Adopting a standard that no one ought comment until we have access to “all” the information would prevent any comment on the case. To take one example: we’ll never know what Mike Nifong said to his wife in private conversations during the week in late March when he authorized a series of procedural frauds as he plunged his own money into his failing campaign.
What’s striking about the rhetoric that initially emerged on the pages of the Times, however, is the absolute moral certainty with which figures such as Allan Gurganis, Selena Roberts, and Harvey Araton wrote, coupled by their refusal to re-examine the case as mounds of evidence contradicting their initial assumptions has emerged. I’d like to think that, if they had the chance to do so now, they would take back the words below.
Gurganis, April 9, in a column that contemptuously repeated the line “innocent until proven guilty”:
Young male students are apt to take on the nature of their particular sport. One early explorer, after witnessing an Indian game involving hundreds of stick-wielding players, wrote, ‘‘Almost everything short of murder is allowable” . . .Selena Roberts, in a March 31 column that a subsequent Times correction conceded was founded upon the erroneous Nifong-inspired premise that the players had refused to cooperate with the inquiry; and that a later public editor’s column admitted improperly described a search warrant as a “court document”:
The police report did more than hint. Its allegations of rape and sodomy prove weirdly well written, more gripping reading than most detective novels [as most of the document appears to have been fiction, Gurganus’ remarks were, unintentionally, prophetic]. Its author is anonymous but he might be advised to take a writing class at, well, Duke. Its night school, of course.
‘‘Two males pulled the victim into the bathroom. Someone closed the door and said, ‘Sweetheart, you can’t leave.’ The victim’s four red polished fingernails were recovered inside the residence consistent to her version of the attack” . . .
It would be far too easy to scapegoat one university for allowing boys to be brutes. But in the institution’s hurry to protect its students, right or wrong, it seemed to forget its role of educating and reassuring a community larger than itself.
The university once offered respite from our country’s most rabid competitive impulses . . . Now corporate
America, athletic America, form a unified competitive team . . . Defense Department America
When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why. This question is first personal then goes Ethical soon National. Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify.
The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to
-- and it is killing us. Durham
At the intersection of entitlement and enablement, there isHarvey Araton, in a May 26 column that belittled members of the Duke women’s lacrosse Final Four squad as "gals" for wearing armbands of sympathy for the three men’s players targeted by Nifong; while describing African-American players on the Final Four basketball team as “African-American women”:
, virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside. This is the home of Coach K’s white-glove morality and the Cameron Crazies’ celebrated vulgarity. Duke University
The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke’s lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.
Something happened March 13, when a woman, hired to dance at a private party, alleged that three lacrosse players sexually assaulted her in a bathroom for 30 minutes. According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime. She was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.
Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account . . .
Does President Brodhead dare to confront the culture behind the lacrosse team’s code of silence or would he fear being ridiculed as a snitch?
The lacrosse gals, 30 of 31 of whom are white, are apparently free to martyr their male lax mates.
Innocent until ? Presumed innocence? Those are sweatband statements that would be more palatable. Even then, does cross-team friendship and university pride negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke? Has anyone—from the women’s lacrosse coach, Kerstin Kimel, to the Duke president, Richard H. Brodhead—reminded the players of the kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on? . . .
‘‘I believe in this case, what we are looking at is not so much a gender issue of women supporting men, but of a social class and status that needs to stick together,’’ Kathy Redmond, founder and director of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, wrote in an e-mail message. ‘‘It’s obvious that the women’s team lacks maturity—and the school should have been quick to remedy that since the parents obviously did not.’’
Jack Shafer was right in using the trio’s newspaper as a template to wonder, “Why is it so hard for newspapers that have climbed out onto a limb in reporting a story to turn back once they hear the wood cracking?” As Shafer noted, “Instead of announcing their errors in judgment, most newspapers reverse course by ignoring the flawed stories in their back pages and taking a new tack—as if those old stories had never been written.”
In the case of the Times: Since the remarks quoted above, Araton has commented only once on the case, to dismiss those who criticized his May 26 column. Selena Roberts hasn’t been heard from on Duke since late April. Gurganus hasn’t re-appeared on the op-ed page. I guess the trio hopes that if people only read Duff Wilson’s “reporting,” no one will realize how misguided were the Times’ early columns.