George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen reviews Until Proven Innocent in this week’s Sunday New York Times book review:
From the Scottsboro Boys to Clarence Gideon, some of the most memorable legal narratives have been tales of the wrongly accused. Now “Until Proven Innocent,” a new book about the false allegations of rape against three Duke lacrosse players, can join these galvanizing cautionary tales . . . In their riveting narrative, Stuart Taylor Jr., one of America’s most insightful legal commentators (and a former reporter at The New York Times), and KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, portray Nifong as “evil or deluded or both” . . .
Nifong’s sins are now well known, but Taylor and Johnson argue that he was aided and abetted by the news media and the Duke faculty. They are withering about the “lynch mob mentality” (in the words of a defense lawyer) created by bloviating cable news pundits on the left and the right. But they are also sharply critical of what they call the one-sided reporting of the nation’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times. With a few exceptions, the authors suggest, The Times’s coverage consistently showed a “pro-Nifong bias,” most notably in a front-page article apparently trying to resurrect the case after it seemed on the verge of collapse.
At least “many of the journalists misled by Nifong eventually adjusted their views as evidence of innocence” came to light, the authors conclude. That’s more than can be said for Duke’s “activist professors,” 88 of whom signed an inflammatory letter encouraging a rush to judgment by the student protesters who were plastering the campus with wanted posters of the lacrosse team and waving a banner declaring “Castrate.” Even when confronted with DNA evidence of the players’ innocence, these professors refused to apologize and instead incoherently attacked their critics. In the same spirit, the authors charge, the president of Duke, Richard Brodhead, fired the lacrosse coach, canceled the season and condemned the team members for more than eight months. The pandering Brodhead, in this account, is more concerned about placating faculty ideologues than about understanding the realities of student life on his raunchy campus . . .
Taylor and Johnson have made a gripping contribution to the literature of the wrongly accused. They remind us of the importance of constitutional checks on prosecutorial abuse. And they emphasize the lesson that Duke callously advised its own students to ignore: if you’re unjustly suspected of any crime, immediately call the best lawyer you can afford.
Read the entire review here.
Stuart Taylor and I were also interviewed by US Lacrosse about the origins of our interest in the case; the long-term effects; and other case-related matters.