There was plenty of wrongdoing, of course, but it had very little to do with Duke’s lacrosse players. It was perpetrated instead by a rogue district attorney determined to win re-election in a racially divided, town-gown city; ideologically driven reporters and their pseudo-expert sources; censorious faculty members driven by the imperatives of political correctness; a craven university president; and black community leaders seemingly ready to believe any charge of black victimization.
Until Proven Innocent is a stunning book. It recounts the Duke lacrosse case in fascinating detail and offers, along the way, a damning portrait of the institutions—legal, educational and journalistic—that do so much to shape contemporary American culture. Messrs. Taylor and Johnson make it clear that the Duke affair—the rabid prosecution, the skewed commentary, the distorted media storyline—was not some odd, outlier incident but the product of an elite culture’s most treasured assumptions about American life, not least about America’s supposed racial divide . . .
In this fundamental injustice, [Nifong] was aided and abetted by others in Durham. Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke, condemned the lacrosse players as if they had already been found guilty, demanded the resignation of their coach and studiously ignored the mounting evidence that Ms. Mangum’s charge was false. He was clearly terrified of the racial and gender activists on his own faculty. Houston Baker, a noted professor of English, called the lacrosse players “white, violent, drunken men veritably given license to rape,” men who could “claim innocence . . . safe under the cover of silent whiteness.” Protesters on campus and in the city itself waved “castrate” banners, put up “wanted” posters and threatened the physical safety of the lacrosse players.
The vitriolic rhetoric of the faculty and Durham’s “progressive” community—including the local chapter of the NAACP—helped to intensify the scandal and stoke the media fires. The New York Times’ coverage was particularly egregious, as Messrs. Taylor and Johnson vividly show. It ran dozens of prominent stories and “analysis” articles trying to plumb the pathologies of the lacrosse players and of a campus culture that allowed swaggering white males to prey on poor, defenseless young black women. As one shrewd Times alumnus later wrote: “You couldn’t invent a story so precisely tuned to the outrage frequency of the modern, metropolitan, bienpensant journalist.” Such Nifong allies—unlike the district attorney himself—paid no price for their shocking indifference to the truth.
Read the entire review here. Thernstrom’s closing sentence summarizes one of the sad realities of this case.