A wonderfully perceptive article in Newsweek, where Susannah Meadows and Evan Thomas (who have done first-rate reporting on this affair for months), tell the story through the eyes of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, and reminds people of the personal effects of how the media and the Duke faculty activists responded to this affair.
The press needed there to have been a rape to keep the story going. It was much too dull to consider that the lacrosse players deserved the presumption of innocence. Finnerty’s girlfriend, Jessica [who is one of the most gentle people I have ever met], would throw things at the TV. For weeks, NEWSWEEK’s cover story on the case, illustrated with mug shots of Finnerty and Seligmann (Evans had not yet been indicted), sat on a table in the family den before Finnerty finally got around to reading it. “The title [‘Sex, Lies and Duke’] was pretty bad,” Finnerty recalled . . .
Seligmann found the stereotyping especially painful. Recruited by Harvard and Yale, he had proudly chosen Duke. Now he was being portrayed, at least by implication, as a dumb jock. Some elements of the Duke community, like the girls’ lacrosse team, rallied behind the players, but the faculty seemed to write them off as racists and thugs. “It was a very lonely feeling,” Seligmann recalled. “You were looking for people to step up and be behind you when you most needed them. Certain people weren’t there.”
Seligmann also recounted his drive home from a May court appearance, when he reviewed the discovery file. “At first,” wrote Meadows and Thomas, “he was encouraged. There was nothing there—no DNA or physical evidence, and the accuser seemed to have changed her story numerous times. But then it dawned on Seligmann that the very lack of evidence made Nifong’s determination all the more eerie and worrisome. There was seemingly nothing that would stop him.”
The Daily Show did its take on the media’s coverage of the lacrosse case, with this hilarious item by Jon Stewart, taking to task Nancy Grace.
One thing I regret: we’re unlikely to see any significant national press coverage (from one of the networks, or a major cable news network) doing what Stewart did in this skit: putting together some of the most outrageous things said about this case on camera, and either allowing the likes of Grace, Wendy Murphy, et al., to be undermined by their own words; or—perhaps better—allowing the people they slandered (the players, their families) a chance to respond.
Joe Cheshire, Dave Evans’ lead attorney, has a revealing audio interview with NBC-17, available here.
Sources tell me that a loquacious Brad Bannon also conducted an interview with the Raleigh TV station, but it does not appear to be on the website.
And Reade Seligmann’s attorney, Jim Cooney, responded to some questions in bringing the “Blog Hooligans” of the Liestoppers forum behind the scenes of the defense:
I can echo the last statement. Kathy Seligmann regularly read the LS forums and repeatedly expressed to me her wonderment and appreciation of how people who didn't know her, or her son, nonetheless gave of their time, motivated solely by a pursuit of justice and outrage at Nifong's misconduct.
I am happy to answer many of these questions, but please do not interpret these answers as any attempt to take credit for what was a joint effort by attorneys that I am humbled to be associated with.
First, the most important answer: Yes, Brad is single and he is taking applications.
Second, we did believe that we were going to prevail at the February 5th hearing. Through the efforts of Doug Kingsbery, we had the leading experts in the country prepared to testify about the “pin the tail on the donkey” line-up created by Nifong. Our hand was strengthened when Linwood Wilson, during the course of the December 21st “interview” with Precious, showed her the same line-up again (apparently so that she could learn their names).
While we would have all welcomed a dismissal at the 2/5 hearing, it would not have been an exoneration. Those who wanted to believe Precious would have claimed that the case was dismissed on a technicality created by high-priced lawyers. Consequently, when Nifong removed himself from the case and turned it over to the AG, we made a considered (and roundly criticized) decision to agree to a lengthy delay until May 7th. We did so because we believed that honest prosecutors, after examining this evidence and what we were able to provide to them, would not only dismiss the case but would do so in terms that would make it clear that our boys were innocent. This was obviously a calculated risk, but ultimately we were confident in the innocence of our clients, in the strength of our evidence, and in the integrity of Jim Coman and Mary Winstead.
By the end of the Special Prosecutors’ investigation, we had no more secrets - - they literally had seen every piece of evidence that we had and they knew what a trial would look like. Some of this evidence is under seal and cannot be discussed; much of it is still not known to the public. However, I think it is fair to say that our case was even stronger than what the public knew. We made the decision to share not only everything that we were required to share, but to share everything that we had because we wanted to achieve not just a dismissal, but an exoneration. While there was risk to this, in the end no matter what happened the basic fact was not going to change: these boys were innocent.
Bill Anderson, however, has made an excellent point - - there was nothing inevitable about this result. At any point in the process, this case could have taken a different turn or twist and we could have easily found ourselves trying it in a courtroom. While I firmly believe that we would have mopped the floor with Nifong (or anyone else crazy enough to try this case), anytime a case goes to a jury there is risk. Even a hung jury would have been devastating to these young men - - we simply made the gamble that we needed to go for more than dismissal, we needed exoneration.
Fortunately, we were dealing with tough,fair and principled prosecutors in the AG’s office. As Wade Smith said so brilliantly, Roy Cooper, Jim Coman and Mary Winstead are everything that Mike Nifong is not. While there was considerable angst in the blogosphere, we had confidence in their integrity.
The defense teams kept in constant real time communication. We had an email network set up and Brad and I talked with each other several times a day, seven days per week. Indeed, my wife, who has never met Brad, sees him as competition for my affection.
Shortly after I joined the team, we had a 2 day retreat in which we “war gamed” the case and ultimately designed the “end game” strategy that played itself out in our filings in December and January. Each person to the team brought a different strength and we had remarkable leadership.
This said, there is one member of the team that has gone unmentioned: you Blog Hooligans. I reviewed the Boards everyday not only for the latest commentary, but also because you did an excellent job of rounding up the media reports (which saved me time) and for the analysis that I saw play out. Many of the posts and observations were critical as I drafted the Motion for Change of Venue; the hyperlinks to original source material helped me reconstruct the incredibly inflammatory coverage of this case as well as the many cowardly acts that were taken against these young men that are detailed in the Motion.
One incident in particular stands out. In January, we filed a Supplement to the Motion to Suppress dealing with Precious’ December 21st statement to Linwood Wilson. In it, she claimed that the picture that showed her at the house after 1230 am, was in fact a picture of her going into the house. In the Motion we held back on 2 facts that proved this was not true. The first was that the picture actually shows her holding Dave Evans’ shaving kit; a fact not publicly known (at least until now). The second was that the picture taken just before it, shows her with one shoe. Brad and I knew that Nifong and Wilson had missed this and that we could use it at the hearing to show what a liar Precious was. However, not 12 hours after filing the Motion, someone on this Board had posted the picture and pointed out that she was only wearing one shoe. I remember thinking “Damn, these guys are good.”
In the end, the central fact of this case was that our boys were, and always will be, innocent. No matter how much Nifong smirked about his evidence, or how much Linwood Wilson tried to intimidate witnesses or change Precious’ stories, they could not change that single fact. We always knew that there was no smoking gun because there was no crime; anything they came up with was destined to be wrong and untrue. This was a huge comfort as we went through this case. To paraphrase Dave Evans, they were as innocent on every day of this prosecution as they were on the first and last days.
Finally, the Seligmanns, and particularly Kathy, read this blog regularly and have appreciated the support and outrage that has been shown. During a difficult time for them, they found a great deal of comfort from the comments on this Board.
Vincent Carroll, editorial page editor of the Rocky Mountain News, expressed pleasure at the AG's declaration of the players' innocence, but added his hope that Nifong's facilitators among the Duke faculty would now be held accountable. To Carroll, "the most remarkable fact about the Duke lacrosse fiasco is not" that it took so long to dismiss charges or that Nifong successfully employed a race-baiting strategy in the campaign or even "the cheerleading for the prosecution that could be found in such major media as The New York Times."
"No," writes Carroll, "the most astonishing fact, hands down, was and remains the squalid behavior of the community of scholars at Duke itself. For months nearly the entire faculty fell into one of two camps: those who demanded the verdict first and the trial later, and those whose silence enabled their vigilante colleagues to set the tone."
Indeed, Carroll notes, "As recently as a few months ago President Richard Brodhead was still defending the 88 professors who trampled on the presumption of innocence, going so far as to describe some of them as victims, too."
Nor, Carroll concludes, was this a Duke-specific event: "Would those athletes, facing a similarly dubious claim of rape, have fared any better at America’s other elite universities? The idealist yearns to answer yes. The realist, sad to say, knows better."
An apology from John Burness was appended to the Steven Marcus Newsday column: “I apologize for the content and tone of my comments. They are not consistent with the viewpoint or sentiment of the leadership of
Over the past several months, I’ve dealt with Burness on a fairly regular basis: he always has been generous in his time with me and in answering any questions I have had, even though I have been quite (and at times very) critical of the administration in which he serves. His willingness to respond to my queries has made this a better blog, and I am grateful for his help.
Marcus’ article, however, contained another quote, from an anonymous senior administrator, that was far harsher than anything Burness said, in that it was a direct attack on all three of the falsely accused players (including Reade Seligmann, who no senior administrator had publicly attacked since April 20). And I’ve heard a number of stories from people who’ve spoken to other senior figures at Duke and have heard very similar comments to those of Burness quoted in the original article.
This reaction, to be frank, mystifies me. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know around 20 current and former members of the 2006 team—some casually, many quite well, a few very well. (I knew no one associated with Duke lacrosse at the start of the case.) They’re not perfect people, but then again, I don’t believe I’ve ever taught a perfect student. I’m certainly not a “choirboy
Sports reporters, in general, have not performed well in this case. But last week, an extraordinary column from Jemele Hill at espn.com. In a personal message to Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann, Hill wrote, “My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune—it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence . . . I’m sorry.”
She said she could blame Mike Nifong, or the media, or civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson. But, in the end, Hill said that she blamed herself. She fully realized that “for the last year, your lives and those of your families have been more difficult than any of us can possibly imagine . . . You have every right to not trust anyone and think less of people.
Read the whole column here. It is remarkable.
The Boston Globe (owned by the New York Times) has been remarkably silent on the lacrosse case, despite pretensions it has beyond a regional base. Perhaps it should have maintained its silent policy. Here’s the first sentence of the editorial it published after Roy Cooper declared all three players innocent: “Three members of the Duke lacrosse team may have been louts, but all the evidence suggests they were not rapists.”
What evidence did the Globe supply that Reade Seligmann or Collin Finnerty—people who attended a party in which they played no role in organizing and perhaps drank beer—are “louts”? None. And while Dave Evans, as a captain, played a role in organizing the party, can the Globe seriously maintain that convening a tasteless spring break party can overshadow anything and everything else someone does in his life, and therefore make Evans a “lout”?
I fear the editors of the Globe’s editorial page wouldn’t recognize a “lout” if they saw one staring back at them in their mirrors.
Friday’s Chronicle provided yet another reminder of the sterling nature of the paper’s coverage of the case. In an editorial entitled “In Search of Closure,” the editors noted that even though the case is over, the University “is far from close to achieving closure on the broad range of issues brought to light by the lacrosse situation.”
The editors praised President Brodhead and BOT chairman Steel for pledging “to learn from the lessons of the past year as Duke now turns its attention to the future”—although, it’s worth noting, both men have been vague on exactly how they intend to learn from their acknowledged errors in handling the case.
Brodhead and Steel, however, at the very least deserve praise for admitting that they made mistakes and hope to learn from them. The editors, appropriately, then speak to those in the Duke community who took ultimately untenable positions last spring (or later) and have chosen either silence or defiance in response:
There are other members of the Duke community, however, from whom we have not heard, and from whom we must hear before we take those necessary healing steps ahead. These are the voices of the range of individuals, from students to professors to community members, who responded to last year’s allegations not with moderation, as the administration did and for which it was nonetheless heavily criticized, but with extreme, inflammatory and unfounded statements on everything from the guilt of the accused to blanket commentary on the bigotry of the student body.
Examples of such statements abound. From the English Department (Professor Houston Baker), to the Literature Department (Grant Farred), to the Cultural Anthropology Department (Orin Starn), to the Department of African and African-American Studies (Wahneema Lubiano and Mark Anthony Neal), among others, professors have made comments that did little to enhance the dialogue when it needed direction.
These comments ultimately arose within an environment characterized by mistrust, misinformation and speculation. As such, we are not accusing the individuals who uttered them of breaking any laws or even, in the case of some commentators, of proclaiming the players’ guilt; rather, we believe most of these individuals erred in entering the already-controversial dialogue in an inflammatory, unconstructive manner.
Nor are we necessarily asking for an apology—but by refusing to clarify or simply discuss some of the wildest claims thrown about in the heat of the moment but certainly not forgotten now at its resolution, these individuals risk playing a part in fostering the very same environment in which scandal and distrust developed in the first place.
In such a setting, issues worthy of university-wide discussion may be lost thanks to the penchant for hyperbole from a distinct minority.
Whether your statements were taken out of context or simply made within the context of anger and uncertainty which was so pervasive last year, the Duke community needs to hear from you, for your sake as well as ours.
The Chronicle has consistently played a constructive role over the past year. Long ago, the lacrosse captains publicly apologized for making a mistake in holding the party. The Steel statement has admitted that mistakes were made. It is time for figures such as those the Chronicle named (as well as Bill Chafe, Karla Holloway, and Peter Wood) to explain their actions. As Reade Seligmann’s statement to Newsweek demonstrated, the behavior of these figures did not pass unnoticed by those victimized by a false accuser and a rogue prosecutor.
Schedule Announcement: Subject to change if events warrant, this post will be the blog’s final Sunday roundup. Between now and Nifong’s ethics trial beginning June 12, I plan to have regular (12.01am Eastern) posts Monday through Friday only; the Friday post will be a week in review. I will, of course, do mini-posts whenever news breaks or important items appear about the case.
Hat tips: C.W., S.T.