Two . . . intriguing . . . items crossed my desk Friday.
The first came from Durham mayor Bill Bell. WTVD ran a lengthy story noting that Durham officials, including Bell, have complained again about Duke students’ off-campus partying—and some of the student behavior in Tamara Gibbs’ story is disgusting (although, I suspect, not exactly unheard of in any college or university town in the country, not just Durham).
To accompany the story, WTVD posted a letter sent by Bell to Richard Brodhead, dated March 25, 2009. Bell attached to the letter a four-page “report” produced by an entity called “Trinity Heights Action Committee.” (The four-person committee included two Duke faculty members: Music professor Philip Rupprecht; and Cathy Shuman, a “visiting assistant professor” in the English Department.)
Bell’s inclusion of the document would seem to constitute an official endorsement of its contents. Three sentences from the entity’s report particularly jumped out.
The 2006 Lacrosse incident thrust the disruptive and abusive behaviors caused by Duke party houses into a national media spotlight.
This sentence provides what could charitably be described as an unusual take on the legacy of the lacrosse case. Perhaps the Trinity Heights entity has access to information not in the public domain. But there would seem to be at best an indirect relationship between “the 2006 Lacrosse incident” and “the disruptive and abusive behaviors caused by Duke party houses.” At least as defined in the Gibbs story, “the disruptive and abusive behaviors caused by Duke party houses” included such behavior as loudness that triggers noise complaints or littering or destroying property on neighbors’ yards. Yet no neighbors appear to have complained about the 2006 spring break party, nor did any of the neighbors allege that any of the players hurled trash or other items onto their yards, or broke any of their property.
In that respect, it seems as if the sentence provides yet another reminder of the attitude of the “Durham street” toward the lacrosse players.
The second sentence:
Although this [2006 Lacrosse] incident had enormous negative consequences—legal and financial—for both Duke and Durham, it is by no means clear that Duke has yet enacted any major changes of policy for off-campus student life in response.
This sentence, to put it bluntly, makes no sense. It connects two events ( the “enormous negative consequences—legal and financial—for both Duke and Durham” and  Duke policies toward “off-campus student life”) that have no direct relationship.
The “negative” legal and financial consequences to Durham resulted from legal fees to defend lawsuits alleging federal civil rights violations against Duke students. The “negative” legal and financial consequences to Duke resulted from various legal fees, and from settlement costs to avoid a lawsuit from the falsely accused players that would have focused on dubious decisions and actions by Duke's administrators and faculty.
I can see how these “negative” legal and financial consequences might have prompted Durham to undertake a comprehensive study of the DPD’s abuses of procedures (which the city hasn’t done, to no apparent concern of the Trinity Heights Action Committee). And I can see how these “negative” legal and financial consequences might have prompted Duke to undertake a comprehensive study of whether the university’s faculty hiring policies have produced a culture of groupthink and disregard for student rights under the handbook and the faculty bulletin (which the University hasn’t done, to no apparent concern of the Trinity Heights Action Committee).
But I don’t see how these “negative” legal and financial consequences have anything to do, one way or the other, with Duke enacting “major changes of policy for off-campus student life.”
I emailed Prof. Rupprecht and Visiting Assistant Professor Shuman for guidance as to how the committee reached this unusual linkage. Neither responded.
The third sentence:
Duke Campus Police shares joint jurisdiction over off-campus neighborhoods with Durham PD.
This sentence marked the clearest yet official Durham statement that the Duke Police Department also had jurisdiction over events at 610 N. Buchanan. (This item was most spectacularly revealed in the initial Ekstrand lawsuit filing.) This official Durham statement—in a letter to Brodhead, no less!—raises at least three serious questions.
One: Are there actions that still haven’t been revealed undertaken by the Duke Police Department as part of its “joint jurisdiction over off-campus neighborhoods” in the lacrosse case?
Two: Who at Duke made the decision to defer to the Durham Police Department in an incident over which—according to this Bell letter—“Duke Campus Police share[d] joint jurisdiction”?
Three: Given that “Duke Campus Police shares joint jurisdiction over off-campus neighborhoods with Durham PD,” why did Richard Brodhead assert, on April 5, 2006, “Frustrating though it is, Duke must defer its own investigation until the police inquiry is completed, first because the police have access to key witnesses, warrants, and information that we lack, and second because our concurrent questioning could create a risk of complications—for instance, charges of witness tampering—that could negatively affect the legal proceedings?” Brodhead's statement would appear to be irreconcilable with the assertions in the March 2009 Bell letter.
The second item came from the New York Times, which published a fawning review of its former star sports columnist’s book. Nicholas Dawidoff, author of several books on baseball, reviewed Selena Roberts’ A-Rod with less skepticism than might be expected in a high school newspaper.
Since virtually all sensational allegations from Roberts’ book came from primary sources, analyzing her book all but requires discussing her credibility. But in the previous high-profile item covered by Roberts, her writing indicated that she had no journalistic credibility at all. She combined outright errors of fact with wild exaggerations or distortions—and then, when called to account for her words, she simply lied about what she wrote.
But even though Roberts’ embarrassing coverage of the lacrosse case has received extensive attention, Dawidoff’s review doesn’t even mention it. Someone whose sole encounter with Roberts came from Dawidoff’s review would never have known that Roberts’ work on the lacrosse case was so poor that it helped produce an apology from Times editors. Dawidoff, instead, hails Roberts as an “enterprising investigator” in his review.
Having elected to ignore questions about Roberts’ credibility, Dawidoff proceeds to accept all of her book’s claims without apparent skepticism. In 1,223 words, Dawidoff never once expresses any doubts about even one item in Roberts’ book.
Two of Roberts’ (anonymously sourced) claims about A-Rod have generated the most doubts: (1) her assertion that A-Rod probably used steroids in high school; and (2) her revelation that Rangers officials allegedly noticed A-Rod tipping pitches when he played in Texas. The first has generated strong doubts from several people who were on Rodriguez’ high school teams; the second has produced widespread skepticism centered on the paucity of Roberts’ evidence.
Dawidoff’s analysis of these allegations? As with doubts about Roberts’ credibility because of her lacrosse case errors, Dawidoff has no interest in exploring the matter. Instead, he writes of Roberts’ portrayal: “Makes sense to me.”
Penetrating insights, indeed.