March Madness is in full force—everywhere, that is, except on the Duke campus, where NCAA bracket pools are forbidden under the anti-gambling provisions of the school’s draconian new student behavior code. This blog’s version of March “madness” seeks to determine the worst of the case, in four categories:
- “news” articles;
- publications by Duke arts and sciences faculty;
Today, the ten worst op-eds or editorials of the case. A caveat: I’ve excluded the work of transparent race-baiters such as Barry Saunders of the N&O or Shadee Malaklou of the Chronicle, who seem chiefly interested in provoking controversy through arguments they themselves don't seem to take seriously. I’ve also excluded the Allan Gurganus New York Times op-ed, whose chief motivation seemed to be winning favors for a future job application to the Duke English Department.
Here’s the list, with the worst of the worst ranked #1. Reader nominations are welcome in the comment thread. Worst of the hard-news articles tomorrow.
10.) Steve Ford, “No Gong for Mike Nifong—Yet,” N&O, Nov. 12, 2006. In this column, Ford explained why the N&O editorial board made no endorsement in the DA’s race, even though its news division had exposed Nifong’s unethical activities. His thesis? Even if voters have an unethical or incompetent DA, the ballot box isn’t the appropriate venue to act. Instead, the public and media should sit back and allow the DA to wreak havoc, hoping that the State Bar eventually acts.
9.) Eugene Robinson, “Tough Questions in
8.) “Outrage at Duke Lacrosse Players,” Herald-Sun, March 28, 2006. The first of more than 20 slanted H-S editorials, and in some ways the worst of the lot. The editorial praised the potbangers, hoping that “the banging drums served as a wake-up call that the students’ obnoxious fun and games have taken a very serious turn.” The editorial inaccurately informed potential jurors, “When police officers arrived at the house with a search warrant on March 16, none of the players would cooperate with the investigation.” Moreover, added the editorial board, it was “outrageous that not a single person who was in the house felt compelled to step forward and tell the truth about what happened.” Of course, they had done so. They just hadn’t told the “truth” the H-S so desperately wanted to hear.
7.) Marc Fisher, “Wolves in Blazers and Khakis,”
6.) Selena Roberts, “When Peer Pressure, Not a Conscience, Is Your Guide,”
5.) Josh Perlin, “Seligmann Not Worth Hassle,” Cornell Daily Sun, March 1, 2007. In a column that was an embarrassment to college journalism, Perlin asserted that because he was “tired” of the case, Brown and other Ivy League institutions shouldn’t consider transfer applications from Reade Seligmann.
4.) Hal Crowther, “Sympathy for the Devils?,” Indy, June 28, 2006. An astute observer of the case suggested that this column deserved a higher ranking, and he might be correct. The column oozed hatred for the lacrosse players, whom Crowther termed “subhuman,” and suggested that those who criticized Mike Nifong’s misconduct needed to “catch a glimpse of your inner racist in the mirror.” This article also featured the outrageous photo of Peter Wood in front of the lacrosse field; the History professor used his interview to appear to slander one of his former students, Reade Seligmann.
3.) Amanda Marcotte, Airbrushed Duke Post, Pandagon, January 21, 2007. John Edwards’ former campaign blogger provided some of the ugliest rhetoric on the case of any figure who had access to mainstream readers. Then, when she got criticized, she erased the post and negative comments in the thread.
2.) Harvey Araton, “At Duke, Freedom of Speech Seems Selective,”
1.) Andrew Cohen, “The Media Rush to Duke’s Defense,” washingtonpost.com, June 27, 2006. Cohen’s insinuation that prosecutorial misconduct can be forgiven depending on the race, class, or gender of the defendants strikes at the heart of the system’s integrity. Demonstrating his own journalistic credentials, Cohen got Bob Ekstrand’s name wrong no fewer than six times, but he nonetheless took to task the media, complaining that “there is no balanced coverage in the Duke case. There is just one defense-themed story after another.” (Apparently we needed more stories sympathizing with prosecutors who withhold exculpatory DNA evidence or instruct police to violate their own procedures; Cohen later on would become about the only person outside Mike Nifong's office to praise the Duff Wilson August New York Times piece.) The reason for this imbalance, according to Cohen? “Race and money and access to the media have a lot to do with it.”
Cohen concluded, “We haven’t seen all of the evidence, haven’t examined all of the testimony; haven’t had the privilege of seeing the case unfold at trial the way it is supposed to.” In Cohen’s mind, we needed to have the “privilege” of a trial in the highest-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history. This distorted vision of the justice system makes Cohen’s the worst of any op-ed column published on the case.