Monday, April 23, 2012
One of the most important themes of the lacrosse case was the almost complete lack of accountability among anyone not named Mike Nifong. Professors who flagrantly violated the terms of the faculty handbook or student bulletin (much less basic ethics)? Not punished, and in some cases even promoted or offered better jobs. Reporters who appeared to see their job as carrying Mike Nifong’s water (so as to better advance a politically correct agenda) rather than pursuing the truth? Not punished, and in some cases even offered new and more prestigious jobs. “Experts” whose performance revealed their utter lack of expertise, at least if we define expertise as based on facts? Not declared figures without credibility, and instead many continued to be consulted on the very same topics about which they illustrated their ignorance.
The effects of this non-accountability: those who engaged in misconduct (or worse) in the lacrosse case are free to offer repeat performances. Take, for instance, so-called sex crimes expert Wendy Murphy. Fresh from being deemed not merely an expert but an appropriate instructor for a Poynter seminar—even after a Poynter representative was informed of Murphy’s fabrications—Murphy was interviewed by AP education writer Justin Pope, who labeled her a “victims’ advocate who has filed numerous Title IX complaints on behalf of victims.”
The article focused on how universities should respond to allegations of campus sexual assault. Without even mentioning Murphy’s comments about the lacrosse case (the highest profile claim of campus sexual assault in the past decade)—much less her history of fabrications when discussing the issue—Pope quoted Murphy as if her views merited credibility. “Colleges must protect victims, [Murphy] says. That means abandoning the fantasy they can make everybody happy by also offering accused students the full due process rights they'd enjoy in a criminal trial. ‘You can't run a school that way,’Murphy said. ‘If every once in a while a school has to be sued at the cost of being fair to all students, so be it.’”
Set aside the astonishing nature of Murphy’s statement in a society that values (or at least professes to value) due process. Can anyone imagine an AP reporter turning again for expertise to a scientist, or a businessman, or an attorney exposed as a fraud in a high-profile case? And even if in the highly unlikely event that the AP did so, is it imaginable that the reporter would have not mentioned the grave doubt about the credibility of his “expert”?
By the way, AP isn’t the only national news bureau that could be faulted on the no-accountability standard. Late last year, Reuters hired away Duff Wilson from the New York Times to join the organization’s investigative team. Let’s hope Wilson’s bosses steer him clear of criminal justice issues—at least when any amount of skepticism of the prosecutor is warranted. Let’s also hope that Reuters employs better fact-checkers than does the Times.
Another article for the non-accountability file: this piece from the Times, penned by a former national correspondent for the newspaper. How many readers of the article, I wonder, had any idea that one of the (two!) Group of 88 members quoted, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, had views such as these? While it’s not the job of the media to report every view a source might have expressed, when interviewing an extremist on the topic of his or her “expertise,” surely some requirement for context exists. Or, to phrase it differently, if most Times readers knew that Bonilla-Silva had termed our country “gringoland” and the “United States of Amerikkka,” and had conceded that even some of his own students considered his course material to be “anti-white,” would they have paid any attention to his comments in the article?
(Providing such context, it seems to me, should also occur on the rarer occasions when media members interview extremists of the right. Perhaps the best example is Tony Perkins, the head of an SPLC-designated hate group who regularly appears on all three major cable networks without his hosts referencing his extreme statements.)
Finally, a lawsuit update: the cases continue to inch their way through the judicial system. There’s no word on the fate of Duke’s appeal of the Beaty motion-to-dismiss ruling, which Judge Beaty has allowed to indefinitely delay discovery. Duke, meanwhile, is battling attorneys for the unindicted players, in the hopes of blocking any discovery from Duke’s p.r. firms. Given that a central element of the unindicted players’ case is that Duke violated their rights to protect the university’s reputation, this information would seem relevant.
In the Ekstrand case, Duke has demanded a protective order regarding discovery material—the university clearly doesn’t want any more embarrassing Brodhead e-mails to be attached to Ekstrand motions.
And regarding the FERPA matter (the university’s inexplicable decision to turn over FERPA-protected keycard information to the authorities, and then to wait for weeks before informing the students or their parents about what the university has done): ignorance is bliss appears to be the Duke litigation strategy. During the discovery process, Dean Sue Wasiolek spent more than six hours discussing the issue, yet—based on the filings—appeared to claim that she knew little of what occurred. Duke’s comment: Wasiolek is the university’s expert on the matter.
It’s good to know an apparent violation of the federal law to protect student rights generated such concern among Duke’s upper administration.