In a thrilling championship game yesterday, the Duke men’s lacrosse team fell just short of a national title, losing to Johns Hopkins, 12-11. The performance in the NCAA tournament brought the team back into the national spotlight, although this time for its athletic accomplishments, and so it tended to be covered exclusively by sports reporters.
Some of this coverage was first-rate:
- The AP’s Aaron Beard continued his extraordinary work on the case in general, with daily updates from Baltimore, including exclusive interviews with Mike Pressler and Rae Evans.
- cnnsi’s Kevin Armstrong went off the beaten path in pieces about Kerstin Kimel and the Chaminade-Delbarton game.
But the last few days featured embarrassingly poor pieces by sports columnists in major newspapers: the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the San Jose Mercury News.
In a column Friday, the Post’s Mike Wise complained about people who wore “INNOCENT” wristbands—overlooking, apparently, the fact that the Attorney General said the three accused players were innocent. And, he fumed, “This isn’t ‘To Kill a Mockingbird II.’” The reasons that he gave to sustain his viewpoint, alas, did not correspond to the plot of the book.
When a DIW reader wrote to Wise to point out his biases, the sports reporter was not amused. He ridiculed those who claim that “nothing bad went down that night, that these were just three random guys picked off the street.”
To that argument, Wise had an articulate response: “Uh, no.”
Does Wise have a theory he’d like to share with Post readers to show as to how Crystal Mangum’s selections were not random? If so, he should publish it—since such a column would be an important journalistic advancement in the case. Does Wise have evidence that something “bad went down that night”? Again, if so, he should publish it— since such a column would be an important journalistic advancement in the case.
It appears, however, that Wise prefers to deal in rumor and innuendo to justify his attacks on those who wore wristbands proclaiming that three innocent people were, in fact, innocent.
At the Chicago Tribune, Olympic sports reporter Philip Hersh confided, “The idea that the Duke lacrosse team’s success is a feel-good story makes me ill.”
The “team,” he stated, was guilty of “outrageous behavior, even if that behavior did not include the sexual assault three Duke players had been charged with committing.” And what, exactly, was this “outrageous behavior”? A spring break party “at which alcohol was served to minors.” (Hersh makes it seem like the lacrosse players were handing out vodka to 10-year-olds; how many other journalists refer to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds as “minors”?) The players “hired exotic dancers” for this spring break party. (College students partaking of sexually raunchy entertainment over spring break: who has ever heard of such a thing?!) The McFadyen e-mail. (Hersh claims that McFadyen was “expelled,” and seems not to know that the e-mail played off a book assigned in no fewer than three Duke courses.) The fact that “some players allegedly yelled racial insults at the women.” (That one player yelled a racist insult to one woman after that woman yelled a racist taunt to him appears not to have crossed Hersh’s radar screen.)
In other words, much like the Group of 88, for Hersh the world appears to have stopped on or about April 6, 2006, with no facts that emerged after that point in any way affecting his interpretation of events. No wonder he’s ill.
Then there’s Mark Purdy from the Mercury News—generally considered a first-rate paper. Purdy complained that “the exonerated Duke lacrosse players (supported by many of their fellow athletes at the school) said . . . that they felt aggrieved and targeted when they hadn’t done anything to deserve scorn.”
One of the exonerated players—Dave Evans—joined his fellow captains in apologizing publicly on March 28, 2006. He repeated that apology in an October interview with Ed Bradley. Did Purdy know of Evans’ apologies? And a Lexis/Nexis search reveals no quotes from Evans, Collin Finnerty, or Reade Seligmann saying anything remotely resembling an assertion that “they hadn’t done anything to deserve scorn.”
The implication of Purdy’s comments appeared to be that the three accused players had done something to “deserve scorn.” Seligmann and Finnerty attended a party they played no role in organizing, perhaps drank some beer, and left quickly after the party became uncomfortable. Is that, according to Purdy, behavior worthy of scorn?
In evaluating the three players’ character, Purdy cited “my colleague, author John Feinstein, a Duke alum and one of our country’s estimable journalists.” (The last I looked, Feinstein didn’t work for the Mercury News, so it is unclear in what way he is Purdy’s “colleague.”) And what aspect of Feinstein’s argument did Purdy find particularly appealing? That Feinstein “expressed his disgust that the players were portraying themselves as martyrs and said, 'I think they’re guilty of everything but rape.’”
Again, a Lexis/Nexis search reveals no quotes from Evans, Seligmann, or Finnerty in which they described themselves as “martyrs.” And does Purdy—like Feinstein, a man who makes his living by being precise in the language that he chooses—believe that the three players are guilty of sexual assault and kidnapping, which surely would come under the heading of “everything but rape”? [emphasis in original]
Does Purdy endorse the March 2006 argument of “one of our country’s estimable journalists” that Duke should have terminated the scholarships of any lacrosse player who did not immediately agree to speak with Sgt. Mark Gottlieb outside the presence of counsel?
And, I wonder, exactly what evidence does Purdy possess to prove his claim that Reade Seligmann was guilty of “everything but rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping”?
I e-mailed Purdy to ask him the questions above; he did not reply. Perhaps, like Hersh, he was ill.
What, exactly, would Mike Wise say to Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann if he had the chance to address them personally? “Your [sic] guilty by association of bad judgment and real stupid, insensitive behavior. At the least.”
Wise might want to take a look at the work of Jason Whitlock, who writes for the Kansas City Star. Whitlock was right on this case from the start: on May 4, 2006, he joined Stuart Taylor as the first two significant figures in the media to question Mike Nifong’s case--in a stunningly prescient article that referenced none other than To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch, a character with which Wise appears to be unfamiliar.
As Whitlock concluded in today’s Star,
The Blue Devils are to be congratulated for surviving the past year and advancing all the way to the NCAA title game. The Duke lacrosse program and its players were demonized by overzealous media representatives, academics who hate jocks and racial opportunists. Typical, irresponsible college behavior (underage drinking) was used as an excuse to paint the Duke players as potential skinheads.
Their 2006 season was stolen. Three Duke players faced criminal charges for a year. Many students and faculty member on their own campus turned on them and staged protests. The Blue Devils, 17-3, not only survived, but they thrived. They didn’t wallow in victimhood. They took the field and went about the job of debunking their critics.