that questionable legal maneuverings have clearly hampered the legitimacy of the prosecution.
The report, which was built around interviews with the three indicted players, the "other" stripper Kim Roberts, and Duke law professor James Coleman, was representative of the kind of patient and thorough journalism that was so absent in the days and weeks following the disclosure that a woman had accused members of the lacrosse team of having raped her.
And as Bradley himself noted, the media and the Duke community at large were quick to jump to conclusions in the wake of the allegations, though the conclusions were largely based on the unsubstantiated assertions of Nifong rather than on evidence.
And it is precisely that which the 60 Minutes story accomplishes.
Simply put, Kim Roberts' assertions contradict those of the accuser; the identification of the three indicted players better resembled a game of "pin the tale on the Dukie" than a legitimate criminal line-up; and Nifong and the Durham police were woefully inept in investigating the possibility that the three identified players could have committed the crimes. Indeed, one player said that he was never interviewed by the Duke police, a tremendous oversight that would seem to be a staple of a criminal investigation, let alone one as painstakingly drawn-out as the lacrosse case was.
The scholar-athletes themselves were eloquent and handled themselves with aplomb. They were not perfect–one player noted that he left the party soon after the women finished their performance because he didn't like the "tone of the party," which begs obvious questions. For the most part, however, the indicted individuals were defiant but not bitter, articulate but not arrogant.
Furthermore, 60 Minutes reviewed the timeline of the evening and highlighted certain aspects of the written testimony provided by the accuser. The possibility that the vaginal swelling that was noted by a Duke hospital nurse could very well have come from sexual intercourse, which the accuser said she had recently partaken in with her boyfriend.
A lot of the news presented wasn't terribly new. But for America to be able to listen to Professor Coleman criticize Nifong as adeptly and intelligently as he did; and for America to hear the "other" stripper negate the allegations as flatly as she did; and for America to watch as the alibi for one player was laid out as clearly as it was will help to move the discussion on the lacrosse imbroglio forward, and hopefully put more pressure on DA Nifong to reconsider the case he has so incompetently yet aggressively built.
Additionally, Coleman was quoted in the New York Times as follows:
"[Nifong] has forgotten about his obligation to protect the innocent, and in my view, that's prosecutorial misconduct."
Nifong ought to drop the case tomorrow, and be reprimanded accordingly.
Don't hold your breath, however. If nothing else, Nifong has proven to be a stubborn advocate for his interests, rather than the interests of truth and justice.
There's still much to learn about this case, and still much to learn from it. But a major step was taken with the 60 Minutes report. Let's hope we get to the finish line sooner as a result.