Apologies from those who rushed to judgment in either the media or the academy have been few and far between. But another reporter who has done the right thing is Brian Ettkin of the Albany Times-Union. He recently penned an annual “I-was-wrong-and-you-were-right column.” He led off:
This one bothers me the most, because it mattered the most. It wasn’t whiffing on a game prediction or misjudging a trade or even calling for the firing of a coach who deserved to be defended.
It was my rush to judgment in the Duke lacrosse case.
I called 47 Duke lacrosse players cowards “standing behind team sports’ code of silence—what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, and what happens after hours stays in the locker room, too ...” for following their lawyers’ counsel and declining to tell police what happened the night an exotic dancer alleged she was gang-raped at a team party.
I wrote they were “shielding teammates when they should be seeking justice” and that “invoking a code of silence ... strongly suggests they want the truth not to be known.”
From the team’s lack of cooperation with police I speciously inferred guilt.
I was naïve. I never imagined the county district attorney would behave unlawfully and be found guilty of fraud, dishonesty, deceit; of stating falsehoods before a judge; of lying about and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence.
I was wrong.
Compare Ettkin’s approach to that of Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Stephen A. Smith. On May 28, 2006, in the Inquirer, Smith penned a column entitled, “It’s a Case of Dumb and Dumber at Duke.” The targets of his criticism? The women’s lacrosse players, who wore armbands sympathizing with the three targets of Mike Nifong’s unethical behavior—an action that was courageous at the time and that subsequent developments would wholly vindicate.
“I never believed,” fumed Smith, “the day would come when we’d see an educational institution so flagrantly stupid, so selfish, so conspicuously aloof . . . These 18-, 19- and 20-year-old women evidently were either ignorant or insensitive to the fact that there were 94,635 rapes in the country in 2004, according to the FBI. Or they weren’t aware that rape is one of the most underreported crimes, which one would think should heighten any female’s sensitivity radar."
In other words: women are raped and the crime is probably an underreported one; so when men are falsely accused, all should remain silent.
“To think,” continued Smith, “once upon a time, academic institutions were held in high regard, a transitional haven for those moving from their teenage years to adulthood. What are we to think now when it’s clear that even at places such as Duke there’s an absence of common sense? . . . Perhaps, at some point, it would be wise to inform these ladies about the FBI’s rape statistics.”
The column oozed condescension. Imagine the hyper-sensitive Smith’s reaction if a white male columnist had penned a similar diatribe calling into question—without any foundation—the intelligence and character of African-American women.
After the case ended, Smith penned a column criticizing black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton for rushing to judgment. He never mentioned his column on the women’s lacrosse team.
Smith won’t be in a position to pen any more columns denouncing the women’s lacrosse players, or anyone else for that matter. Phawker reports that he has been stripped of his column and reassigned to a regular reporting beat. Since he spends little time in Philadelphia, presumably this move will end his career at the Inquirer. Perhaps he should ask to go out with one final column, an unqualified apology to the 2006 Duke women’s lacrosse team.
An important letter recently ran in the Herald-Sun, from former Durham Police Department sergeant Jerry Grugin. He noted,
City Manager Patrick Baker realized the need for change within the Durham Police Department. Hiring Jose Lopez to lead the Police Department was the right move. He is in a strong position to make overdue command staff changes and Baker should remind him of this opportunity often. The circumstances of the Duke lacrosse fallout and other ill-advised departmental decisions reinforce the need for change.
The Whichard committee is currently investigating the Police Department. Some leaders of the department may be held accountable. The trail leading to ineptness will most certainly reach the highest levels of the department. When the end of the trail is reached, it will be interesting to see if the new chief and the City Council really believe change is needed.
It’s encouraging to see people speaking up from within the community, demanding change.
According to the Herald-Sun, Governor Easley has a list of at least seven candidates for the vacant (permanent) DA’s slot. The list is not exactly distinguished. It leads with Tracey Cline, the ADA who came up with the idea of the wildly improper non-testimonial order for all 46 white lacrosse players—and the person that Mike Nifong said was prepared to assist him in prosecuting if a trial ever occurred. Before meriting any consideration, Cline should be asked to issue a public statement as to why she recommended the March 2006 NTO; and what, if anything, she learned from Nifong’s mishandling of the case.
The list also includes the two people Nifong defeated in the May 2006 primary—Freda Black and Keith Bishop. If the new DA should have any single quality, it should be that he or she is ethically pristine. Such a description certainly doesn’t apply to either Black or Bishop.
Another name on the list is Julian Mack, who has never prosecuted a case in North Carolina.
NCSpin, meanwhile, has floated another name: Judge (and former DA) Ron Stephens. That’s right—the same Judge Stephens who signed the NTO, did nothing as Nifong initiated the cases, and then (highly improperly) gave Nifong a de facto endorsement in a November article for (of course) the New York Times.
Monday will feature the final post in the 15-part Group Profile series. Former dean of faculty William Chafe will be profiled. The series has attracted its share of (always anonymous) comments from Group members, sympathizers, or defenders. But their critique has varied: as one specious argument is rebuffed, they simply produce another. The basic order of their critique:
- (Unspecified) posts took (unspecified) quotes out of (unspecified) context.
- The posts are anti-intellectual, since I am responsible for anything and everything said by (anonymous) commenters. In this clip from the Colbert report, Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos dismissed the absurdity of this argument.
- The posts focused only on the marginal members of the Group. In response, I did a post looking at the 20 marginal members of the Group, none of whom had been profiled.
- The posts violated the principle of peer-review, because a historian cannot even describe work from outside his field. As it turns out, Duke has a tenure review committee where professors from outside a candidate’s field have weight on the candidate’s future employment.
- The posts ignored the handful of Group members who were prestigious.
- After I had said that Chafe (who by any definition is prestigious) would be the final post in the series, a Group defender suggested (for the first time) that Ariel Dorfman is the “elephant” in the room, someone whose intellectual talents cover whatever shortcomings the other 87 Group members possess.
Stay tuned Monday for the latest in pro-Group critiques.
Speaking of the Group, the Duke News site had an interesting post on two-career couples on the Duke faculty, noting that the couples interviewed “agreed that Duke was unusually open-minded and progressive in its recruitment policies.” Indeed, the article notes, “Duke was one of five universities to win the [Sloan] award in 2006 in recognition of its efforts in dual-career recruitment and retention. The award will also enable refinement of recruitment and retention policies developed at Duke in recent years.”
The article steered clear, however, of the two-couple faculty members among the anti-lacrosse extremists. No mention of Group members Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Mary Hovsepian. Group member Anne Allison and “clarifying” professor Charlie Piot didn’t get a shout-out. And the Rom Coles-Kim Curtis partnership likewise was avoided.
Since the article’s purpose was to bring Duke good publicity, perhaps such discretion was wise in this case.
Hat tip: T.D.; apologies for the slight delay in posting tonight--connectivity problems