Yesterday’s post looked at the peculiar analysis of Times coverage from public editor Byron Calame. In his Sunday column, Calame wrote, “As public editor, I have sought to avoid evaluating opinion articles because I haven’t found a universally acceptable yardstick for measuring what is good opinion and what is bad. So my review excluded Times columnists—including the sports commentators critical of Duke—who may have held forth on the case.”
This policy—to which he had not adhered in his April 2006 case analysis, which defended the work of Selena Roberts—allowed Calame to avoid comment on Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, who penned one of the most disturbing op-eds of the entire case. After hearing that members of the women’s lacrosse team would wear armbands at the Final Four expressing sympathy with the three men’s players targeted by Mike Nifong, Araton chastised the “lacrosse gals” for showing how “cross-team friendship and university pride [could] negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke.” They were, he scoffed, “staking their own reputations” on the case’s outcome.
Indeed they were. And the actions of the women’s lacrosse players (or “gals,” as the politically correct Times apparently prefers to label them) were vindicated.
Araton says that he is “absolutely not” sorry for the positions he took in that column. “I am,” he e-mailed me, “a commentator and I do not expect people to agree with what I say, or think.”
He cited the “elegantly” penned recent column of “Duke’s own” John Feinstein to suggest the appropriateness of criticizing the character of the players. Of course, this is the same John Feinstein who remarked last spring that Duke should immediately revoke the scholarship of every member of the lacrosse team—an over-the-top reaction exceeded only by Group of 88 stalwart Houston Baker’s demand that the entire team be immediately expelled from the school.
“The excesses of the Duke lacrosse team,” Araton told a DIW reader, “were fair game to shine a light on and condemn,” and “only those who expected the commentators to declare their innocence (or guilt, depending on what side they were on) the way it is done on cable television, failed to distinguish between the two stories, the alleged crime and the culture.”
As Araton presumably knows, his Times sports colleague Selena (“lily-white”) Roberts was one of these figures. In her March 31, 2006 column, Roberts contended that an inextricable link existed between the lacrosse team’s culture and the alleged crime. Of course, by March 2007, Roberts was arguing exactly the opposite, once it became clear that no crime occurred.
Araton also observed that his “lacrosse gals” column was written on May 26, and “what we knew back then was based on what the defense had been feeding the media.” (Araton appears to have missed Mike Nifong’s 50-70 interviews in the initial week of the case—it seemed to me that the district attorney was “feeding” quite a bit of information to the media.) He continued, “If the outcome of every high-profile case was to be determined by the ability to afford the best defense attorney, would any person of means ever be convicted of a crime? Would any true victim be willing to stand up?”
Now we know why such powerful evidence was dismissed: if only Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans had consented to be represented by public defenders, New York Times sports columnists would have paid attention to evidence of their innocence.
In any case, Araton remains critical of the “lacrosse gals.” “It was too soon in the case, he e-mailed me, “for anyone to be absolutely certain where it was heading, whether there was enough of a case to even pursue. That was my position in being critical of the women’s lacrosse players.”
It’s not clear when in the case it would have been appropriate for the women’s players to have spoken up. By the time of the Final Four, the public knew that Reade Seligmann was on a video someplace else at the time of the alleged attack; that Mike Nifong ordered the police to violate their own lineup procedures in order to get Crystal Mangum to pick three—any three—people to indict; that the second dancer told police the allegations were a “crock”; and that the DNA evidence that Nifong had promised would identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent had matched no lacrosse players. Indeed, the fact that the attorney general recently announced that there never was any credible evidence against the accused students suggests that the women's players were right in speaking up when they did.
“If I had a daughter,” Araton continued, “I would not have been thrilled to see her ‘stake her reputation’ on [the men’s players], given their behavioral track record.” Of course, one reason the women’s lacrosse players were willing to wear the armbands is that they knew the character of the three accused players. And given the outcome of this case, it would seem to me that parents of the women’s lacrosse players must be extraordinarily proud of their daughters. They stood up to protest against what is the highest-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history, withstood attacks from papers like the New York Times, and were proved correct.
Anyhow, Araton complained, the case was “so typical of a behavioral double-standard in a country where young black basketball players are called thugs for wearing a tattoo or a doo-rag.” I asked him for instances in which a race-baiting district attorney falsely had claimed that three “young black basketball players” had committed a heinous crime while the media and their professors focused instead on the players’ behavior; he supplied none.
Araton concluded his response to the DIW reader by mocking “the fury of the Duke defenders in context to the three thousand young people dead in Iraq and the thousands more returned home with tragic injuries.”
Those with long memories might recall this isn’t the first time that Iraq has been cited in a bizarre fashion in this case. In early April, Mike Nifong tried to rationalize his procedurally improper pre-primary publicity barrage through the following statement: “Having said something other than 'no comment’ in the first place, it’s kind of like going into Iraq. It’s not a question of if you’re right to go in there. It’s a question of is it right to leave things a mess at this point in time?”
I fear the Iraq analogy will work no better for Araton than it did for Nifong.