The Group of 88 has offered myriad defenses for its rush to judgment in spring 2006. Perhaps none, however, is more peculiar than the irrelevancy argument. The basics: 88 members of the arts and sciences faculty took out a denunciatory ad about their own students, but no one noticed it—and, therefore, it had no effect. Directing criticism against the Group, according to this reasoning, is inappropriate.
This line of argument requires people to ignore the Chronicle (which noticed, and criticized, the ad almost immediately); the lacrosse players (who also noticed, and criticized, the ad almost immediately); and the defense lawyers (who would cite the ad prominently in their change-of-venue motion. It also requires the suspension of common sense: even in normal circumstances, 88 professors (and, the ad incorrectly claimed, five academic departments) at the area’s most prestigious institution issuing a public statement (“in the most easily seen venue on campus”) denouncing their own students would be big news. And this, of course, was a case with unprecedented media attention.
Today’s post looked at the remarks of just one Duke faculty member (Tim Tyson), who followed up his radio interview with a similarly guilt-presuming op-ed in the N&O. In the comment section, the post almost immediately attracted the party line from an (as always, anonymous) Group defender.
Oh, goody! Another hard-hitting expose on ... someone nobody reads, no one cares about, and who is non-tenure track, who makes no decisions about anything besides his reading list, at the far periphery of his department. Way to go, KC! Next up, detailed write-ups of pot-sellers and housewares employees at Sears who fuel this angry mob!
As much as Group defenders would like to rewrite history, however, a contemporaneous documentary record exists. In this case, just like the words of the Group, Tyson’s comments attracted immediate attention. Here’s an early April 2006 quote from N&O reporter Samiha Khanna, author of the widely condemned (and almost wholly false) March 25, 2006 “interview” with Crystal Mangum.
I think Tim Tyson taught readers Sunday about a history not many were aware had occurred. Durham is a place of many new residents, people who may not have the institutional knowledge of the university's history in the community. We are trying to explore these notions as we follow up on the story in the coming weeks. In response to your specific question about Mr. Tyson’s piece—I haven’t seen an equivalent piece in other publications. Many people have spoken out about a history of sex crimes on college campuses, but not issues of race and gender on the Duke campus specifically. These are keys to thorough follow-up stories that we are working to document. [emphases added]
Though it would take a few weeks, the N&O eventually recognized the inappropriateness of Tyson’s analogies for the specific case at hand. By late April, Khanna (and with her, the Tyson line) was basically off the case, and the work of Joe Neff, Ben Niolet, Anne Blythe, Eric Ferreri, and Michael Biesecker moved the paper in a very different direction.
On campus, however, it was full speed ahead for the Tyson/Group of 88 mindset. And Khanna’s quote provides a useful reminder that at a critical juncture in this case, journalists (unfortunately, as it turned out) were treating the guilt-presuming remarks of Duke professors seriously.