Those who made a rush to judgment based upon an unquestioning faith in what a prosecutor had told them were made to look foolish and many still do look foolish.
--Lane Williamson, closing statement
Despite Williamson’s admonition, those intent on making themselves look foolish continue to do so.
In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Syl Jones frets that “the Duke boys’ activities weren’t exactly cherubic—a fact that’s conveniently overlooked by their conservative cheerleaders . . . All three will probably wind up clerking for Antonin Scalia or better yet, Clarence Thomas, who has his own fabled history of ribaldry.”
Jones appears to have overlooked Reade Seligmann’s April 11 statement about the importance of using his experience to defend the rights of all falsely accused—hardly a path likely to lead to a Scalia clerkship. And the “they’re-no-angels” argument would be a bit more persuasive if Jones could point to people who have actually described the lacrosse players—or, for that matter, any student at Duke—as “angels.”
Jones fumes that the players’ haven’t apologized—ignorant, apparently, of the fact that the captains who hosted the party have repeatedly apologized, both publicly and privately.
By the end of the column, Jones manages to link the conduct of the lacrosse team to . . . “the disgraceful behavior of certain members of the military at Abu Ghraib.” (I have to admit that in all that I've read on the case, Jones is the first commentator to link the lacrosse players to possible war crimes.)
And even if Nifong, Jones concludes, “deserves to be punished, he was right about one thing: Something did happen at that frat boy party at Duke University . . . Too bad Nifong didn’t do his job and home in on exactly what that something was.”
Too bad Jones didn’t do the job of an op-ed columnist and explain precisely what the “something” that happened was.
the dancers were, it is clear, physically if perhaps not sexually assaulted [sic]; and this behavior was said to be part of a pattern of ingrained, anti-social behavior that repeatedly led to people being targeted by team members for violence [sic], either on the streets [sic] or at team parties [sic] (and do we think that women have not been raped at Duke lacrosse team parties? that women under the influence of drugs and alcohol have not been coerced to have sex without their explicit consent? Published accounts suggest otherwise [sic].) According to published reports, the ethical culture of this lacrosse team was so out of touch that many players who were not involved in this incident, and who did not do anything wrong, still refused to speak about what had happened, in the misplaced belief that loyalty to one’s friends is a higher virtue than treating people who aren’t on your team with respect [sic] . . . That these male lacrosse players at a private university, almost all of whom are white, have not been repeatedly identified—in jest or seriously—as the semi-criminal youth gang that they appear to be; and that [the Rutgers women's basketball team is] slandered on national radio, ought to tell us something about selling race and sex in Amerika [spelled as in original] today.
At the time, I posted critically on Potter’s serious allegations—for which she provided no corroborating evidence beyond mention to unspecified “published accounts.”
Potter recently returned to the case, in an even stranger post. “I certainly,” proclaimed she, “thought all the racist and anti-semitic stuff I got from the 'anonymous' commenters in relation to the Duke lacrosse affair, in addition to being offensive, was deeply cowardly. And I continue to think that the historian who turned these people loose on me by posting my email address on his blog, behaved in a highly uncollegial[!], unprofessional and frankly, unethical, way by exposing me to what was not critique or criticism -- it was just crazy abuse, where anonymity became a weapon that he deployed through other people to punish and intimidate someone as an object lesson to others. So did HNN, in fact, where this person is listed as a regular contributer [sic]: they [sic] chided him in a column, and as far as I know he never responded to them [sic]. I know he never explained his actions to me.”
I invite readers to again consult my post on the issue, which Potter has described as a “public, personal and vicious verbal assault,” to give a sense of how she defines the concept. I did not post Potter’s e-mail address on the blog, and nowhere in the post did I suggest that people e-mail her. As for the HNN “column” that allegedly chided me to which I did not respond, Potter, of course, provided no link. And I wasn’t aware that a blogger needed to “explain” his or her actions to another blogger.
In her recent post, Potter further claimed that she
did not spread or make false charges about the students under indictment. [She apparently believes that suggesting that members of the lacrosse team were previously guilty of rape, that they were a “semi-criminal youth gang,” and that it was “clear” Crystal Mangum was physically assaulted did not constitute making “false charges about the students under indictment.”] Actually, I reported on coverage of the case, not the case itself, in the service of making an argument about race and culture that compared how those students were depicted in the press to another case. Frankly, even if I had made false charges against these students, it would have been without material consequence to them because I have no standing in their lives, their community or in the legal case. [No one said that she did.] I was in no way responsible for the situation that brought on the press coverage in the first place, or Duke’s decisions about how to deal with it. [No one said that she was.] But the anonymous people attached to this blogger wrote emails and letters to my colleagues, officers of the university, trustees and to me: as I came to understand, they have also been sending abusive, obscene and racist email to members of the Duke faculty. [How Potter determined that “anonymous” people were “attached” to me is unclear.] Only when I began to investigate their real identities by filing complaints with their servers did they stop. I still don’t know, because of the multiple anonymous comments and the accounts opened under pseudonyms, whether these were many real people, a couple real people, or whether it was just the blogger himself in a fit of paranoid rage and grandiosity. [This from the person who complained that she was subjected to a “public, personal and vicious verbal assault.”] And not inconsequentially, although the blogger claims to be engaged in a campaign for justice that has held up factually in recent decisions in the Duke case, that he deliberately misinterpreted my post and fails to exercise any restraint over the “anonymous” comments to his own site, many of which seem to be from right-wing conspiracy theorists, frankly calls him into question as a scholar as well as a colleague in my view. [Potter did not make clear how quoting own words constituted “misinterpreting” her.] As far as I can tell, he has one identity as a historian and another as the convener of a bizarre, right wing conspiracy group. And the two identities cannot help but overlap because they belong to the same person. [This, again, from the person who complained that she was subjected to a “public, personal and vicious verbal assault.”]
Potter’s argument appears to boil down to: she can say whatever she wants about the case, even when she provides no factual basis for grave accusations, but criticism of what she published is unacceptable. This sort of approach fits in very well with the line of argument from the Group of 88 over the past 15 months: “free speech for me, not for thee.”
Potter, it turns out, gave a sense of how she “exercises restraint” over her blog in response to a comment from DIW reader AMac. A couple of days ago, he placed the following comment on her blog.
I comment (and occasionally blog) pseudonymously rather than anonymously. I dislike the anon- and pseudon- for some of the reasons you describe. Yet, in my career (outside of academia), I have no safety net. On principle, I also would like to keep some semblance of privacy, even realizing that the application of Moore’s Law to the power of Google (etc.) means that the search engines of tomorrow will pierce these veils with ease.
My stance is similar to that of numerous other commenters on this thread: I’ve made it easy for anyone who wishes to discover my not-so-secret identity. Perhaps that helps with a second piece: I try not to write anything that I wouldn’t say in person and for attribution (when I make a mistake, I apologize).
As to the specifics of the Duke Rape Hoax that you used to illustrated the issue of anonymity in blogging: some few of your readers may recall my disagreement with your position in the comments of the post you alluded to, http://tenured-radical.blogspot
.com/2007/04/theres-got-to-be“>There’s Got To Be A Morning After. -morning-after.html
The developments in the case over the past few months have not been kind to your point of view. Further, most readers who make the effort to read the primary source material will find your description of your dealings with a historian-blogger and his “cronies” (can I be a crony of a person I’ve never met?) to be rather, um, bowdlerized.
The next day, Potter deleted the comment. How uncollegial.