Let’s review some facts.
(A) Accused murderer George Huguely had a documented record of violence, seen most clearly when a police officer had to taser him when he resisted arrest. Allegations have emerged of a pattern of violence, allegedly involving not only the woman he’s accused of murdering but even another member of the UVA men’s lacrosse team. In his own words to police, Huguely admitted repeatedly slamming his former girlfriend’s head into a wall. Huguely’s attorney has claimed the event was an “accident” but hasn’t denied his client’s culpability; the strongest character witness in public on Huguely’s behalf has been his former nanny. And, to my knowledge, no one has accused either the Charlottesville police or DA’s office of behaving in anything other than a professional manner.
(B) In the Duke case, no crime occurred (except possibly a conspiracy to obstruct justice by the police and prosecutor). There never was any evidence that a crime occurred (except with the above caveat). The lacrosse players and their attorneys repeatedly denied committing any crime, and produced massive evidence of their innocence. The prosecutor’s behavior provided the highest-profile instance of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history. Hundreds of their current friends and acquaintances—including the women’s lacrosse coach and many women’s lacrosse players—publicly testified to the good character of the three falsely accused Duke students. And the men’s lacrosse captains hosted a tasteless spring break party—hardly an abnormal event for college students, despite insinuations from the neo-Puritans of the media and academic left.
Suggesting that comparing (A) with (B) is “strained” is generous. And yet the comparisons continue apace.
This morning, a featured story on the AOL homepage recommends that the University of Virginia “shut down” its men’s lacrosse season. That strikes me as a case of punishing a group for the sins of one member, an unusual approach in a society that correctly frowns upon the principle of collective punishment.
Author Kevin Blackistone speaks warmly of Duke’s dismissal of coach Mike Pressler (a decision that led to a lawsuit that Duke settled out of court). He adds that “UVA officials would be smart to review the Report of the Lacrosse Ad Hoc Review Committee at Duke that investigated the Duke lacrosse team’s scandal four years ago,” which he claims shows that the Duke lacrosse players were “miscreants.”
Actually, the Coleman Committee report showed that some of the lacrosse players drank too much—on a campus where the same could be said of a significant minority of the student body, and, perhaps more troublingly, on a campus where the city had adopted a “separate-but-equal” justice policy of prosecuting Duke students and only Duke students for crimes for which other Durham residents received a pass.
That report, of course, also revealed that the Duke men’s lacrosse players were on the whole very strong students (stronger, it’s worth noting, than UVA lacrosse players); that they had strong records of community service; that they had exemplary records of dealing with Duke staff members; and that they had no documented record of unacceptable behavior on grounds of race or gender.
Those are the findings that Blackistone believes would justify terminating UVA’s program? His column represents little more than an attempt to use the UVA killing to smear the character of 2006 Duke men’s lacrosse team.
Then there’s Ruth Marcus, a rare voice of sanity at the Washington Post during the criminal case. She recently penned a column wondering, “[Is it] something about lacrosse?” She then asserted that “It's impossible to read the Huguely story without thinking back to the Duke lacrosse case,” since—despite the weakness of the allegations—"These don't sound like young men you'd want your daughter to date."
Refer, above, to cases (A) and (B), and wonder, “Is it something about left-of-center opinion columnists?”
Or take this piece in the Baltimore Sun from Peter Prowitt, who is cryptically described as “with the Vienna Liaison Office of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly.” Prowitt linked Huguely’s arrest with the Duke lacrosse case as illustrating a “culture of sexual misconduct and off-the-field troubles in men's lacrosse.” Well, no “sexual misconduct” occurred in the Duke lacrosse case. And the “off-the-field troubles” resulted from the wildly unethical behavior of a local prosecutor.
Prowitt adds that even though they were “cleared of the allegations”—a parsimonious description—it’s “clear” that Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty “exercised poor judgment in this incident.” How, precisely, it is “clear”? By attending a party they played no role in organizing and probably drinking some beer? That’s behavior that Prowitt can link to the conduct of an accused murderer?
Or, even, take this article in yesterday’s Daily News from Kevin Armstrong and Michael O’Keeffe. In an otherwise very well-reported article, the reporters offer the following peculiar lede: “University of Virginia lacrosse players adhered to the code of silence that permeates locker rooms and dorm rooms Thursday, refusing to comment [on the record] on former teammate George Huguely, who was been charged in the slaying of his former girlfriend Yeardley Love, or on reports that he had a history of aggressive behavior.”
The allegation brought to mind the pernicious claims of figures such as Mike Nifong and Selena Roberts in the Duke case, that the players had constructed a “wall of silence” to frustrate the case. Yet readers of the Armstrong/O’Keeffe article would discover that the UVA players had been fully cooperative with the police investigation, and had been willing to speak with reporters on a not-for-attribution basis.
Refusing to give on-the-record quotes to members of the media when reporters demand those quotes constitutes a “code of silence”? By that standard, all of Washington, DC functions under such a code.
And, just to provide a reminder of the . . . lax . . . standards that too often permeate the mainstream media, take a look at who the Today show invited on as an “expert” on this morning’s broadcast.
Does accountability even exist in the media world? Having adjunct law professor Murphy on to discuss a sex crimes case is a little like—as we also recently saw—having former FEMA director Michael Brown on to discuss disaster response policy.