In addition to the Charlotte Observer, Greensboro News-Record, and N&O, a fourth North Carolina newspaper, the Wilmington Star, already had censured Mike Nifong last week—even before he decided to manipulate the evidence to fit his theories yet again by dropping the rape charge but maintaining the other two charges.
The Star noted sadly that it was “hard to keep track of the North Carolina district attorneys who cheat, break the law and trample the truth in a rush to get convictions—not to mention publicity for their next political campaign.” It suggested that the state bar’s failure to punish prosecutors in the Gell and Honeycutt cases might have emboldened Nifong to violate state law and try to withhold exculpatory evidence.
Where are the statewide officials? As Nifong has trampled on the national image of
Saturday, papers from one end of the state to the other reacted with dismay to Nifong’s bizarre decision to drop the rape charges but retain the charges of sexual assault and kidnapping.
One important exception existed to the pattern. The Herald-Sun, which has published nearly two dozen unsigned editorials on the case, was silent on the latest Nifong maneuver. Instead, the editorial page saw fit to write about such issues as “Share Your Christmas” wish lists; a woman suing
The latter item featured the editors asking the hard-hitting question, “Whatever happened to pageant winners who took pride in being role models for young women?”
With 24 hours to consider matters, the "Snooze Room" spin machine spun into motion. An editorial conceded that the accuser's credibility was "frayed," and had nothing good to say about her. But the H-S continued to stand by its man. Dismissing claims of prosecutorial misconduct, the editorial page offered this remarkable version of events:
It's possible that Nifong and police investigators simply gave credence to the accuser's story. Don't we want our law enforcement officials to be attentive to accusations of crime victims, no matter who the victim is or who is being accused? Yes, she may have changed her story in the days after the incident, but that is not uncommon with traumatized rape victims and is not in itself evidence of dishonesty.
The silence of
Strictly from the standpoint of bare-knuckle politics, the case should be a boon for the GOP. In a carryover from the Jesse Helms period, the North Carolina GOP receives almost no black support. So the GOP has nothing to lose and much to gain from seizing on the Nifong issue. In particular, aggressively attacking Nifong could tarnish the man who appointed him, Mike Easley, who is a potential candidate for Senate in either 2008 or 2010.
Perhaps this Republican reticence is about to change. BlueNC, the
The post makes no bones about Nifong’s behavior:
In light of recent developments, Michael Nifong may be guilty of egregious prosecutorial misconduct in the Duke rape investigation. Already it appears that professionally Nifong is toast, and there is speculation that his malfeasance may not be covered by prosecutorial immunity. In what may be the ultimate irony in this Gothic drama, Nifong himself could wind up being the only "player" who faces a judge and jury.
But BlueNC is most worried about “the implications for North Carolina Democrats.” It takes note of Walter Jones’ demand for a federal investigation into Nifong, and looks at how an article by Wendy McElroy went out of its way to stress Nifong’s partisan affiliation.
In the end, BlueNC expresses doubt that the issue will harm the Democrats, at least until more politically savvy Republicans become involved. Perhaps. But if leading Tar Heel State Democrats start to fear that Nifong will harm them politically, they might begin to do what they should have done months ago, and act to check this runaway prosecutor.
Last week, political science professor Michael Munger became the second Duke arts and sciences professor—and third undergraduate professor overall—to publicly criticize Mike Nifong. Munger asserted that “the evidence now appears overwhelming (actually, it was overwhelming three months ago; now it is outrageously overwhelming) that the prosecution is conducting a politically motivated and cynical witch hunt. The system is broken, and Nifong has to go. I would go so far as to say that the city of
Munger provides the most perceptive response I have seen to the line of argument offered by figures like FOX News panelists Ted Williams or Barry Grimm—to wit, that people should remain silent about the prosecutorial abuses in this case because these sorts of things happen to poor minorities all the time.
These critics, Munger suggests,
are missing the point: these young men are not charged with rape in SPITE of their race and class. They are being charged precisely BECAUSE of it. The whole point, for Nifong and for some (I don’t know how many) of his supporters is that this is a chance to get back at the elite. Nifong’s side appears to want to argue this way: If these particular white boys didn’t commit the rape, well they have done other bad things we don’t know about. And the very fact of their wealth and privilege is an outrage, and someone needs to be held accountable.Munger also blasts the Group of 88’s questionable judgment. As he observes, “their statement was, even in the most charitable reading, full of opportunities for what signers later called ‘misrepresentations’, though it appears to me that the critiques of the statement are based on the plain meaning of the words in the statement.” He also takes note, as have I, of the irony of the Group of 88 complaining about people misrepresenting their words when they ensured that their statement was removed from the Duke server. (A preserved version of the statement is available on this blog’s sidebar.)
Munger is surprisingly soft on the administration, and overly harsh (as he seemed to concede in comments) about what Duke should have done to the lacrosse team. But his critiques of both Nifong and the Group of 88 are superb.
The Duke Chronicle has started an on-line forum about the case. Early posts are strongly, and justifiably, critical of the University’s response. Posters have singled out the Group of 88 for criticism—and justifiably so.
Tenure and principles of academic freedom protect the Group of 88 from personnel retaliation (quite appropriately). But nothing prevents the administration from taking other steps to express its disappointment with the Group’s actions.
One fallout from Nifong’s latest manipulation of the evidence came in a change of heart from Richard Brodhead. The Duke president issued a strong statement urging a special prosecutor and demanding that Nifong publicly account himself for his behavior.
A few days before Brodhead’s reversal, dartblog ran a poignant post from a Duke 2006 graduate expressing disappointment with how his school responded to the affair.
I graduated from Duke this past spring, and just want to shoot you a quick comment, especially now that the case has jumped up again. When the allegations first came out (when The Duke Chronicle reported a rape occurred at the lax house), much of the student body raised an eyebrow, but were maybe not totally surprised — after all, the lax guys did have their reputation. But as more and more details came out and it blew up nationally, the large majority of students thought it through rationally and realized that the players were probably innocent of such charges, fairly early on. Sure, they were a little over the top, but they were still fellow Duke students, and not more “barbaric” or such than the rest of us. It just didn’t seem realistic.
And while the Duke administration’s initial stance — condemning the actions if true, and letting the initial investigation proceed — was certainly understandable, over time the tide changed dramatically. As it became quite clear to everyone paying attention that these 3 students were innocent of the outrageous charges, the Duke administration did not change its tune. Sure, while some members would occasionally slip a “more information has come out that might possibly cloud what happened that day” into an informal talk, the school as a whole never released any kind of statement that changed their attitude from essentially backing the accuser/Nifong, to actually supporting their own students and reputation. All it would have taken was a press release, something apologizing for preemptively canceling the lax season (something nearly all students disagreed with) and inviting the suspended students back to campus, if they chose to return (knowing full well they wouldn’t anyway until the trial was over).
Something to reassure the current students and recent alumni that the school actually backed its own. However, this never happened, and still hasn’t, as it is abundantly clear the whole case is bunk. Everyone knows it. This is what Duke students are furious about. Even if they did not personally know the accused, or even a lacrosse player, seeing how Duke has treated its own disgusts us. I don’t know how many students I have heard talk about how this will affect their future view of the school, and any possible alumni relations. While Duke students certainly support the ‘idea of Duke’ — a great education, outstanding athletics, and a vibrant social life — the administration (which was on poor terms with the students to begin with for constantly changing the school without consulting students) not supporting its own only continues a trend of which Duke students are tired.
Were students pissed at the national assaults about race/ class/ elitism/ etc.? Sure, but that has subsided as even The New York Times has changed their tune. What hasn’t changed is the stance by the administration, and this is what will come back to harm the school in the long run. Why support your school if they won’t support you? Duke students love Duke for the other students there, not for the administration and [its] polic[ies] that seem in constant conflict with the undergraduate experience.
In an article last week, Brodhead expressed his belief that it will take two to five years for Duke to recover from this affair. His statement on Friday was a good first step in this recovery. But it’s clear he has a long ways to go to meet the concerns of the poster above, and others like him.
The Times and Herald-Sun have deserved every bit of criticism they have received for their coverage of the lacrosse case. But a third paper has been equally bad. The Washington Post has played a much lower-profile role than either the Times or the H-S, but it has been poor in a unique way. It has published relatively few articles on the case; instead, it has made its mark with over-the-top commentary that has failed to stand the test of time.
Eugene Robinson, for instance, deemed it “impossible to avoid thinking of all the black women who were violated by drunken white men in the American South over the centuries. The master-slave relationship, the tradition of droit du seigneur, the use of sexual possession as an instrument of domination—all this ugliness floods the mind, unbidden, and refuses to leave.” Lynne Duke likewise wildly termed the case “reminiscent of a black woman's vulnerability to a white man during the days of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow, when sex was used as a tool of racial domination.” And in legal “commentary,” Andrew Cohen aggressively rebuked those in the media who dared to question Mike Nifong’s actions.
The Post returned to Duke matters Saturday with a poorly reported story that followed the storyline laid out by Lynne Duke, Robinson, and Cohen. The case, Post reporters Peter Whoriskey and Sylvia Adcock stated, “pitted a black woman who attended a small, largely black school and worked part time as an exotic dancer against the largely white lacrosse team at one of the nation’s most prestigious and expensive private universities.”
Actually, NCCU’s undergraduate enrollment for 2005-2006 was 6353 students, or 109 more than Duke’s undergraduate total of 6244. And no one has yet presented evidence that the accuser “worked part time as an exotic dancer” while she attended school full-time; indeed, the reverse seems to be the case. But the “weak-vs.-strong” storyline certainly is an attractive one, regardless of the facts.
Whoriskey and Adcock continued, “At the behest of Finnerty’s family, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) has asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to open an investigation into the prosecution.” In an interview with FOX, Jones explicitly said he had no contact with any of the students’ families, and that he made his request because of constituent pressure. It’s extraordinary for the Post to insinuate that a sitting congressman isn’t telling the truth without providing any evidence to substantiate the claim.
The Post’s duo further added, “The accuser was hired for $400 to perform for two hours at the party. She left early as some students shouted racial taunts, witnesses have said.” While Lynne Duke and Duff Wilson have claimed that some of the players shouted racial taunts at the accuser in the house, no witnesses have done so.
And some more: “A study conducted at Brodhead’s direction raised questions about an overzealous party culture on campus. Others criticized the university for fostering a sense of privilege and racial insensitivity.” I’m unaware of what study the Post reporters are referencing; and noting that a vague “others” issued undetermined criticism strikes me as sloppy reporting.
If the Post can do no better, perhaps it should return to having its news division ignore the case.
Holiday greetings from the DIW staff.