As the daily version of the blog comes to a close, it seemed appropriate to focus on the better aspects of the case—the people who did not succumb to the rush to judgment atmosphere, who avoided what President Richard Brodhead has termed “ill-judged” and “divisive” actions, and who distinguished themselves for their behavior during the course of the case.
Jim Coleman. The Duke law professor chaired a fair inquiry into the lacrosse team’s behavior—at a time when it’s easy to imagine a less judicial figure yielding to the pressures of the moment and presenting the wholly negative image of the lacrosse players the Group of 88 appeared to believe. Indeed, the Coleman Committee report should have shamed those who blindly accepted the caricatures of the team offered in late March and April 2006. Coleman then pivoted from his work with the lacrosse committee to become the most prominent local critic of Mike Nifong—a voice of moral clarity until Nifong’s ultimate disbarment.
In recent months, Coleman has repeatedly said that people should not view his performance as heroic. He was, he’s noted, only taking the same positions he had supported for years, in cases that attracted little if any notice. But that, of course, is the point: in a case where many abandoned long-held principles for what they perceived as short-term gain, Coleman upheld his ideals, and presented a model of how academics should behave in a crisis.
Lane Williamson. For better or worse, for 2006 and into early 2007, Mike Nifong was the national face of
For a sense of Williamson’s rhetorical power, the clip below remains one of the best of the case.
Joe Neff and the N&O news staff. N&O journalists followed the facts—and though the paper’s first few articles presumed guilt, the paper quickly reversed itself and published more exposés on the case than the rest of the print media combined. More so than other publication, the N&O explained—in terms the average reader could easily understand—how Nifong’s flawed procedures yielded flawed results.
Aaron Beard. Beginning the case with few (if any) contacts among either the prosecution or the defense, Beard distinguished himself through his consistently fair reporting. Someone who followed the case solely through the slanted articles of the New York Times would have been stunned at (a) the exoneration; and then (b) Nifong’s disbarment. Those who read about the case through the AP, on the other hand, would have received a wholly accurate account of events in
Jason Whitlock. In a case where too many sports reporters followed the lead of John Feinstein and Selena Roberts, offering fact-free, borderline-slanderous articles and interviews, Whitlock saw through Nifong’s misconduct almost from the start, and recognized as early as April 2006 the scope of the injustice in this case.
Kerstin Kimel. It would have been easy for Kimel to adopt the “holier-than-thou” approach so common on the Duke campus in spring 2006. Instead, in the weeks after Mike Pressler’s firing, she functioned as de facto coach/counselor to the men’s team as well as her own. It would be impossible to overstate her significance in helping the players get through the difficult April and May 2006. For her efforts, Kimel saw her own team viciously smeared by the national press after they wore armbands sympathizing with their fellow students who were targeted by Nifong. To date, no columnist who attacked the women’s team has offered even a half-hearted apology.
Steve Baldwin, Michael Gustafson, Michael Munger, and the Economics professors. This case offered a glimpse into the ugly side of contemporary academia—the groupthink mentality around “diversity” and race/class/gender issues, as well as the intolerance of those who dissent from the status quo. Baldwin, Gustafson, and Munger spoke up even though they knew they would absorb personal attacks for doing so. The Economics professors’ public letter showed the world that the Group of 88 no longer spoke for all Duke faculty. Their willingness to confront the extremists in their own midst took courage and deserves the warmest of praise.
Jason Trumpbour. As we’ve seen through the Duke Magazine coverage and the alumni mailings, the administration carefully managed what type of information officially reached the alumni on the case. Trumpbour’s group, Friends of Duke, formed an alternative voice for alumni frustrated with Brodhead’s refusal to confront Nifong’s misconduct. The items for which the president apologized last Saturday were all points raised in summer 2006 by FODU.
Jackie Brown and Beth Brewer. The lacrosse players or their families had no power base in
Duke Students for an Ethical
Elliot Wolf and the Duke Student Government. A major theme of the case (depressing from one angle, encouraging from another) is how student organizations responded more appropriately to events in
Chronicle reporters, editors, and op-ed writers. At last weekend’s conference, Chronicle reporter Emily Rotberg reminded people that the newspaper’s reporters are students first and journalists second—they all have the extensive academic commitments of every Duke student. Even without that caveat, the Chronicle performed remarkably in this case—on-target articles, great op-ed columns, incisive editorials. And no discussion of the Chronicle could be complete without a reference to the incomparable Kristin Butler, whose op-eds were by far the best of any in the country on the case.
The skill of the defense team and the fortitude of the falsely accused players and their families goes without saying. In her 60 Minutes interview, Rae Evans noted that Nifong had targeted the wrong families. Indeed he did.