A few years ago, Durham’s official greeter put some novelty items on sale – coffee cups, T-shirts, baseball caps, etc. – each bearing the slogan “Durham: Where Great Things Happen.” But as any tsunami survivor will tell you, great things are not always good things, a fact lately demonstrated by the infamous Duke lacrosse scandal. The ironies, the multiple falsehoods, and the great stampede to judgment, are thoroughly and competently described in “Until Proven Innocent.”
The event that billowed into a national scandal occurred on the night of March 13, 2006. It’s been variously characterized, and Taylor and Johnson take the reader through it once again, this time with proper regard for the facts: the striptease, the sex-toy dialogue and the racial slurs, the dancer’s retreat to the bathroom, thence to the Kroger parking lot, the arrival of the police, the rape claim at the Durham Access Center, the examination at the Duke Medical Center. The alleged victim, Crystal Mangum, didn’t mention rape until faced with involuntary confinement and only after a prompt from a nurse at the Access Center. Mangum recanted her claim and then switched back to it, altering her tale of rape several times. But a nurse present at the examination believed Crystal’s claims, and so a path was open to formal accusation.
Sergeant Mark Gottlieb, an aggressive cop and no friend to Duke students, took up the police investigation. When the case reached District Attorney Mike Nifong, he saw it as one of “towering importance,” which meant he saw it as a means of ensuring his election to the office he then held by appointment. Election would add an extra $15,000 a year to his pension. In a series of rigged photo-ID sessions, Mangum couldn’t decide who raped her and chose one lacrosse team member who was out of town on the night of the team’s party. Nevertheless, Nifong and his police associates pressed on, finally indicting three innocent, and by all rational accounts, laudable young men – David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann.
By then, all the players had legal counsel, and the lawyers for the three defendants went on to fight the good fight, openly challenging Nifong’s public rant, gathering evidence through their right of discovery, and ultimately gaining a proclamation of innocence for their clients from StateAttorney General Roy Cooper. In doing so, they exposed Nifong as a fraud who, among other deceptions, conspired to hide exculpating DNA evidence from the defendants and the world.
When news of the alleged rape got on the wire, the local Left seized their candles and hit the street. The early descriptions of the alleged incident – rich white boys assaulting a poor black girl forced by circumstance into a
District Attorney Mike Nifong saw the case as one of “towering importance “which meant he saw it as a means of ensuring his election.
degrading life – were all they needed. Crystal Mangum was a martyr to racism and sexism. There was a candlelight vigil at 610 North Buchanan (where the rape had allegedly taken place), followed by a pot-banging demonstration. An early Newsweek article (April 10, 2006) shows a woman standing in front of the house with a burning candle in one hand and a “Don’t Be a Fan Of Rapists” sign in the other.
On the Duke campus, the radical ferment began to bubble. A paid advertisement appeared in the Duke Chronicle declaring the alleged rape a “social disaster.” The ad was vague, chaotic, hysterical in tone, and ended by thanking the demonstrators for not waiting. It was signed by an assemblage of professors known as the Group of 88. As Orwell would say, only intellectuals could be that stupid.
The national media maintained an extended interest in the case. Most noteworthy were CNN and The New York Times. They continued to support Nifong and condemn the lacrosse players, even as more evidence favoring the players came to light. For months, television commentary, newspaper editorials, and talk-show “experts” espoused similar lines, even as Nifong’s case was imploding. All of which raises the obvious question: how could professional journalists, presumably intelligent and educated people, comment at such length on an issue about which they knew so little? Isn’t getting at the truth the essence of journalism? Fortunately, Taylor and Johnson do what so many of their media colleagues failed to do; they present a careful analysis of the facts.
Duke President Richard Brodhead was a campus tenderfoot, repelled by the idea of strippers and wild parties. He was apparently unaware that the Duke basketball team had hired strippers two weeks before the lacrosse team’s fateful party and, worse yet, that Duke’s sororities were known to hire male strippers. He was, like many people, shocked by a ghastly email Ryan McFadyen sent to his teammates after the party, which stated his intention to invite strippers to his quarters and murder and skin them. The email was, as it happened, a joking allusion to an even ghastlier novel entitled “American Psycho,” which was assigned reading in more than one Duke course. In any event, Brodhead concluded that Crystal Mangum and Kim Roberts had certainly been abused in some manner.
The Duke president’s position was an uneasy one for two reasons – the relationship of Duke to the City of Durham, especially black Durham, and the relationship of Duke’s administration to its faculty, especially the faculty’s left-wing. Brodhead preferred not to offend either Durham or the faculty. So he got rid of lacrosse coach Mike Pressler and cancelled the team’s season, even as his own appointed committee was finding that Pressler had done nothing wrong. Offered the opportunity to examine evidence of the accused players’ innocence, Brodhead declined, but later complained that he lacked information. He wouldn’t listen to advocates for the players but gave consistent ear to their attackers. Incredibly, while at Yale, he had sought the release of Kathy Boudin, former Weather Underground conspirator, in jail for robbery and murder. But the abuse of three Duke athletes by Mike Nifong, the “heightening of public condemnation,” drew no reproof from the Duke president.
The Duke lacrosse scandal is a study in assorted politics – the racial politics of Durham, the corrupt, grasping politics of Nifong, the quirky academic politics of Brodhead and his close subordinates, and perhaps most important, the insidious ideology that animates the radical wing of academe. Taylor and Johnson expose the academic Left and its influence.
In recent years, radical feminists have twisted male-female relationships into sensitive political issues. As the authors point out, conviction for rape in North Carolina is possible even if the accused holds proof of his innocence, so great is the dependence on the woman’s word. And the prevailing attitude is that the accuser must have her day in court, heedless of the numbing effect on the life and livelihood of the accused.
So Crystal Mangum, the besotted stripper who was unable consistently to identify any of the men she accused, who was contradicted by photographic evidence and by everyone at the scene of the alleged incident, who previously had made an unsubstantiated rape claim, and whose current rape claim was described by her partner as a “crock,” found her story embraced by the media while her alleged attackers were denounced and vilified.
But what about the tenured Left? What form of perversity would lead successful capitalists to send their
The ad was signed by an asssemblage of professors known as the Group of 88. As Orwell would say/ only intellectuals could be that stupid.
kids to a school crawling with neo-Marxist cranks – and pay a bundle for the disservice? In the later decades of the 20th century, academics, tempered by the 1960s and compelled to realize their own political visions, discovered that America was a multicultural society. That this was a surprise was – well, a surprise. They began to genuflect before the diversity idol, and, following their natural leftist inclinations, eventually made diversity coequal with excellence as a criterion for choosing faculty. The elite colleges and universities went searching the institutional byways for prospective hires, and those hired tended to be proselytizers for the trendy race-class-gender theories. Purging racist and sexist attitudes became a campus imperative. Speech codes were put in place, and less and less tolerance was shown those who dissented from the campus-Left orthodoxy.
But why do parents and alumni put up with such nonsense? The parents of prospective students tend to judge a university by the prestige value of its degree. They see the school as an obstacle course, and negotiating it as a means to high-sounding credentials. They’re less likely to see it as a place for those who want to learn – an ancient ideal, but by now passe. Students and alumni have a personal stake in maintaining the reputation of the school, no matter how irrational, how politicized the course work becomes. If students are taught that their country is wicked and oppressive, well, so what?
Steve Baldwin, Professor of Chemistry at Duke, wrote in defense of Mike Pressler and later in denunciation of the campus-Left cabal. An organic chemist, Baldwin has devoted his life to facts determined by experiment, by the careful analysis of the evidence of his senses, using a rigorously established scientific model. It’s worthwhile to compare his innocent Aristotelian world with the world of Duke’s tenured leftists. Yet so great is the influence of the tenured Left that it can cow the presidents and administrations of great universities. Who can forget the fate of Larry Summers, now director of President Obama/s National Economic Council, lately president of Harvard, who made the mistake of suggesting that women may have different skills from men? And thanks to a preference for faculty that fits in – that toes the accepted ideological line – the avantgarde Left will likely grow in number and influence in the academy.
“Until Proven Innocent” tells a story laced with the folly of small men and women. Smallest of all, of coursel is rogue prosecutor Nifong. He lost his license to practice law and recently filed for bankruptcy. And now, thanks to a court decision, he’s no longer immune to lawsuits. Consider his last words to the commission deciding his future in the legal profession: “I think something happened in that bathroom” of the lacrosse players. Like a true criminal, he had to leave ajar the door to doubt.
Still, the Duke lacrosse case had its heroes: the solid families who endured Nifong’s blasts, those few people on campus who defended Mike Pressler and his players and spoke out against the leftist stampede, good cop John Shelton who first observed and accurately reported on the alleged victim. But most impressive were the defense lawyers. How fine to read of people like Joe Cheshire and Bob and Samantha Ekstrand doing their competent work. Cheshire and his band of laughing soldiers are pictured in Taylor and Johnson’s book. It’s a picture worth keeping.