By Carey Roberts
The Duke lacrosse case represents an enduring failure of the American mainstream media. Not only did the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and other outlets neglect their duty to provide balanced and factual coverage of the case. Worse, they became the public relations arm of a sleazy prosecutor named Michael Nifong.
As so often happens in rape cases, the media featured lurid accusations made by an anonymous victim, all the while omitting the word "alleged" and failing to offer the defendant the opportunity to present his side of the event.
In the Duke case, it was the Raleigh News and Observer that led the headlong rush to judge. Its March 25, 2006 issue featured a front-page five-column article with the headline: "Dancer Gives Details of Ordeal: A Night of Racial Slurs, Growing Fear, and, Finally, Sexual Violence."
Media sensationalism doesn’t get much worse than that.
The Durham Herald-Sun followed suit, eventually printing more than 300 articles and 20 editorials that savaged the innocent players. Soon a lynch mob atmosphere prevailed on the patrician Duke University campus. [www.ifeminists.net/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.133 ]
So by the time the members of the Duke lacrosse team were formally charged with the gang rape of Crystal Gail Mangum, they found themselves arrayed against a powerful coalition of interest groups and leftist rabble-rousers: the office of the county prosecutor, the Durham Police Department, the media establishment, and the Duke faculty Group of 88.
Extraordinary pressure was placed on the young men to admit to the misdeed. At an early interview a policeman warned Dave Evans, "Tell us the truth or you’re going to jail for the rest of your life." Local feminists organized a rally with signs saying, "Time to Confess." On March 29 a "Please Come Forward" poster with mug shots of the players was posted on campus.
During mass Father Joe Vetter broadly condemned the players. When one of the player’s fathers confronted the priest over his unsaintly remarks, the Man of the Cloth shot back, "Tell them to confess first."
At one point Michael Nifong issued this threat to the players’ defense attorney: "You tell all of your clients I will remember their lack of cooperation at sentencing. I hope you know if they didn’t do it, they are all aiders and abettors, and that carries the same punishment as rape."
The problem was, no rape had occurred, no one had touched the woman. Even Nifong knew the charges were probably fictitious. At a secret March 27 meeting the prosecutor and his detectives reviewed the numerous evidentiary flaws with Nifong concluding, "You know we’re f*cked."
But the May 2 primary election was still a month away and Crystal Mangum was Nifong’s ticket to electoral success. Justice would have to wait for another day.
The Duke lacrosse case was also marked by steely courage and heroism.
Ed Bradley, who aired his 60 Minutes expose on October 15 — the last before his death from leukemia – deserves high commendation for bucking the media stampede. The North Carolina State Bar must be credited for launching its investigation. And the relentless fact-finding by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, which culminated in their book Until Proven Innocent, is laudable.
But most of the kudos must go to the Duke lacrosse team and to the three players falsely accused of rape — men who, with dignity and grace, endured a self-possessed media spectacle for over a year.
True, hiring a deranged stripper for a team party wasn’t the shrewdest idea. And within days the team publicly apologized for its behavior. The same cannot be said, however, for the Gang of 88 members, CNN’s Nancy Grace, or for the many editors around the country who ran libelous articles about those "scummy white males."
Throughout the episode the Duke lacrosse team hung together, cooperated with the police investigation, answered their questions honestly, volunteered to undergo DNA tests, and above all, refused to stoop to the antics of the Nifong prosecution team and his media enablers.
On May 15, 2006 team captain Dave Evans stood in front of the Durham County magistrate’s office and declared, "These allegations are lies, fabricated – fabricated, and they will be proven wrong … You have all been told some fantastic lies."
This past April attorney general Roy Cooper vindicated Evans’ claim when he famously announced, "we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges."
So the 2007 Award for Political Incorrectness goes to Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty, three young men who refused to go quietly into the night.
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