Since January, Group members and their sympathizers have aggressively, if unsuccessfully, attempted to rehabilitate the Group from its rush to judgment in spring 2006. The Group of 88 Rehab Tour has followed a long, and torturous, path.
The tour began on January 5, when Cathy Davidson penned an N&O op-ed terming the Group’s statement a justified response to “rampant” racist defenses of Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans “on the campus quad.” Of course, during the period in which the statement was written (March 29-April 6, 2006), virtually no one was defending the lacrosse team on the “campus quad,” much less using racist rhetoric to do so, and certainly no one was defending Seligmann or Finnerty, who were not (for very good reasons) considered suspects.
That same day, Group stalwart Karla Holloway offered another line of defense. In a mass e-mail, she suggested that the Group’s character assault on the lacrosse players might be justified, since a secret witness might exist who would attest to rampant racial slurs early on at the party. Of course, no such witness existed. Despite the Faculty Handbook’s requirement that she treat all Duke students with “respect,” Holloway apparently has never been disciplined for disseminating highly negative information about Duke students that she either knew or should have known was untrue.
In mid-January, dozens of Group members issued the “clarifying” statement—in which they defiantly refused to apologize for signing the original ad as they stood “by the claim that issues of race and sexual violence on campus are real.” Two of the signatories (Susan Thorne and Alberto Moreiras) attracted attention, having previously apologized for signing the ad to lacrosse players and their families. They gave no advance warning of their plans to publicly retract their apologies. Meanwhile, none of the roughly two-dozen new signatories explained how they could speak of the Group signatories’ intent if they hadn’t signed the original Group statement. When asked about this conundrum, new signatory Kerry Haynie replied, en toto, “Get a freaking life! Quote me!”
The Rehab Tour continued in February, at the “Shut Up and Teach” forum. There, Charlie Piot compared me to (unnamed) West African dictators, while Wahneema Lubiano rationalized the Group’s conduct on the grounds that “Black Studies” professors had a special right to deal with political issues as part of their job.
Holloway, meanwhile, tried to a new line of defense: she admitted that the Group’s statement said that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum, but suggested that the professors weren’t talking about rape. Rather, declared Holloway, “drunkenness” happened to Mangum. If the Group took out a full-page ad every time Mangum was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, the Chronicle’s advertising budget would have been overflowing for years.
That month, William Chafe joined five colleagues in penning a Chronicle op-ed demanding that all “move forward,” lest people attempt to examine the arts and sciences faculty’s springtime rush to judgment. (For good measure, Chafe quoted an anonymous alleged student who maintained that “we are all guilty because we have never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault.”) Imagine how Chafe and his colleagues in the Group would have reacted had Mike Pressler penned a Chronicle op-ed in early April 2006, announcing that it was time to “move on” and any investigation of the lacrosse players would be unacceptable.
In April, eschewing Chafe’s advice to “move on,” Group member Grant Farred publicly asserted that one or more unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. His talk, meanwhile, was advertised through a photoshopped flyer showing a yellow crime-scene tape outside the lacrosse field, with several members of the team, identifiable by their uniform numbers, in the background.
Later that month, Chafe—eschewing his own advice to “move on”—identied the real villains in the lacrosse case: the dozen or so blogs who had criticized the Group. He wrote to the Chronicle, “I am appalled at the way that bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’ have put words in our mouths, denied our individuality and [used] racist and violent language to attack us—including sending us e-mails and making phone calls wishing our deaths and calling us ‘Jew b-’ and ‘n-b-’.” When asked for evidence that any of the dozen “bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’” had engaged in such behavior, Chafe could not supply any. I contacted every significant blogger that ran posts critiquing the Group; all categorically denied calling any Group member, ever; most had never e-mailed any Group members; and those who had e-mailed said they had done so only if requesting comment on a post.
Then, in October, Charlie Piot produced a lengthy attack on DIW. He argued that the Group’s statement had nothing to do with the lacrosse case, even though its author, Wahneema Lubiano, had solicited signatures over an e-mail declaring it was a response “to the lacrosse team incident.” And he asserted that the Group’s statement thanked not the guilt-presuming protesters who had carried “castrate” banners or blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters, but instead other guilt-presuming protesters, who wore T-shirts reading “Men’s Lax Come Clean”; posted writings condemning the players’ presumption of innocence; and asserted, “If these three culprits get away with it, it will prove to me that Duke does not honor the black woman’s body.”
Intellectual consistency, in short, hasn’t been a hallmark of the Rehab Tour. Group defenders have veered wildly between:
- rationalizing the ad as justified because the lacrosse players might have committed a crime;
- reinventing a past that never existed to suggest that the ad was necessary to counteract the pro-player public opinion from late March 2006;
- claiming that, despite the explicit wording of Lubiano’s cover e-mail, the ad had nothing to do with the lacrosse case;
- issuing furious attacks on those who have deigned to criticize the Group.
The latest stop in the Rehab Tour, a series of posts by Duke Music professor Robert Zimmerman, combines the third and fourth of these tactics. In a recent post, Zimmerman criticized DIW for having engaged in “insidiously polarizing,” “irrational,” and “anti-academic” behavior—extraordinarily strong charges to level against the work of a fellow academic. A few days later, he followed up with a post ascribing my criticism of the Group of 88 to a desire “to blot all the stigma off his side and spread it on the other.” Since, as Zimmerman concedes, my initial comments about the Group of 88 came at a time when I not only had no connection to anyone at Duke but had taken no position on either the criminal case or the issue of the lacrosse players' personal character, it's not entirely clear what “side” I had, much less why I would have wanted “to blot all the stigma” off of this non-existent “side.” Zimmerman, unfortunately, offered no illumination on what my “side” was when I initially criticized the Group's statement.
What, meanwhile, caused Zimmerman to reach his conclusion about the “insidiously polarizing,” “irrational,” and “anti-academic” of DIW? He wrote that I had deliberately ignored “efforts when the [Group of 88’s] ad was written to make much different points in a much different way than the protestors.”
In his post, Zimmerman presented no evidence for his claim, which seemed, at the least, counterintuitive. If the Group’s intent were to “make much different points in a much different way than the protestors,” it’s hard to understand why they would publish a statement—“in the most easily seen venue on campus”—saying, “To the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”
Accordingly, I e-mailed Zimmerman to ask if he had any evidence to corroborate his claim about the Group’s statement. He replied by contending that I had misinterpreted an April 13, 2006 essay penned by Wahneema Lubiano, which was published one week after the ad appeared. In a subsequent e-mail and then post, he suggested that my chief fault was suggesting that the Group’s ad could be interpreted as suggesting that the sole message of the potbangers’ March 26 rally was the “castrate” banner.
Yet neither this nor any other case-related blog has ever suggested that that the “castrate” banner was only aspect of the March 26 protest. On both DIW and in UPI, I have taken note of other banners from that heavily covered protest, such as “Sunday Morning, Time to Confess”; “Get a Conscience, Not a Lawyer”; “Measure for Measure”; and “Real Men Don't Protect Rapists.”
Unlike other protests, the potbangers’ rally received coverage from all four* local TV (WRAL, WTVD/ABC, News 14, NBC-17) stations and local newspapers in the days before the ad appeared. Is Zimmerman suggesting that the contemporaneous press coverage of the potbangers somehow might have fooled the Group into believing that the potbangers were worthy of the Group's salutation for not only making “collective noise" but for “not waiting”? Or, perhaps, is he instead implying that the Group members were so reckless that they thanked protesters through a high-profile public statement, even though they had no idea what the protesters were doing or saying?
Even the “clarifying” letter, ironically, didn’t try to disprove a connection between the Group's statement and this heavily covered protest rally. Indeed, it appeared to give an after-the-fact endorsement to the potbangers—and to the protesters who engaged in the other high-profile protest in the days before the ad was issued, blanketing the campus with “wanted” posters. It stated, “We appreciate the efforts of those who used the attention the incident generated to raise issues of discrimination and violence.” The potbangers’ stated goals: addressing “issues of discrimination and violence.”
To date, Zimmerman has not produced any evidence for his original allegation that DIW had ignored “efforts when the ad was written [between March 29, 2006, and April 6, 2006] to make much different points in a much different way than the protestors.” Nonetheless, he suggested that I should apologize to Lubiano for misrepresenting her essay.
The section in dispute from the Lubiano essay reads as follows:
I understand the impulse of those outraged and who see the alleged offenders as the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus. Further, this group has been responsible for extended social violence against the neighborhood in which they reside. In short, by a combination of their behaviors and what they represent in terms of social facts, and by virtue of their relation to the alleged victim, for those who are defenders of the victim, the members of the team are almost perfect offenders in the sense that [critical race theorist] Crenshaw writes about.
Many months after penning these words, Lubiano explained that she was merely analyzing the situation—that she didn’t consider the lacrosse players “perfect offenders,” because, evidently, she couldn’t be considered either a strong defender of the “victim” [sic] or among those who “see the alleged offenders as the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” I made note of Lubiano’s rationalizations, both on the blog and in UPI (p. 161). I also made clear I found her after-the-fact revisionism unconvincing.
This is, after all, the same Wahneema Lubiano who:
- Joined Houston Baker and Peter Wood in offering extremist anti-lacrosse rhetoric at the March 30, 2006 faculty meeting, at which Lubiano demanded more aggressive faculty action against the team on the preposterously grounds that the Brodhead administration was overly sympathetic to the lacrosse players;
- Coordinated the writing and dissemination of the Group of 88’s ad, which she explicitly described as a response to “the lacrosse team incident”;
- Appeared at an April 12 forum which suggested that things were “moving backwards” on campus because the first DNA test results had come back negative;
- Unequivocally stated that the lacrosse players were guilty of “extended social violence against the neighborhood in which they reside” and unequivocally labeled Mangum “the victim”;
- Dismissed those who argued that the April DNA test results should, as Nifong had promised, result in a finding of innocence, claiming that they were making a “demand for perfect evidence on the part of the defenders of the team”;
- Published a May N&O op-ed demanding that Duke respond to the lacrosse case by immediately instituting a program of “targeted teaching” to expose “the structures of racism and the not-so-hidden injuries of class entitlement in place at Duke and everywhere in this country,” since “we don’t have to wait for working class or poorer students to be targeted by fraternity ‘theme’ parties or cross burnings on the quad or in dorm halls, or for sexual assaults to be attested by perfectly placed witnesses and indisputable evidence.”
- Was described by an ESPN reporter who had interviewed her in spring 2006 as fully aware that “some would see the [Group of 88] ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
Zimmerman, it seems, not only disagrees with the blog’s portrayal of Lubiano and her essay, but has effectively suggested that it is “irrational,” “anti-academic,” and “insidiously polarizing” to label as a defender of Mangum the person whose behavior was described above. That argument is more than a bit far-fetched.
Zimmerman offered one additional defense for the Group’s handiwork. “The central message of the ad as I see it doesn’t need a reference to protestors and doesn’t require the rape allegation to be true, so I don’t think either line is necessary as written.” In other words, if the Group just hadn’t unequivocally declared that something happened to Mangum; and hadn’t said thank you to protesters for making collective noise and not waiting, their ad--what Wahneema Lubiano described as a response to “the lacrosse team incident”--would have been so much better.
Why not take that logic one step further? If the Group had just included a line demanding that Mike Nifong treat all Duke students fairly, they would have undermined all criticism of the statement.
But, of course, rewriting a statement 18 months after the fact isn’t a particularly effective line of defense.
Perhaps, it could be argued, Zimmerman is simply the sternest of taskmasters, a figure inclined to deem “irrational,” “anti-academic,” and “insidiously polarizing” anyone whose behavior he in any way criticizes?
Not exactly. Zimmerman has become the first Group defender to publicly criticize the potbangers—a major development for which he deserves praise. But were the potbangers’ motives “irrational,” or “insidiously polarizing,” or “anti-academic”? Quite the contrary: he bent over backwards to deem their motives benevolent.
“I don’t at all discount,” wrote Zimmerman, “the genuine concern for victims of sexual assault–a terrible, debilitating crime–that motivated most if not all the protestors. I expect that some of the outrage came from brutally real personal experience of assault, something that far too many women have to live with. I can only go on what I can see and read, though, and in that the action is represented not only as a denunciation of the team but also righteous support for the woman alleging rape and for other assault survivors [sic, Mangum was obviously not another ‘assault survivor’].”
Perhaps, then, could it be argued that Zimmerman only applies his over-the-top attack style to professors? Leaving aside the fact that at least two Duke faculty members, Timothy Tyson and Faulkner Fox, attended the March 25-26 potbangers’ protests, there’s little evidence for this argument either.
As noted last week, Wesleyan professor Claire Potter published an April post in which she stated, in direct contradiction to the evidence, that “the dancers were, it is clear, physically if perhaps not sexually assaulted” and that “the ethical culture of this lacrosse team was so out of touch that many players who were not involved in this incident, and who did not do anything wrong, still refused to speak about what had happened, in the misplaced belief that loyalty to one’s friends is a higher virtue than treating people who aren’t on your team with respect.” After her post, myriad commenters on her blog pointed out Potter’s factual errors. Potter has refused to run a correction or to supply evidence to substantiate her allegations against the lacrosse players. Instead, she has repeatedly lashed out at her critics, while making additional unsubstantiated allegations.
Did Zimmerman suggest that Potter was “irrational,” “insidiously polarizing,” or “anti-academic” for publishing, under her own name, the above statements about college students at another school?
“It seems to me that some of Potter’s original comments were in fact,” wrote Zimmerman, . . . “excessive.”
Actually, of course, they were not “excessive”—the two quoted above, which were leveled at students from Zimmerman’s own university, were demonstrably false and arguably defamatory. He then excused Potter for not printing a retraction or supplying evidence to substantiate her allegations, on the grounds that she had been criticized by people who were “huffing and puffing” or “more or less smug and/or self-righteous and/or ignorant and/or hypocritical.” (This analysis, by the way, came from the same person whose own words some might consider smug, self-righteous, or even “anti-academic.”)
Perhaps Zimmerman’s next stop can be the Bush White House. By his rationale, President Bush didn’t need to admit error or provide evidence for his unsubstantiated WMD claims—since, after all, Bush was attacked by people who were “more or less smug and/or self-righteous and/or ignorant and/or hypocritical.”
In the meantime, no doubt, the Group of 88 Rehab Tour will lurch on, with the next participant offering yet another new and unconvincing rationale for why the Group’s statement was an appropriate, necessary, or innocuous academic endeavor.
*--The NBC-17 website does not contain links to its spring 2006 broadcasts.