Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Marlette and Gurganus

Even before he confronted the local intelligentsia’s rush to judgment in the lacrosse case, the late cartoonist Doug Marlette had already crossed swords with the Durham/Hillsborough “intellectual” community.

As his friend, Pat Conroy, noted in the memorial service, Marlette was especially dismissive of Allan Gurganus. On his personal webpage, Gurganus describes himself in the following fashion: “Allan Gurganus writes the funniest books possible about the worst things that can happen to people. Fearless in his treatment of sexuality, race relations, the lies of human history and the scope of human grief, he is still considered ‘one of our essential comic writers.’ Gurganus's fiction---as meditative as hilarious---goes on inspiring strong criticism and an even fiercer loyalty.”

It’s good to see that modesty is among Gurganus’ many personal traits.

In early April, the local author had published a substantial (more than 1500 words, twice the normal length) op-ed on the lacrosse case in the New York Times.

The piece—which was riddled with factual errors that the Times allowed to appear in print, most of which were never corrected—reads more like an application letter for a position with the Group of 88 than a serious piece of analysis. (Gurganus stated in the op-ed that he has occasionally taught at Duke.) Dripping with contempt at the presumption of innocence, Gurganus’ intellectually indefensible group-based assumptions raise serious questions of how the Times evaluated op-ed submissions in spring 2006.

Below is a summary of some of the worst of what Gurganus produced—which should, if nothing else, serve as a reminder that Marlette was on target in his criticisms.

“Lacrosse was our Eden’s first team sport. The Cherokees called it ‘the little brother of war.’ They swore it offered superb battle training. It bred loyalty among players, a solidarity demonstrated by the code of silence among Duke’s party attendees. These included the team’s one black member and only Durham native.”
  • In fact, there was no code of silence—and the false claim that the players had engaged in a code of silence formed one reason why Mike Nifong was disbarred.
“I know firsthand the good will of the Durham community . . . It is criminal that this sexual and racial accusation might seem typical.”
  • Gurganus left unclear to whom in the “Durham community” he referred. The local protesters who carried “castrate” signs or who distributed “wanted” posters would not strike most people as exemplars of “good will.”
“Lacrosse is a draw. Glamorous boarding-school sports are magnets for the attractive, competitive and wealthy young people that increasingly define Duke’s student body. Ivy League colleges do not, they assure us, give athletic scholarships per se. Here, there’s no such interdiction. To enlist—then hold onto—a major player, promises must be made.”
  • To what “promises” was Gurganus referring? Many of the lacrosse players received no scholarships at all; others received need-based financial aid.
“Talent has its privileges, especially in lacrosse, that bailiwick of Abercrombie allure.”
  • Especially in lacrosse? At Duke—as at its ACC competitors where lacrosse is played—a far smaller percentage of lacrosse players receive athletic scholarships than in other sports, such as basketball or football. That Gurganus was allowed to make such a claim raises questions as to whether the Times employs any fact-checkers.
“One perk of belonging to a sports team: preferred living quarters, close to campus but far from adult supervision.”
  • A few days later, the Times was forced to run a correction: “While Duke recently bought the house, its previous owner, not the university, had rented it to the players. The article also suggested that athletes get preferential treatment in obtaining desirable housing; Duke says that is not its policy.”
“The lacrosse team’s 610 North Buchanan house is, even among such Animal Houses, notorious.”
  • In fact, as the Coleman Committee report revealed, it wasn’t even in the top ten of off-campus houses. And since 610 Buchanan hadn’t been rented to lacrosse players in previous years, how did what occurred in it before September 2005 have any relevance to Gurganus’ op-ed?
“Friends in the neighborhood painstakingly restored an old home; they sold it the instant Duke planted a sports team next door.”
  • “Duke,” of course, didn’t “plant” a “sports team” anywhere, since before winter 2006, Duke didn’t own any houses in the neighborhood. Making such false claims is always a danger when writing an op-ed based on unsubstantiated second-hand gossip.
“Young male students are apt to take on the nature of their particular sport. One early explorer, after witnessing an Indian game involving hundreds of stick-wielding players, wrote, ‘Almost everything short of murder is allowable.’”
  • I hadn’t realized that Gurganus was also a sports psychologist. One wonders what sets of behavior he considers derived from the “nature” of tennis? Of water polo? Of track? Of fencing? Since the Duke lacrosse team had no record of violent behavior, in any case, it appears that its players didn’t “take on the nature of their particular sport” very well.
“The Duke team is known on campus as the Meatheads.”
  • “Known” by whom? In the thousands upon thousands of articles and op-eds published on the case, Gurganus’ piece is, to my knowledge, the only one to claim that the team was “known on campus as the Meatheads.” Again, does the Times employ fact-checkers?
“Nights before the dancer’s visit, complaints were lodged in a nearby restaurant as players chanted with the wit typical of such groups, ‘Duke La--crosse! Duke La--crosse!’ No one quite dared confront them. Though they pass as ordinary citizens—unlike the pituitary cases found among basketball stars—they’re still guys of serious, strenuous bulk.”
  • In fact, this event allegedly occurred more than two weeks after the party (again, where were the Times’ fact-checkers?); and the claims were strenuously denied by both employees of the bar and an assistant coach for the women’s lacrosse team who was present that evening.
“The ‘Don’t Tell’ part involved not snitching on one another.”
  • In fact, the three captains made voluntary, lengthy statements. Gurganus’ assertion makes sense only by presuming guilt. Since, according to AG Roy Cooper, nothing happened at the party, it’s hard to see how the players could have “not snitched.”
“Neighbors complained to the university to little avail. Middle-class white residents, come to ask for late-night noise reduction, were routinely cursed. The beer-can litter and the welter of S.U.V.’s suggested what went unmonitored inside the house.”
  • In fact, as Officer Ben Himan’s case notes recently revealed, the most serious complaint the “neighbors” had about the occupants of the house was that the three captains didn’t park their cars well. The Coleman Committee discovered that those neighbors wishing to personally “complain to the university” actually were referring to non-lacrosse houses.
“The police report did more than hint. Its allegations of rape and sodomy prove weirdly well written, more gripping reading than most detective novels.”
  • These two sentences are the most ironic of Gurganus’s screed: what he termed the “police report” (presumably, in fact, the non-testimonial order affidavit, since a “police report” hadn’t been released as of the time this op-ed appeared) should have read like a novel—since the “report” was pure fiction.
“Peter Wood, a history professor at Duke and himself a lacrosse player at Harvard, warned the administration two years ago that players were cutting class for morning practice.”
  • In fact, the players in Wood’s class had missed one class, because of travel requirements for a game the next day at the University of Virginia—and had, according to NCAA policies, obtained advance permission to miss the class. None of them had “cut” class.
“It would be far too easy to scapegoat one university for allowing boys to be brutes. But in the institution’s hurry to protect its students, right or wrong, it seemed to forget its role of educating and reassuring a community larger than itself.”
  • This statement is almost comical. Gurganus’ op-ed appeared four days after the Brodhead April 5 letter—which didn’t even mention the presumption of innocence and treated as a given the fact that a rape occurred. Could it be that, to those in Gurganus’ intellectual circles, the administration’s “timidity” was proven by its refusal to follow Houston Baker’s admonition that all 46 white lacrosse players be immediately expelled from school, without due process?
“The university once offered respite from our country’s most rabid competitive impulses. Once upon a time, there was even a core curriculum assuring that every student in every field had read the same great works, including sacred texts, Shakespeare, the Greeks. Once science reigned unchallenged by religious strictures. Once institutions of higher learning ranked higher.”
  • This statement is, in many ways, true. But the assault on the core curriculum—on teaching the great works of Shakespeare and the Greeks—came not from those associated with athletes but from people like Gurganus’ allies among the Group of 88, activist professors determined to redefine the curriculum along lines of race, class, and gender.
“When the children of privilege feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing, we must all ask why.”
  • When so-called “intellectuals” feel “vividly alive” only while publishing op-eds that incorrectly presume guilt and ignore due process, we must all ask why.
“Boys 18 to 25 are natural warriors: bodies have wildly outgrown reason, the sexual imperative outranks everything. They are insurance risks. They need (and crave) true leadership, genuine order. But left alone, granted absolute power, their deeds can terrify. The imperative to win, and damn all collateral costs, is not peculiar to Durham—and it is killing us.”
  • These assertions are nothing short of absurd. That they appeared in the New York Times should raise serious questions (a) about how op-eds are accepted; and (b) the fact-checking process employed for accepted op-eds.
“Why is there no one to admire?”

That’s a difficult question to answer. But it’s not difficult to see that the answer to this question will not come from people like Gurganus or his allies in the Group of 88.

Hat tip: M.W.


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Anonymous said...

TO 8:32PM--

Yeah, you've got me pegged for sure.

I've always had a thing for the Jason Voorhees types.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Could someone please translate 6:34 for me -- it was garbled in my translation.

Also, does one win a prize for how many posts are not deleted? I need to know this, for I like prizes.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


So KC has an ascerbic sense of humor?

Anonymous said...

KC likes debrah's posts.

Anonymous said...

Who doesn't like Debrah's posts?


Anonymous said...

I know this is OT but have been out on the other coast on business and not caught up here so this may have been discussed already -- but it is pleasing to read that Nifong will have to pay the costs of his disbarrment hearings:
The N.C. State Bar, which licenses and disciplines lawyers, has ordered Nifong to pay the cost of the weeklong disciplinary hearing in June that resulted in his disbarment. He also must pay for any transcribing, depositions, witness bills, court reporter, videographer and shipping costs associated with the proceeding.


Me: loving it.

mac said...

12:10 am
I like how you signed off:
"Me: loving it."

Nifong reminds me (a little) of Leslie Nielson's
character in "Dracula: Dead and Loving It!"

"Arrogant mortal! You are in my world now and you'll never leave
this attic alive! I will destroy you, and then I will possess she
who you love the most!"

Nifongula: dead and loving it.

Anonymous said...

"posters who continually denigrate
and scorn forms of knowledge
and scholarship other than what they hold in esteem."

Thank you for saying this.

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