UPI received two negative reviews from what, at first blush, could be considered expected sources. One came from The Independent: no one would have expected the Triangle’s alternative weekly to suddenly abandon its demagogic view of the lacrosse case. The second, however, came from The Nation—a publication with a distinguished history of championing dissenting thought.
For its review, The Nation turned to Robert Perkinson, an assistant professor in American Studies from the
Like Duke defenders of the academic status quo, Perkinson’s review aggressively plays the race card: “The authors,” he writes, “spotlight Alan Gell, a white man wrongfully sent to death row in
Perkinson apparently considers it self-evident that a book on the lacrosse affair should have discussed the case of a black man (Hunt) imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit alongside a case of a white man (Gell) imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. For those in the reality-based community, for whom race-based editorial decisions aren’t self-evident, Perkinson offers no additional guidance.
Gell’s relevance to the lacrosse affair is clear: his case directly led to passage of
None of these factors appeared in the Hunt case—where the most dubious actions came from
More broadly, the
So why, again, was UPI flawed for not discussing Hunt but stressing Gell’s significance? Perkinson doesn’t say, other than to point out that Hunt is black.
As in his comments about Hunt, Perkinson’s review seems designed more to obscure than enlighten, perhaps from an expectation that most Nation readers would not recall enough about the specifics of the case to challenge the review’s assertions. Some examples:
The lacrosse players’ character: The book, Perkinson complained, omitted how the “lacrosse players, [emphasis added] who make up less than 1 percent of the student population, account [emphasis added] for 25 percent of the school’s disorderly conduct violations.”
I wonder how many Nation readers guessed that the passage above actually was talking about one lacrosse player, in one incident. (The sample size was four students.) Perkinson’s use of the present tense (“account”), meanwhile, implies that the total is a comprehensive, ongoing one; in fact, this statistically insignificant figure came from one (supposedly randomly selected) term only. Few reliable social scientists would extrapolate from such a sample set—the reason Stuart and I did not include it in the book.
When Perkinson can’t use peculiar statistical interpretations to uphold the early media caricatures of the lacrosse players, he resorts to stereotypes. He concedes, for instance, that the players were good students. But of course they were: after all, they graduated from “Northeastern prep schools.” How Perkinson’s analysis applies to the academic performance of the many lacrosse players who didn’t attend “Northeastern prep schools” he did not reveal. Nor did Perkinson indicate any understanding of how the players’ academic performance contradicted the very media caricature his review sought to rehabilitate.
The Group of 88: On April 6,
The nature of Nifong’s prosecutorial misconduct: The lacrosse affair, reasons Perkinson, was a “comparatively mild” event. Would most Nation readers suspect that “mild” prosecutorial misconduct entails: concealing exculpatory DNA evidence; lying to two different judges; obtaining a non-testimonial order against people who weren’t even in the county on the night of the alleged crime; ordering the police to violate their own procedures and conduct a “do-over” lineup confined to suspects in the case; usurping the role of Police Department spokesperson and then repeatedly lying about the evidence to a national TV audience; presenting a wholly new timeline and then version of events after the defense revealed unimpeachable exculpatory evidence; being convicted of criminal contempt; and violating 27 counts of State Bar ethics rules, leading to disbarment—all in an attempt to secure the prosecutor’s nomination and then election by charging innocent people for a crime that never even occurred?
Politics, partisanship, and ideology: The book, according to Perkinson, accuses Group members of “voting disproportionately for Democrats.” In fact, in its discussions about Duke’s response to the case, the book went out of its way to dismiss the relevance of either political ideology or partisan affiliation. (For all I know, the entire Group could be registered members of the Natural Law Party.) The book argued that the pedagogical approach of individual professors best predicted whether a faculty member would rush to judgment. Moreover, while strongly criticizing Nifong, who campaigned as a liberal Democrat (Perkinson’s review mentioned neither Nifong’s party affiliation nor his ideology), UPI also praised such liberals and/or Democrats as Jim Coleman, Jeralyn Merritt, Barack Obama, Lewis Cheek, Brad Bannon, and Roy Cooper. How such praise could be reconciled with the book’s non-existent attack on the Group of 88 for voting “disproportionately for Democrats” Perkinson doesn’t reveal.
Outside praise of the book: Perkinson notes that the book received (strong) praise from George Will, Thomas Sowell, and the Weekly Standard. He ignores the (strong) praise from Nadine Strossen of the ACLU; Gene Upshaw of the NFLPA; and John Grisham, who most recently was a high-profile supporter of Hillary Clinton. Conceding that the figures on both the right and the left strongly praised the book would have undermined Perkinson’s thesis.
The central target of the book: According to Perkinson, “the most dastardly evildoers in this overstuffed polemic are Duke faculty members.” That would be news to anyone who’s read UPI (or even to anyone who just glanced through the index). While the book strongly criticizes the performance of the Group of 88 and its allies, the central villain is obviously Nifong, whose path of misconduct dominates a dozen chapters. As a defender of the academic status quo, Perkinson seems unusually sensitive to criticism of his ideological comrades, and therefore inclined to inflate its presence—much like the Zimmerman blog, which falsely claimed that 50 percent of DIW’s posts were about the Duke professoriate. The total is actually less than 20 percent.*
Nifong’s motives: Perkinson summarizes the book’s argument in the following way: “Taylor and Johnson speculate that Nifong took personal command of the case to garner publicity for his sagging political campaign against a rival in the DA’s office, but this doesn't fully explain why he would continue the quest long after the polls closed and the press turned predatory.” But the book never claimed that understanding why Nifong took command of the case explained why he sustained the case. Perkinson mysteriously omits from his review the book’s discussion of why Nifong went forward. The emergence of the Cheek challenge made it necessary for the D.A. to keep the case alive through the November election, so as to retain black voter loyalty (as ultimately occurred). And getting the case to trial—especially in
The insinuation that Perkinson leaves: since UPI didn’t offer a reason why Nifong sustained the case (when, of course, the book did), perhaps Nifong, in his own mind, believed that he had a legitimate rationale for sustaining the case (when, of course, he did not).
Nifong & his enablers. In one of the review’s more curious passages, Perkinson writes, “Most incredibly, the authors suggest that faculty ‘cheerleaders for Nifong,’ aided and abetted by fellow travelers in the community such as the ‘all-powerful’ Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, a local political group, beckoned the prosecutor forward and aided his metamorphosis into an antiwhite ‘racial demagogue.’ If this was the case, Nifong's conversion was incomplete. Of the 431 people his office sent to prison in 2006, 82 percent of them were black—hardly the output one would expect from the PC panderer depicted here.”
It’s telling that even a Group of 88 apologist like Perkinson doesn’t deny that the Group’s statements and actions, as well as those of local “activists,” bolstered Nifong. (That would be hard to do, of course, given the copious evidence presented in the motion to change venue.) Instead, Perkinson suggests that Nifong’s policies harmed
Perkinson’s review operates in an air of unreality for anyone who actually followed the case. How did events in
At the most basic level, Perkinson offers a blunt message: Stuart and I should have written a different book, on a different topic, one that didn’t challenge his preconceived, race-based notions of
On one level, Perkinson’s review was hardly surprising: a Group of 88 apologist defended the Group and minimized the significance of the case to which the Group had embarrassingly linked its agenda. On a personal level, however, the review was disappointing. As some DIW readers know, I have a distant connection to The Nation. My second book was a (very sympathetic) biography of former
During Gruening’s first stint at its helm, in the early 1920s, The Nation played a critical role in rallying public opinion against the
Ernest Gruening’s Nation, in short, was a publication willing to speak truth to power, even if it meant confronting the national security policies of the
*--I have been forwarded a post from Prof. Zimmerman in which he denies that his 50 percent total referred to the Duke professoriate, but merely was a reference to how the case affected Duke. It's not clear to me how he determined his (incorrect) figure, but my apologies for assuming that this Group apologist referenced the faculty with his (incorrect) claim. Interpreted literally, around 98 percent of the posts on DIW refer to how the case affected Duke, since, of course, the case involved three people who at the time were students at Duke. (The remaining 2 percent are posts that deal with bookkeeping matters at the blog.)