Sunday, January 16, 2011

With Malice Toward Some

When the lacrosse case first broke, politically correct members of the media (such as Selena Roberts) and race/class/gender faculty ideologues (most spectacularly the Group of 88) rushed to exploit it. And then the case to which they had attached their reputations imploded. It’s not hard to imagine Caitlin Flanagan speaking for them in the January Atlantic, as she seethed, “The [falsely] accused players’ improbable turn as victimized solid citizens was the most unpleasant result of the D.A.’s bungled case.”

Yet the lacrosse case was not the ostensible subject of Flanagan’s article. Instead, in an effort that has attracted widespread condemnation, Flanagan sought to apply a Group of 88-style race/class/gender analysis to the Karen Owen “thesis.” (In the words of the Chronicle’s arts and entertainment supplement editor, “Flanagan’s a hack and the worst kind of pundit; after years of her hysterical essays, this is common knowledge. But that doesn’t excuse The Atlantic for having printed pages of what is essentially deception, unprofessionalism and, in at least one instance, outright lies.”) Indeed, the piece was so poorly argued that even the Group of 88’s resident apologist, Prof. Robert Zimmerman, felt compelled to—albeit somewhat gently—criticize Flanagan.

One item in the article offers a particular insight into the almost malicious manner in which Flanagan approached her task—and in the process raises some troubling questions about standards at The Atlantic.

In an article ostensibly about Karen Owen’s “thesis,” Flanagan devoted 11.9 percent of her words to a very negative portrayal of members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team. Of that total, 472 words focused in some way on thesis “Subject 1,” a lacrosse player. Here’s how Flanagan described him: “His blandly handsome face and powerfully built body had taken on the cast of a thug rapist and then of a hapless sex partner who couldn’t even keep it up long enough to satisfy an inexperienced co-ed.”

I e-mailed Atlantic editor James Bennet to ask why The Atlantic (which I regularly read) allowed one of its authors to include such a gratuitously insulting passage about anyone, much less a then-college student. Literary editor and national editor Benjamin Schwarz, who supervised the production of Flanagan’s article, replied that he didn’t consider the item above to be insulting(!), in part because The Atlantic didn’t identify “Subject 1.” In the internet era, finding Subject 1’s identity takes less than a minute; Schwarz’s rationalization doesn’t pass the laugh test.

More problematic is why Flanagan devoted any attention to Subject 1, or any of his teammates. (She wrote that it was “impossible” for her not to do so—an argument by assertion.) By Flanagan’s own admission, the turning point in Owen’s experience came when Subject 2, a tennis player, allegedly treated Owen shabbily. Yet Flanagan’s article gave no sign that the author conducted any additional research into the personal background of Subject 2. (Flanagan didn’t specifically mention any of Owen’s other subjects at all.) About Subject 1, on the other hand, she tracked down references in police reports of the lacrosse case. Here’s what Flanagan wrote:

In fact, the man identified as Subject 1 in Owen’s PowerPoint was a member of that very team, present and accounted for at the ugly party and named in several of the police reports garnered about the night. Player Dan Flannery said that when he “tried to apologize and reason with” one of the strippers in a bedroom of the house, Subject 1 may have been with him, and David Evans told police that Subject 1 at one point followed the women out into the street.

This passage is peculiar for a couple of reasons. First, most reasonable people would deem what the reports say about Subject 1’s conduct (at a party he played absolutely no role in organizing) to be basically commendable: he tried to soothe Kim Roberts’ anger after another team member treated Roberts crassly; and he helped transport the mentally imbalanced and possibly drug-addled Crystal Mangum to Roberts’ car. Yet Flanagan managed to insinuate, without saying anything concrete, that Subject 1 might have behaved inappropriately. Second, Flanagan tossed out references to other lacrosse players (Flannery, Evans) who had no relationship of any type to the Owen affair and who were mentioned nowhere else in Flanagan’s article. To Benjamin Schwarz, I wondered what possible rationale could exist for their inclusion; he responded that I could write a letter to the editor.

Since Flanagan seemed so intent on researching Subject 1’s background, it’s curious that her extended coverage of him neglected to include any of the positive references to his character available in the public record: that he was a strong student; that he showed considerable courage in speaking out publicly, before the tide turned, on behalf of his falsely accused teammates; and that in fall 2006 he spent considerable time registering voters in Durham and volunteering in the campaign to oust rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong. These items, of course, didn’t conform to Flanagan’s negative portrayal of Subject 1, so Atlantic readers never found out about them.

It’s not as if Flanagan is a neo-Puritan, determined to condemn anyone whose behavior on sexual matters would be out of place at BYU or Liberty University. She oozes sympathy for false accuser Mangum, whom she describes as one of “two desperately poor women, one of them a mother of two, both with lives shaped around more sorrow and misery than the average Duke lacrosse player could begin to imagine.”

We know that Flanagan pored through lacrosse-case police files in her research about Subject 1. Therefore, the Atlantic writer was exposed to several items about Mangum’s economic status: that she (allegedly) was a full-time student at a local university; that she had two private drivers to ferry her to and from work and, it seems, to other appointments; and that she had regular access to a doctor and to prescription drugs, suggesting that Mangum (unlike tens of millions of Americans) probably had some form of health insurance. I suspect that few, if any, Atlantic readers would consider an (allegedly) full-time student with personal drivers and health insurance to be “desperately” poor.

There are ways to portray Mangum as a victim (chiefly by suggesting that she fell through the cracks of the nation’s mental health system, perhaps by noting that she seemed to have problems with alcohol or prescription drugs), but neither of those narratives would have advanced the class-based argument about the lacrosse players that Flanagan wanted to make. So Mangum was described as desperately poor despite the conflicting evidence, and Atlantic fact-checkers either didn’t care or looked the other way.

But by far the most disturbing aspect of Flanagan’s article involved a basic issue of journalistic ethics. Flanagan’s entire assault upon the character of Subject 1 hinged upon one verifiable item: that Owen and the lacrosse player actually hooked up. If not, the player was the victim of not one but two cruel hoaxes—one solely on his character (Owen), the other briefly alleging criminal behavior (Mangum).

Based on the PowerPoint’s details, it seems to me likelier than not that Owen and Subject 1 did hook up (the details of the affair, of course, could very well be a product of Owen’s imagination). Yet I always had assumed that magazines like The Atlantic attempted to verify facts when possible, rather than simply going on hunches. So I asked both Bennet and Schwarz why the magazine—and again, The Atlantic isn’t a tabloid; it purports to have high journalistic standards—did not have someone contact Subject 1, if not to give him a chance to respond to Flanagan’s character assault then only to confirm that he in fact knew Owen.

Bennet didn’t respond; Schwarz (twice) declined to answer the question. So the magazine refused to explain why its representatives never even attempted to confirm what turned out to be a critical item in Flanagan’s article. For Flanagan and The Atlantic, it seems, this aspect of Owen’s story was too good not to be true—journalistic ethics be damned.

The Atlantic is one of the two magazines (National Journal is the other) whose articles I often have assigned in my classes. Having been exposed first-hand to the publication’s lax editorial standards, I certainly won’t repeat that mistake.


Dan Kurt said...


You again have been hit upside your head by reality. Are you starting to see the light?

Having followed this site from the beginning, I wonder when will you switch sides from Liberal hack to Conservative?

It is coming.

Dan Kurt

William L. Anderson said...

So much in modern mainstream journalism is driven by "the narrative," and facts are secondary. With all of the information that is available about the lacrosse case, it is inexcusable when a journalist STILL gets the facts wrong.

While ignorance or incompetence might play a role, the larger reason I believe that the MSM still gets this case wrong is because the facts never fit the narrative. Journalists like Flanagan cannot see certain people as human beings, so she feels free to attack them, lie about them, and somehow feel herself to be self-righteous.

I long ago stopped reading The Atlantic precisely because The Atlantic stopped engaging in journalism. It is all narrative all of the time. For that matter, how do we know Karen Owen is telling the truth? Flanagan doesn't care; Owen's writings fit the "narrative," and that is the only thing that is important.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dan. I follow your site and appreciate your efforts. I don't understand it but there is something seriously wrong with liberal thinking. You have seen and documented, in the face of facts and fairness, liberal attempts to send three innocent boys to jail for 30 years for something that never happened. This story is just something you can't make up (especially the behavior of the press). Except for a rare few, there has been no condemnation and only rewards for press, university, law enforcement and judicial system participants doing what any civil and moral person would call "evil". I am especially disappointed in the press. Only hateful media people could support the fraud, participate in character assassination and ignore facts that end up harming innocent people. There are a lot of sick people at the NYC and other liberal media outlets (Nancy Grace etc.).

Anonymous said...

I meant the NYT (New York Times) in my previous post ...sorry for any confusion

Gary Packwood said...

I doubt most people got past the last eight words of the headline.

How universities are letting their female students down.
...The Hazards of Duke
...A now infamous PowerPoint presentation exposes a lot about men, women, sex, and alcohol—and about how universities are letting their female students down.
Just another part of the on-going effort to build the metanarrative and readership, of course.

Perhaps the audience for the Atlantic is a step-up from the audience for the Sex Workers' Art Show which apparently didn't get much traction with those who need to be true believers.

Anonymous said...

Yet again, another reason why the civil suits must go forward.


skwilli said...

When race, class and gender thinking becomes the most important part of your identity, bad things will happen. Your blog has detailed thousands of examples of this. I suppose there is no way of learning this at any institution of "higher learning" today. That's a shame. Hillary's and the Left's "Village" concept exclude the one thing that can quell that, parents. Thank you, mom and dad, who taught me what was most important in life.

Anonymous said...

KC -- I have thought about the Duke lacrosse case during the firestorm over the shootings in Tucson. Like the Duke lacrosse case, the metanarrative was far more important than truth or facts. Shortly after the shootings, the media (led by the New York Times) unfolded a preplanned strategy to blame the ubiquitous "Tea Party" and Sarah Palin for the shootings. The fact that there was zero evidence to suggest any involvement or influence was irrelevant -- it was an opportunity to take a cheap shot at a group the media elites disfavors. The more evidence emerged that the shooter was insane, with no coherent political philosophy, merely caused them to double down on the original allegation rather than pausing for evidence and facts to emerge. When the evidence undermined rather than supported the allegation, it simply changed tactics to say "they created a climate of hate" -- a vague assertion that means nothing but does keep the metanarrative alive. After all, from their perspective, there is a higher truth that must be served.

This was the same pattern (by many of the same institutions) from coverage of the lacrosse hoax. The mere fact that it was false posed little barrier to restating the allegation in a manner supporting the metanarrative. As we can see from the Atlantic, to this day the lacrosse metanarrative is alive and outweighs commitment to acts and evidence.

The press, and the NYT in particular, learned nothing from their failure in the lacrosse case except to slick it up better.

-- Haunches

Anonymous said...

One other point -- The Atlantic also engages in bizarre conspiracy theories about the maternity of Sarah Palin's youngest child. Regardless of what you think of Ms. Palin, the fact that the Atlantic believes that such baseless speculation targeting an infant is appropriate says that the magazine has gone around the bend. One should not be surprised that a magazine that believes maternity is fair games for politics would not hesitate to attack exonerated, but disfavored, people.

Picking another publication for your students to study is a wise decision.

No Justice, No Peace said...

Over the past few years I've moved to the position that the problem is not lax editorial oversight, but is indeed intentional and fraudulent manipulation of facts.

The following is an excerpt from Lincoln's Cooper Union speech where he specifically addresses charges that attemtp to connect him to John Brown after Harper's Ferry.

"...You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it..."

Inexcusable is too kind of a term regrading the lacrosse hoax.

Anonymous said...

Actually (and to my surprise), I think the main theme of Flanagan's article is that despite any rhetoric about women's sexual empowerment, Karen Owen is a totally pathetic individual, and that if Owen offers any lesson, it's that college women shouldn't make a habit of getting so totally drunk and stupid.

In fact, her assessment of Karen Owen is much like the comments made about her by Tucker Max on his web site.

Also, Google easily reveals feminist criticism of Flanagan for once writing that it's part of a wife's job to get all sexed-up and seduce her husband. Doesn't sound so 88-ish to me, frankly.

And the argument could be made that Flanagan treats "Subject 1" sympathetically (in part), as a guy caught between 2 styles of feminist dogma.

KC kindly provides a link to the Atlantic article -- and while KC's take on it is interesting as always, I suggest reading it yourself and drawing your own conclusions.

One thing's for sure: She is not at all kind to Duke!

A Duke Dad said...

Following on the 3:02's reference to Lincoln's address at Cooper Union (February 27, 1860), his conclusion is indeed apt:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government, nor of dungeons to ourselves.


KC Johnson said...

To the 5.48:

My focus, obviously, was on Flanagan's decision to gratuitously slime one of the lacrosse players.

As to her general article, your interpretation is plausible--the article is so poorly constructed that at times any clear argument all but recedes from view.

That said, I tend to share Jesse Singal's interpretation--that Flanagan's chief goal was to find a way to somehow portray Owen as a victim. Singal also catches Flanagan in a major distortion of an Owen quote--another item, it appears, that somehow eluded Atlantic fact-checkers.

Anonymous said...

KC, thanks for the response to my 5:48 post, which was an invitation for readers to sample the broader perspective of Flanagan's article and, perhaps, her attitudes, beyond the Mangum hoax. True, her writing is generally a mess.

I should have mentioned that I agree with your comments about Flanagan gratuitously defaming the lacrosse team, by her using that night's only 2 known, rude remarks to smear the whole group's character.

KC Johnson said...

To the 8.06:


As an aside, the fact that people who read the article closely & in good faith could have considerably differing interpretations of one of the article's fundamental questions--what's Flanagan's basic take on Karen Owen?--is another sign of the poor editorial process behind the article. Flanagan is a fairly regular Atlantic contributor, and it seems as if, in this article, the editorial staff didn't exactly do much work.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:27 pm wrote:

"I don't understand it but there is something seriously wrong with liberal thinking.... Except for a rare few, there has been no condemnation and only rewards for press, university, law enforcement and judicial system participants doing what any civil and moral person would call 'evil'. I am especially disappointed in the press. Only hateful media people could support the fraud, participate in character assassination and ignore facts that end up harming innocent people. There are a lot of sick people at the NYC and other liberal media outlets (Nancy Grace etc.)."

The same could be said of Fox News. Not with regard to the Mangum-Hooker-Duke-Lying-Fraud meme, for sure, but in many, many other instances. Truth has to be dug up on a case-by-case basis. Every person I have ever read or listened to for an extended time has had his or her interests and favorites and enemies, and that must be scalpeled away like cancerous tissue to get to the truth. Nancy Grace as a liberal? Ha! MOO! Gregory

Pierce Harlan said...

It is for good reason that elitist, progressive news and commentatary publications are quickly giving way to media outlets whose raison d'être is largely to call the former on their ideological b.s.

How many commentary pieces can the market bear attacking maleness as obsolete, failing, evil, or all three? I agree that this article's byzantine prose makes it essentially inaccessible (purposefully so, to obscure the gaping chasms in the author's thinking), but the snippets that are understandale reveal it is sautéd in the worst kind of misandry.

The reason views such as the author's do not resonate with mainstream Americans is because they don't ring true. The "woman= victim" thing has strong appeal only to nitwits and to college freshman women who have only just learned in their Women's Studies class how terribly oppressed they've been all these years.

Anonymous said...

Given the reference to Selena Roberts in the second line of the post...thought you might be interested to know Roberts is one of the SI reporters covering the Armstrong doping case. New article against Armstrong penned by Roberts is in the upcoming issue of SI out on newstands 1/19
With Roberts as one of the primary reporters, don't have too much confidence that Armstrong has any chance of being treated fairly by SI.

Anonymous said...

To the comment "The same could be said of Fox News. Not with regard to the Mangum-Hooker-Duke-Lying-Fraud meme, for sure, but in many, many other instances."

This isn't about Fox news. So why do you bring it up? If Fox News is so bad, please be specific and let us know who has been harmed in the Lacrosse case. This is the same pattern of deceit using a broad brush to tar an entire organization just because you don't like their point of view (or in the Lacrosse case who they are) and make general, vague and baseless comments ...just like the liberal media in the Lacrosse case.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 1/19 11:02AM.

I guess Gregory is on vacation now since it's been over 24 hours. The Fox News comment seemed unnecessarily broad, but if he has specific claims regarding specific people I'd love to see them.

I'll check back later.

Anonymous said...

Is Flanagan a Communist?

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to bother to state the case against Fox News, as it is undeniable. I would say the same thing about The New York Times. Both are, for the most part, partisan mouthpieces. If you can't or won't see it after all these years, I'm not going to be able to convince you. Truth is determined on a case-by-case basis, and belief that Fox News is above bias (LOL!) is not a fair and balanced viewpoint.

Note that I did NOT state that Fox News harmed any of the good guys in the Lying Hooker Scandal. On the contrary, I pointed out that they were on the right side. But, that side also happened to be PART AND PARCEL OF THEIR NARRATIVE. I would have expected nothing else.

Do you think that an organization or person -- because it or s/he has a conservative viewpoint -- is immune from lying? To be thought of as fair and balanced, you have to recognize the weaknesses on your "side" as well as the weaknesses in others. Good luck with that! MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

Here we go again ...the same liberal tactic of broad brush condemnation of a group or organization (like Fox news) without any specifics but just chest thumping and stating so called truth ("it is undeniable" "lying" about what? - I am very dismayed that this sounds so much like it came from one of 88). I would ask that you PLEASE give specifics about how Fox news demonstrated bad behavior during the Lacrosse case? ...I found their coverage of the Lacrosse case to be an extremely bright spot in the media coverage. Broad based condemnation is just an attempt to tear down an entire organization that got it right in the Lacrosse case by using the same group 88 tactics that have been condemed on this list.

Anonymous said...

In the end, it was not about Imus. It was about us.

(And how we did not stand up for him. It is lucky that the Duke Lacrosse players had people with backbones there for them)

And when Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "tattooed ... nappy-headed hos," he went over the top. The women deserved an apology. There was no cause, no call to use those terms. As Ann Coulter said, they were not fair game.

But Imus did apologize, again and again and again. (Unlike Selena Roberts and the other fraudsters)

And lest we forget, these are athletes in their prime, the same age as young women in Iraq. They are not 5-year-old girls, and they are capable of brushing off an ignorant comment by a talk-show host who does not know them, or anything about them.

Who, after all, believed the slur was true? No one.

Compare, if you will, what was done to them – a single nasty insult – to the savage slanders for weeks on end of the Duke lacrosse team and the three players accused by a lying stripper of having gang-raped her at a frat party.

Duke faculty and talking heads took that occasion to vent their venom toward all white "jocks" on college campuses. Where are the demands for apologies from the talk-show hosts, guests, Duke faculty members and smear artists, all of whom bought into the lies about those Duke kids – because the lies comported with their hateful view of America?

And hate is what this is all about.

Read more: The Imus lynch party

Just goes to show that Imusd was more mature than the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

Now that Joe Pa has been fired at Penn State will Selena Roberts tell us what happened?