Monday, March 30, 2009

Checking In with Drs. Bowen & Farred

There were a few high-profile instances in the case in which events conspired to prove a figure of authority unequivocally and publicly wrong. The most spectacular example of the pattern involved the New York Times August 25, 2006 front-page article, which asserted, “By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence . . . shows . . . there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.”

In his April 12, 2007 press conference, Roy Cooper stated, “We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges . . . we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night.” With those words, the attorney general of North Carolina effectively asserted that the New York Times got a major story completely wrong: there was “no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night” on April 12, 2007, just as there was “no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night” based on the 1850 pages of discovery files that Duff Wilson purported to have examined in August 2006.

A similar error—whose magnitude has become apparent only as time has passed—involved the trio of William Bowen, Julius Chambers, and Danielle Carr Ramdath (the latter identified in the trio’s report, for no apparent reason, as an “African-American woman”). In April 2006, Duke tasked Bowen and Chambers—who then added the “African-American woman” to their team—with evaluating the administration’s response to the lacrosse case.

We now have a clearer sense of what the administration’s mismanagement (or malevolence) in the early stages of the case cost Duke—millions of dollars in legal settlements, continuing exposure to two massive federal lawsuits, and (according to filings of its insurer) legal costs that have already exceeded $5 million.

What caused such legal exposure? Among other things: (1) The administration’s failure to enforce the university’s own anti-harassment policies; (2) The administration’s failure to enforce the Faculty Handbook; (3) The administration’s disregard of student FERPA rights; (4) The administration’s allegedly one-sided public statements; (5) The president’s failure to properly supervise one of his employees, former SANE-nurse-in-training Tara Levicy, who offered unsubstantiated and varying versions of events to local law enforcement; (6) The firing without due process or cause of former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler.

Given that Bowen, Chambers, and Carr Ramdath were supposed to—in Bowen’s own words—“address a specific set of Q[uestion]s posed to us, all of them pertaining to how the Duke administration handled a complex and very messy situation,” a reader of their final document might have encountered some analysis of exactly what the Duke administration did that exposed the university to such massive legal liability.

A reader of the actual Bowen/Chambers report would, however, find none of the above issues discussed—with the exception of the Pressler firing, with the report authors praised as “merited,” with the caveat that it might have come sooner. Instead, as could be expected from “diversity”-obsessed authors, the report focused on the need for the Duke administration to have more “diversity” (except, of course, of the intellectual type).

In 2007, Carr Ramdath informed a lacrosse parent, “We stand entirely by the report, which no one has questioned.” The statement was blatantly untrue: in the highest-profile contemporary criticism, Stuart Taylor penned a National Journal column observing how Bowen, Chambers, and Carr Ramdath appeared determined to “slime the lacrosse players in a report . . . that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.”

Perhaps, I wondered, the Bowen/Chambers/Carr Ramdath trio was instructed by Duke to avoid mention of any administrative conduct that might expose the university to future legal action. I posed the question to Bowen in a recent e-mail, and he denied any such limitations: “We were given total freedom to ask the Qs we thought appropriate and give the responses we thought were correct, but all within the boundaries of our—properly limited—charge.”

What was his rationalization, then, for not mentioning behavior that has cost Duke millions of dollars in a report that was supposed to analyze the Duke administration’s behavior?No part of our charge involved the conduct of the local prosecutor, the merits of the case, etc.” But, of course, Duke’s legal liability didn’t come from “the conduct of the local prosecutor” or even “the merits of the case.” It came as a result of specific decisions made or not made by Duke administrators.

Civil suits, in an ideal world, are supposed to rectify wrongdoing while also deterring against future improper behavior. In the “diversity” world of Bowen, Chambers, and Carr Ramdath, it seems, there’s still nothing the Brodhead administration should have done differently regarding the behavior that cost Duke millions of dollars.



Another figure from the ideological fringe of the case recently returned to the news. Grant Farred—the Duke literature professor who parlayed a public denunciation of Duke students who registered to vote in Durham as “secret racists” and a book claiming Yao Ming was the greatest threat to the American empire into a promotion and a tenured position at Cornell—got a mention from Stanley Fish. The New York Times web columnist featured an item on a particularly odious development in higher education: demands for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Farred, predictably, supports the move. “The boycott or the divestment campaign,” writes he, “is the mode of political protest that is left after all other forms of struggle have been tried.” Moreover, he has claimed that such a move is fully consistent with support for academic freedom, since, “Academic freedom has to be conceived as a form of political solidarity.”

Translation: professors should be able to say or do anything they want regarding political issues, including in the classroom (as long, of course, as such actions are consistent with a race/class/gender worldview), and be able to call the action “academic.”

This was too much even for Fish—a figure who in the 1990s has defended speech codes and published a book entitled, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech ... And It’s a Good Thing, Too.

But Farred’s anti-Israel extremism should come as no surprise: as I noted early in the case, a remarkable overlap existed between faculty anti-Israel extremists and faculty anti-lacrosse extremists. And, as with Bowen, Farred’s conduct suggests that he sees nothing wrong with his behavior in the lacrosse case.

Hat tip: E.F.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grisham on Public Memory

From page 43 of John Grisham’s latest novel, The Associate:

Each fleeting thought was chased away by the next, and he found it impossible to concentrate, to think rationally, to focus on what should and should not be said. Decisions made at this ugly moment could reverberate forever. For a moment he settled on the three Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of raping a stripper. They were eventually cleared of everything, but only after an excruciating trip to hell and back.

It’s reassuring, to put it mildly, that this Grisham passage reflects one element of the conventional wisdom on the case (along with the affair as a textbook case of prosecutorial misconduct and of faculty race/class/gender groupthink).

That said, imagine if only 10 percent of the country continues to believe the Wendy Murphy/Mike Nifong/Group of 88 version of events. That would be talking about 30 million people.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

North Carolina Poll: Cooper Ahead

The second consecutive poll on the 2010 North Carolina Senate race shows one of the heroes of the lacrosse case, Roy Cooper, with a narrow lead over incumbent Senator Richard Burr--who joined his former colleague, Elizabeth Dole, in refusing to endorse Cooper's request for a Dept. of Justice inquiry into ex-DA Mike Nifong's alleged criminal conduct.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From Burch to the Bohemian Lubiano

Last week, Durham resident Michael Burch pled guilty to two counts of attempted rape, for which he received a sentence of between 48 and 67 months in prison. The Burch case provided an unusually clear illustration of the hypocrisy of the Duke administration and faculty “activists.” In the lacrosse case, President Brodhead’s second public statement was an apology to Kim Roberts and Crystal Mangum (“the woman and her friend”); in the Burch case, where his own institution’s student was the alleged victim, Brodhead was silent. The only Duke administrator to publicly comment was Larry Moneta, who appeared to blame the accuser, former Duke student Katie Rouse.

Meanwhile, the “activist” faculty who were so confident of Mangum’s allegations that they issued a statement thanking protesters who had, among other things, urged castration of the lacrosse captains remained as silent as the grave about Rouse’s ordeal. I am unaware of any member of the Group of 88 or the clarifying faculty ever publicly commenting on the charges against Burch.

Surely, the fact that Rouse is white and Burch is African-American couldn’t account for such disparate reactions?

After the plea agreement, Newsday ran a powerful interview with Rouse, who openly discussed her experiences. (She transferred to Hofstra after the attack, so she could be closer to her home on Long Island.) Rouse spoke of her frustration with the Durham “justice” system, noting that Burch was charged with a second rape after being released on bail. (He was released on bail after the second alleged rape, as well.) She said that she was glad the affair was now over, and looked forward to moving on with her life: “I think for a while it changed how I acted, how I was always sad, afraid to be by myself. But it didn't change me permanently, no.”

Newsday’s article mentioned that Rouse received considerable abuse on some North Carolina blogs, and that she “felt her case was always in the shadow of the more notorious rape accusations of the year before, in which a stripper falsely accused three Duke students, one from Long Island, of raping her. The charges were later all dropped and the students exonerated.” The article didn’t mention that much of that abuse came from the very same people who had presumed guilt in the lacrosse case, nor did the article mention the widely disparate reactions to the two cases from the Duke administration and faculty.

A brief follow-up piece from Newsday’s Ellis Henican appropriately praised Rouse’s courage and character, but likewise left an incomplete portrayal of the toxic Durham atmosphere: of the crime, he wrote only that Rouse said “she was attacked in a bathroom at a fraternity party in an off-campus house.”

Relatively few Newsday readers follow Durham events closely—and so, unfortunately, I suspect that few Newsday readers would come away from the Henican article knowing that Rouse's attacker was not a Duke student, and that the only Duke administrator to comment publicly on the crime effectively blamed Rouse.

By the way, a final irony: Rouse’s case was handled by assistant district attorney Jan Paul—the same Jan Paul who showed her commitment to truth and justice by weeping openly as her onetime boss, Mike Nifong, was convicted of criminal contempt for lying to the court.


Wahneema Lubiano was a no-show at the Group of 88-dominated “race in America” conference this past weekend at Duke. (Her panel, “Race, Gender and Sexuality: Intersections on Multiple Dimensions,” went on with a substitute moderator; according to an e-mail Lubiano sent to one DIW reader after the event, she is “currently in Prague(!),” where she will remain until fall 2009.) But those who think that this episode suggests Lubiano hasn’t been tending to her work should think again.

Lubiano still hasn’t managed to complete either Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor or Messing with the Machine, both of which have now been listed as “forthcoming” books (a designation that refers to completed manuscripts under contract) for at least twelve years. But, according to her Duke website, Lubiano has produced a new scholarly publication: “Black Studies, Multiculturalism, and Airport Bookshops: An Interview with Wahneema Lubiano.”

This piece of “scholarship,” which totals all of three pages, appeared in an obscure journal called e3w Review of Books. The journal’s website was last updated in 2007, the year before Lubiano’s latest “scholarship” appeared, and the journal, published by the Ethnic and Third World Literatures specialization at the University of Texas, does not appear in any major scholarly database. So no copy of the Lubiano publication is available on-line.

Lubiano’s five most recent “publications” provide a glimpse into her scholarly productivity. Three of the five “publications” are “interviews”—“Airport Bookshops,” which her Duke website mysteriously lists as two separate publications, and “Interview with Wahneema Lubiano,” in The Chicano Cultural Studies Forum. A fourth is her co-authored apologia for the Group of 88, which she penned with Group/clarifying colleagues Michael Hardt and Robyn Weigman. And the fifth is a reprint of “Race, Class, and the Politics of Death,” a short article that was originally published in 2006.

According to her Duke CV, the above list contains all the “scholarship” produced by this tenured professor at one of the nation’s leading universities in the last decade.

For the record, I have never encountered another professor who lists “interviews” as scholarly publications. But then, as we all learned from the lacrosse case, Lubiano operates according to her own rules.


At last weekend’s Group of 88 conference, a DIW regular asked Group member Sally Deutsch about the advertisement. According to the comment posted in this thread, Deutsch “maintains that the ‘Listening Statement’ did not refer to the rape accusation and Buchanan Blvd.”

Signatures for the ad in question, of course, were solicited through an e-mail penned by Wahneema Lubiano, whose first sentence was, “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident.” [emphasis added] The ad, moreover, unequivocally asserted that something “happened” to Mangum; thanked protesters who had among other things urged castration of the lacrosse captains; and contained several quotes from alleged Duke students discussing Mangum’s allegations.

And yet, in Deutsch’s world, the ad “did not refer to the rape accusation and Buchanan Blvd.”

Deutsch is the same Duke dean who, after the issuance of the AG’s report, refused to admit that there was no rape in the case. Perhaps she remains emotionally or intellectually unable to confront any facts about the case. Another possibility? Duke attorneys have instructed Group members to issue such denials, since the settlement with the three falsely accused players does not cover contemporary faculty utterances.


Finally, a reader informs me that she recently received a ballot for the Wells Fargo board of directors--and incumbent director Bob Steel is standing for re-election. After his Duke and Wachovia performances, some might argue that a "no" vote would be in order.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wendy Murphy, Esq.

The astounding Wendy Murphy is at it again. In this morning’s edition of the Patriot-Ledger, a small paper in suburban Boston, the person who seemed to have no trouble spewing demonstrable falsehoods in the lacrosse case writes the following:

For example, I’d like to see full disclosure of the file in the “Duke Lacrosse” rape case. The government spent a ton of public money investigating the charges. Ultimately, not only were the charges dropped, the prosecutor was disbarred for unethical behavior. But while selected portions of the files were released by the defense team, thousands of pages have been withheld from public view. Why?

The predominant sentiment is the defendants were falsely accused by a woman named Crystal Magnum and a rogue district attorney named Mike Nifong. The public has a right to see all the witness statements and unredacted DNA tests so we can understand how a seasoned prosecutor got it so wrong. The latest excuse is there are civil suits pending. But the law is clear that this is not a legitimate reason to withhold government documents from public view.

It’s hard to figure out what Murphy is talking about in this passage. The only item from the file never released was the roughly 1000 pages of Mangum’s psychological history. Will Murphy publicly call upon Mangum to release the file? After all, by the logic of her argument, doesn’t the public deserve to know whether Mangum heard voices ordering her to do things? Or claimed people conspired to kill her? Or why her doctors prescribed her anti-psychotic medication? But to my knowledge, Murphy has never demanded the release of this information—the only material from the case file that the court ordered “withheld from public view.”

The adjunct law professor continues, “The latest excuse is there are civil suits pending. But the law is clear that this is not a legitimate reason to withhold government documents from public view.” The “latest excuse” from whom? Murphy doesn’t say.

Even more astonishingly, Murphy’s comments come in an editorial demanding sunlight about the Treasury Department’s management of the bailout--something that has nothing to do with the lacrosse case.

Murphy purports to be an attorney (echoing the Murphy logic, I say “purports” because she has never publicly posted her law license on her adjunct faculty website. To quote Murphy, “Why?”) This purported attorney presumably would know that Treasury Department documents are subject to filings under the Freedom of Information Act. And from subpoenas from congressional oversight.

Yet—as Murphy presumably knows, since she purports to be an attorney—FOIA doesn’t apply to state or local criminal investigations, regardless of whether “the government spent a ton of public money investigating the charges” or whether the government spent no money at all. Does Murphy believe that the law should be changed? I’m unaware of any demands from her that all case files involving all allegations of rape (including those from real victims) be publicly released. But perhaps Murphy has become a born-again civil libertarian.

Then again, I doubt it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Group of 88 Convenes a Conference

[Update, Tuesday 3.08pm: In an extraordinary decision for what's billed as a high-profile academic conference, organizers are prohibiting all taping of the event. I wonder how Bill Plante would respond to this?]

In most professions, credibility matters. Imagine how seriously people would take a seminar on best principles of corporate governance conducted by John Thain (or Bob Steel, for that matter). Or a speech from Bill Clinton on the importance of personal morality for elected leaders. Or an interview from Alberto Gonzales on how to prevent political factors from influencing Justice Department hiring decisions. Or a discussion on media ethics hosted by Jayson Blair and Judy Miller.

Any of the events above, of course, would be greeted with widespread derision, on the grounds that the past actions of these figures robbed them of any credibility to speak on the topics mentioned.

But the academy, as the Duke case revealed, operates under different rules. The race/class/gender majority that dominates most humanities and some social sciences departments is accountable to no one. Administrators either fear (Brodhead) or sympathize with (Christ, Mason) them; “diversity” officers provide them with built-in bureaucratic support. Most alumni and donors have little idea how they operate in the classroom or what kind of scholarship they produce. And their control of departmental personnel processes ensures that they can keep out anyone who challenges their preconceptions and bring in new hires who will reinforce their dominance.

These conditions help explain an event at Duke this coming weekend that in most other circumstances would be dismissed as comical. Several leading members of the Group of 88—the very same people who got things spectacularly, and publicly, wrong in a high-profile case in their own backyard dealing with issues of race and politics—are hosting an academic conference on . . . race in contemporary America, and specificallyhow modern racial prejudice shapes policy.

Of course.

The schedule of the conference reveals seven panels, only one of which isn’t transparently one-sided. That panel, coincidentally, is the only one not moderated by either a member of the Group of 88 or a signatory of the “clarifying” statement. George McLendon moderates “The Press, Politics, and Policymaking in the Obama Era,” which has as its featured member CBS’ Bill Plante. (The panel also, oddly, includes a member of the North Carolina State House of Representatives, who would seem to have little insight into national media matters—but who does supply the apparently needed “diversity” for the session.)

The other sessions could be subtitled, “The World According to the Group of 88.” Wahneema Lubiano will take time out from work on her perpetually forthcoming manuscripts to moderate a session with the typically impenetrable title of “Race, Gender and Sexuality: Intersections on Multiple Dimensions.”

Perhaps fellow Group member Sally Deutsch, who joins Lubiano on the panel, can use the conference to expand on her late March 2006 in-class discussion, in a class filled with lacrosse players, about the danger posed by white “alpha males” to black women. The other panelists are Purdue’s Niambi Carter, whose “current work looks at how sex (work) is related to the development and performance of race,” and Bonnie Thornton Dill, head of the University of Maryland’s Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, whose “research focuses on the intersections of race, class, and gender with an emphasis on African American women and families.” As could be expected from a Lubiano-led panel, no evidence of diverse viewpoints exists.

Indeed, among the conference panelists as a whole (outside of Plante), organizers provided no pretense of inviting people whose perspectives that might challenge the Group of 88 perspective. Political science professor Kerry Haynie—last heard from explaining why he signed the “clarifying” statement with the intellectually nuanced response, “Get a freaking life! Quote me!”—heads a panel entitled, “A New Race Politics?” (The desired answer, of course, is no: the triumph of Barack Obama provides a serious problem for the Group’s victim-based perspectives.) Group of 88’er Paula McClain moderates a panel entitled, “Race in Comparative Perspective: Race, Racism and the World.” “The Color Lines and Health” is chaired by yet another 88’er, Sherman James. And James’ Group of 88 colleague, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, moderates a panel on “Racial Prejudice in the Modern World.”

The conference closes with a panel entitled, “Overcoming Racism? Debate On Policy Options.” Bonilla-Silva returns for a second round as a panel moderator, while the chosen panelists give a sense of what passes for “debate” about race-related public policy issues on campuses today.

  • Sandy Darity’s “research focuses on inequality by race, class and ethnicity.” His most recent article, published in Social Science Quarterly, championed the fringe position of reparations for African-Americans. To Darity, “the serious and hard task is one of persuading the U.S. public of the validity of reparations for African Americans”—so the public will force Congress(!) to adopt a bill for reparations of as much as $6 trillion, or around twice the amount of the FY 2008 federal budget.

  • Lani Guinier has a name familiar to anyone who follows politics: the woman once considered by liberals such as Ted Kennedy and Carol Moseley-Braun as too extreme on race for a position in Bill Clinton’s Justice Department is now a tenured professor at Harvard Law. In recent years, Guinier has devoted herself to an assault on the principle of merit in education, recently remarking that “we need to redefine merit. Within each ethnic group talent is equally distributed among all people. All people have merit,” and, in any case, “diversity in problem solving groups trumps individual ability.”

  • Melissa Nobles teaches at MIT, where her “teaching and research interests are in the comparative study of racial and ethnic politics, and issues of retrospective justice.” She is especially focused on instances when governments issue official apologies to minority groups—but, she has contended, apologies alone are never enough. “Action need not be synonymous with reparations as such, but it needs to be something more than a mere utterance, which, once said, dies.” Nobles is also a bit suspicious of democratic government, since “democracy is the rule of the majority and there are inherent disadvantages for minority groups within democracies.”

And so, in The World According to the Group of 88, the “debate on policy options” about race—in a country, again, that elected a black man President in 2008—focuses on whether African-Americans deserve (1) reparations, (2) “redefining” merit in such a way to grant minorities preferential admissions to higher education and job opportunities, or (3) an official governmental apology, followed by other governmental action. Here’s a prediction: for those in attendance at the panel, this “debate” will end with a preferred outcome of “all of the above.”

There remains, however, one item worthy of “debate” from this Duke event: which of his previous labels for the United States will moderator Bonilla-Silva use“gringoland,” “the United States of Amerikkka,” or “Amerika”? For a $10 fee to cover the privilege of attending the session, Durham-area readers can find out.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Iowa Way

Two articles that crossed my desk in the past week attest to the grip that race/class/gender-based political correctness exercises over college and university campuses. The articles also give a sense as to why so few administrations have chosen to use what happened at Duke to address similar problems of faculty groupthink on issues of race, class, and gender on their own campuses.

A faculty environment that openly embraced ideological one-sidedness and a politically correct president who boasted that in her previous position, “56% of [new faculty] hires were women and/or minorities, [and] she also formed a diversity leadership group” provided the backdrop to a sad episode that was recently profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A summary: in recent months, two Iowa professors (first Arthur Miller, a professor of political science; and then Mark Weiger, an oboe professor) committed suicide, after facing charges of sexual harassment. The specifics of their two cases differed dramatically: based on the information in the article and some other background reading, the allegations against Miller were serious (the trading of a grade for sexual favors) and struck me as, at the least, credible. The allegations against Weiger, on the other hand, seemed to involve not what anyone other than Group of 88-like ideologues would consider sexual harassment but instead faculty conduct that was borderline unprofessional and a personality conflict between professor and student.

Miller was the first of the duo to face legal action. He was also a figure highly unlikely to have the sympathy of Iowa’s leadership. He had feuded with the Iowa administration on academic matters in the past; the university’s dean, Linda Maxson, had blocked his elevation to chair of Iowa’s political science department and had closed down an academic institute that he had founded.

Even that background, however, could not have predicted the astonishing public reaction of the Iowa administration after the allegations against Miller became public. Iowa president Sally Mason sent an e-mail to all faculty and staff at the school:

While every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence, I want to state strongly and unequivocally that such conduct will not be tolerated. It is profoundly damaging to the students and to the educational process.

I applaud the courage of the student victims [emphasis added] in coming forward to report this conduct to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and to the UI Police Department.

In a view of civil liberties that mirrored Richard Brodhead’s public statement that a trial would give his institution’s falsely accused students an opportunity to “be proved innocent,” Mason appeared unaware that publicly terming accusers as “victims” nullified the “presumption of innocence” to which her faculty member supposedly was “entitled.” Indeed, if the students were “victims,” as Mason claimed, Miller was guilty.

According to the Chronicle, Weiger followed the Miller case closely; “when President Mason issued the statement calling the students ‘victims,’ Mr. Weiger panicked, according to a friend of Weiger’s.”

The Chronicle reported that Mason “declined to answer questions about her statement.” Incredibly, however, Dean Maxson defended the president’s remarks, on the grounds that Miller had been “accused of a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules.” So, according to the University of Iowa, in cases of “a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules,” an accuser is automatically “the victim”?

In her campus-wide email, President Mason also announced, “Currently all supervisory personnel are required to undergo sexual harassment training. I have asked Provost Loh to work with our faculty and staff governing bodies to extend the required training to all faculty and staff.”

The University’s Council on the Status of Women welcomed Mason’s move, claiming that “sexual harassment does not appear to be taken serious [sic] by some in the University community,” although the body did worry about “what occurs if someone refuses to participate in the training.”

This now-mandatory sexual harassment training—which the university quickly renamed sexual harassment “education”—reminds potential victims that “sexual harassers can include (but aren’t limited to) professors, teaching assistants, research assistants, supervisors, co-workers, classmates, other students, acquaintances, friends, partners, dates, and strangers” [who else is there?]; notes that there is no time limit(!) for filing a sexual harassment complaint; and offers the Crystal Mangum rule: “a complaint made in good faith is not considered false merely because the evidence does not ultimately support the allegation of sexual misconduct.”

The campus newspaper reported on another such Mason-initiated program: the university named a school coordinator for “sexual-misconduct response.” The new coordinator, Monique DiCarlo, said that the school would create new “victim-advocate positions,” with every sexual harassment accuser being assigned a “victim-advocate.” One of DiCarlo’s volunteers explained the rationale: “Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim . . . It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

But, of course, deeming all accusers to be “victims” entitled to an “advocate” presumes guilt of the accused. If the allegation is false, how can the accuser be a “victim”?


While Iowa’s president imitated Brodhead’s response to the lacrosse case, the leadership of Smith College went one step further—inviting one of the most extreme Group of 88 members to lecture Smith students on the dangers of . . . racial stereotyping.

In a typically insightful article this week, Heather MacDonald recounts (among other things) how colleges and universities overreact to minor episodes of bad student behavior, if the affair confirms many academics’ predisposition that their (white) students are inherently racist--and, in the case of white males, sexist as well.

Such an event occurred at Smith College in late 2007, when a white couple who attended a student-sponsored “Celebrity Rehab” party “painted their skin black, donned Afro wigs and dressed as singers Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.” In response, Smith president Carol Christ—whose official biography celebrates her “well-established reputation as a champion of women’s issues and diversity”—convened an all-day campus forum to discuss diversity and sensitivity.

Who did Christ invite to campus to provide guidance to her students on such issues? None other than Group of 88’er Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, whom she personally introduced and hailed as a “foremost theorist” on race in America.

(Bonilla-Silva, of course, has used different names in his scholarly work for the country that Christ mentioned: “gringoland”; “the United States of Amerikkka”; and “Amerika.”)

Bonilla-Silva’s rhetoric was entirely predictable: “I am here,” asserted he, “to speak truth to power about race matters in contemporary America and, in the process, connect the dots about this ‘incident,’ an incident and an aftermath which I believe are emblematic about how race works in post-civil rights America.”

(This was, of course, the same Eduardo Bonilla-Silva who wrote of the country that would elect Barack Obama its president in 2008 that “in this country, racial ‘others’ of dark complexion are always viewed as incapable of doing much; we are regarded and treated as secondary actors only good for doing beds in hotels or working in fast-food restaurants.”)

Just as he and his fellow Group members had hoped to exploit the lacrosse case to transform Duke, Bonilla-Silva urged Smith ideologues to use the party incident to transform Smith. (Given that Smith is already widely perceived as an academic bastion of political correctness, it’s not clear what specific changes Bonilla-Silva wanted.) In any event, the Group of 88’er denounced “this color-blind racism ideology” (of people like Obama?), and expressed his support for “the struggle to help Smith reflect America’s new racial reality; to help create a Smith College where neither ‘isolated racial incidents’ nor everyday color-blind racism exist. This will require a lot of effort, but the creation of a multicultural ‘beloved community’ requires nothing less.”

(To send their children to an instruction whose president celebrated this vision, parents of Smith students pay $36,058 annually in tuition and fees.)

I e-mailed President Christ to ask her if she knew of Bonilla-Silva’s membership in the Group of 88 before she extended him the invitation; and whether, in retrospect, she considered it wise to have had a figure who himself had set aside the academy’s traditional fealty to due process and made such a high-profile decision based on what turned out to be inaccurate, race-based stereotypes lecture her institution’s students on the dangers of racial stereotyping.

Christ did not reply.

[Update, Monday, 11.30am: As I have been reminded, perhaps it is no surprise that a senior Smith administrator invited to campus one of the most extreme members of the Group of 88, given the previous intersection of the lacrosse case with Smith administrators.

Danielle Carr Ramdath is Smith's associate dean of the faculty, and was brought on board by Julius Chambers and William Bowen for their report on the administration's response to the case. (That report identified Carr Ramdath as an “African-American woman”; it did not disclose either the race or the gender of Bowen and Chambers. For reasons that remain unclear, the signatures of Bowen and Chambers alone were on the report, although its text claimed that Carr Ramdath shared all of its conclusions.)

Shortly after the report appeared in May 2006, Stuart Taylor published an extraordinary critique in the National Journal, correctly identifying it as almost a parody of political correctness; I also published a post pointing out that the report seemed obsessed with "diversity" issues and chastising Bowen, Chambers, and Carr for going out of their way to interview extreme critics of the team among the faculty--Houston Baker, Peter Wood, Karla Holloway--even as the report writers claimed that they didn't have time to interview all the relevant figures for their task.

In the end, no interviews were really required--the report was fully consistent with the preconceived "diversity" worldviews of Bowen, Chambers, and Carr Ramdath.

After the case collapsed, Carr Ramdath was asked if she and her colleagues planned to issue a correction or addendum to the report. She replied, "We stand by the report, which no one has questioned."

In light of the above, obviously, the second portion of her statement was demonstrably false.]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

February Events in the Case

A summary of events from last month:
  • Some issues from the lacrosse affair appeared in other high-profile cases;
  • The Nifong conspiracy theorists emerged, amusing themselves by mocking the experiences of the lacrosse players' parents;
  • Kristin Butler is back--and with a typically incisive post, examining the erratic nature of President Brodhead's financial stewardship;
  • John in Carolina had a strong post on the Chronicle's editorials on Duke's fundraising woes;
  • miriam cooke has now positioned herself as a "moderate" on Israel: at least in comparison with her fellow Group of 88'er, Grant Farred, who is now onto his latest extremist cause--supporting a U.S. "academic and cultural boycott of Israel";
  • "Old friends" Selena Roberts, Wendy Murphy, Karla Holloway, and Rev. William Barber re-emerged;
  • I posted a copy of my Law & Contemporary Problems article, which looked at the role of the blogosphere in the case.
A reminder that previous monthly summaries are available by clicking on the "monthly summary" tag below.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Difficult Task

A few weeks ago, I posted my recent article from Law and Contemporary Problems. The article was part of a special issue, drawn from presentations at the September 2007 Duke Law School conference.

As often occurs at academic conferences, a few presenters offered contrarian viewpoints. The most extreme came from BC Law School Dean Michael Cassidy, who criticized portions of the disbarment ruling against Mike Nifong. Cassidy’s thesis: Nifong’s status as a candidate for election gave him a First Amendment right to utter many of the public denunciations of the lacrosse players that the DHC had ruled unethical.

Cassidy’s thesis certainly challenged conventional wisdom. But the dean’s proposed “candidate exception” to the Bar’s ethical canons has attracted scant, if any, support.

Another LCP article, penned by George Washington professors Robert Entman (a former Duke faculty member and parent of a recent Duke graduate) and Kimberly Gross, also challenges the majority view on an element in the case. As Entman summarized for me, the article contends “that, ironically, just as the coverage created misperceptions about the alleged crime, the coverage itself has been subject to distortion and selective memory. The media did not persecute the lacrosse players, at least not for very long, and there is no evidence in this case or more generally that ‘political correctness’ leads to more negative treatment of white than black defendants, or more credulous treatment of black than white accusers.” Entman added that his piece represents “the only systematic analysis of media coverage on this explosive case.”

Previous publications by Gross and Entman reflected prevailing academic assumptions on race-based issues. Gross, who teaches a course entitled “Race, Media, and Politics,” has published articles concluding that “there is a specific racial cast to [local TV] coverage – significant attention is given to black perpetrators while black victims are undercovered.” Entman’s 2000 co-authored book, The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America, posited “a subtle pattern of [media] images that, while making room for Blacks, implies a racial hierarchy with Whites on top and promotes a sense of difference and conflict.” (The book received an approving mention from Mark Anthony “thugniggaintellectual” Neal.)

The scholarly framework of Entman and Gross cannot easily explain an event in which—amidst at first considerable and eventually massive public evidence of actual innocence and prosecutorial misconduct—most coverage first presumed the guilt and then minimized evidence of innocence of wealthy, well-educated white defendants accused of a crime by a poor African-American woman.


In their article, Entman and Gross analyze three newspapers (the N&O, the New York Times, and USA Today) and one television network (NBC), based on a search for words or phrases that implied guilt, innocence, or positive/negative judgments. (They do not code the cable news shows, on the grounds that such figures aren’t real journalists.) They conclude that while a media rush to judgment did occur, it was motivated not by political correctness or journalists’ presumptions that women who claim rape must be telling the truth, but instead the normal press bias in criminal justice cases, which favors the prosecution. In this respect, they contend, “most pretrial publicity is predictably prejudicial, and media behavior in the Duke lacrosse case was not unusual but typical.” Some people might consider such things as a fullpage Newsweek cover and massive coverage in the New York Times atypical in crime cases, but such editorial judgments don’t factor into the Entman/Gross schema.

Moreover, Gross and Entman cite a consistent coverage of the players’ possible, or even likely, innocence—an approach that grew stronger as the case progressed. Finally, their data reveals little difference between the local coverage of the N&O and the national coverage of the New York Times, other than expected gaps on most news stories between more nuanced local outlets and national publications that focus more on metanarratives. In any event, they deny that political correctness motivated either publication (or USA Today).

Some of the Gross/Entman conclusions confirm, rather than challenge, conclusions in both the book and blog. For instance, neither the blog nor the book ever contended that (apart from Samiha Khanna’s brief moment in the sun, early in the case) “political correctness” motivated the N&O’s coverage. Indeed, I strongly praised the N&O’s journalism, some of its editorials, and most of its op-eds. Yet a reader of the Entman/Gross article (which is framed, in part, as a critique of DIW and UPI) would have assumed just the opposite.

Indeed, consider this quote: “Over the entire period editorials were more likely to contain paragraphs emphasizing only innocence than they were to contain paragraphs emphasizing only guilt . . . This finding offers another indicator that neither a ‘politically correct’ nor a liberal editorial agenda was driving the coverage.”

That evidence sounds like a strong critique of UPI and DIW—until realizing that most of the editorials and the op-eds in the Gross/Entman study came from the N&O, which both the book and the blog had praised. Moreover, a central critique of the Times editorial page was not the content of the editorials it did run (zero, in all), but its decision not to weigh in on the case when all other major newspapers did, in late December 2006.

Or take footnote one of the Entman/Gross article cited both UPI and a DIW post as among the critiques “that trace media derelictions to ‘liberal bias’ or ‘political correctness.’” But neither the blog (in any of its 1300 posts) nor the book ever used the phrase “liberal bias” in this context—and the blog argued that political ideology provided no guide to predicting how actors in the case would behave. In response to an e-mail query, Entman conceded, “We have liberal bias and political correctness in quotes not meaning to attribute them as exact quotations of you or other authors. We meant them in the ‘so-called’ sense. It was probably unnecessary to have done this.”

So, Entman and Gross established that the N&O’s coverage was basically fair; that most editorials published in the N&O leaned toward stressing innocence; and that a “liberal bias” doesn’t explain coverage. Since neither the book nor the blog challenged these arguments, on these matters, Gross and Entman are arguing against straw men.

A few other conclusions are a bit on the vague side: take, for example, Entman’s assertion that “the media did not persecute the lacrosse players, at least not for very long.” Leaving aside the fact that neither DIW nor UPI ever used the verb “persecute” to describe the media’s handling of the case, the clause contradicts itself: either the media “persecute[d]” the lacrosse players, or the media did not do so. The first half of Entman’s clause takes one position on the question (the media did not persecute the lacrosse players); the second half takes a completely different position (the media did persecute the lacrosse players—but “not for very long.”)


The Gross/Entman data model had two serious drawbacks, one avoidable, the other not. First, the avoidable item: the decision to bypass the Herald-Sun, which published more articles on the case than any paper except perhaps the N&O and whose editorial page read as if penned by Nifong himself. When asked about the thinking behind this decision, Entman explained, “We picked the N&O because it is a more influential paper in the Triangle and NC, though probably not in Durham proper. Also as you have suggested (and I as a resident of Durham off and on for 40 years have said), the Herald is a lousy paper and performed up to that standard in covering the lacrosse case. Yet it’s never been in those 40 years liberal editorially, indeed often endorsed a Jesse Helms view of the world, and therefore the Herald illustrates our basic argument that journalists’ worldview was only one among many factors shaping the coverage.”

The fact that the paper was conservative before Paxton Media bought the H-S and installed Bob Ashley as news and editorial page editorial editor is irrelevant to analyzing the H-S position on the lacrosse case. (The H-S editorial page tilted well to the left in 2006 and 2007--its positions often mirrored those of The Independent--and, of course, it endorsed Nifong protégé Tracey Cline in 2008.) Since Entman and Gross wanted to challenge those who portrayed the media as “politically correct,” it’s hard to understand why they analyzed the local outlet whose performance was widely praised as not motivated by political correctness—while ignoring the local paper whose articles and editorials were attacked as drenched in politically correct tenets.

Second, the article’s unavoidable problem: no statistical model can address editorial decisions that were key to any understanding of the media’s role in the case—such as Newsweek’s running a full-page cover with mugshots of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, under the title, “Sex, Lies, and Duke.” (The only “lies,” of course, came from Mike Nifong and Crystal Mangum; there was no “sex” at all.) Nor can the Entman/Gross model shed any light on what accounted for the editorial choices made by the New York Times, ranging from the critical decision to replace Joe Drape with a reporter more inclined to accept Nifong’s claims, to the August 2006 assignment of Duff Wilson to write an article that supposedly would reconsider the point of view offered in his own earlier articles, to the refusal to run corrections on the factual errors in that August 2006 article, to the more general decision to place such a high priority (more than 100 articles or columns in all) on a crime story in North Carolina.

Entman maintains, “There is no evidence in this case or more generally that ‘political correctness’ leads to more negative treatment of white than black defendants.” Yet editorial judgments shown in contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous cases suggest otherwise.

For instance, the lacrosse case wasn’t the only instance of high-profile college athletes being accused of sex crimes (USC, Cal-Berkeley, Oklahoma State) or an allegation of a racially motivated gang rape by college students (VUU/Richmond). Yet none of these cases—in which either Hispanic or black students were the accused, and in which a white woman was the accuser in at least two of the cases—attracted a media firestorm characterized by heavily moralistic coverage, or generated much coverage in the New York Times, or resulted in a guilt-presuming Newsweek cover, or received much attention on cable or network news.

Likewise, in 2006-7, the lacrosse case wasn’t the only high-profile, racially charged event in the criminal justice system. It coincided with events in Jena, Louisiana, in which African-American students were accused of attacking, without provocation, a white fellow student. In covering Jena, the national media, led by the same New York Times, stressed allegations of possible racial bias in the decision to prosecute, and presented the accused students in largely favorable terms. Only when it came out that the ringleader of the attack had previous convictions for assault (of other African-Americans), followed quickly by the ringleader’s guilty plea, did the media narrative somewhat change. The volume of coverage also dramatically declined.

None of these developments would have been predicted by the model that Entman and Gross present.


Even though Gross and Entman can’t analyze editorial decisions, their article, despite the superficial neutrality associated with a “statistical” analysis, employs some of its own editorial judgments—all of which seem to tilt toward one direction. For instance, in trying to explain why the media didn’t greet as conclusive proof of innocence the April 10, 2006 negative DNA tests, Gross and Entman bend over backwards to offer a neutral justification: “Because this DNA evidence did not mark an unraveling of the case for the prosecutor, journalistic routines and norms ensured that it did not mark an immediate unraveling of the case for journalists. Rather, reporters and editors apparently assumed that Nifong had other good evidence for proceeding with the indictments, and this colored their reporting.”

Yet in this specific case, the prosecutor’s office itself had, only seventeen days earlier, obtained an extraordinary court order—backed up by several Nifong public statements—that stated without caveat that the tests would provide conclusive evidence of either guilt or innocence. Most of the time, journalists show at least a smidgen of skepticism when government figures display an on-the-spot, 180-degree reversal of a previously held, public, position. Moreover, contrary to the expected performance in the Entman/Gross model (that journalists tend to be faithful to government sources they need), the paper that increasingly challenged Nifong was the local one (the N&O), not the national one (the Times), even though the Times, presumably, had no need to cultivate a permanent journalistic relationship with the Durham DA’s office.

Or take a passage, discussing the DNA evidence, describing a “second test on the accuser’s fingernails that had a match with the third player indicted.” Of course, no such “match” existed. The discredited Dr. Brian Meehan claimed that Dave Evans’ DNA, along with the DNA of two percent of all the males in the United States, couldn’t be excluded as a possible match, even though the State Lab had made no such judgment, using the same sample.

Or take a more subtle form of bias: Gross and Entman’s decision to reference by name, in the footnotes, the falsely accused Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann, even as they declined to identify Crystal Mangum. When asked why the duo pursued this strategy, Entman replied, “We didn't make a conscious decision not to name her. We probably should have.”

This sympathy for Mangum appears to have carried over into some of Gross and Entman’s coding decisions. Take, for instance, the following paragraph:

The damaging nature of certain keywords such as “single mother” and “stripper” must also be considered in any calculation of the balance between coverage of the defendants and coverage of the accuser. And this is a good example of the complexity of trying to decipher the polysemic nature of the coverage and its effects. It is unclear, for example, whether denunciations of the lacrosse players as hooligans caused any more damage to their reputations—no matter how subjectively painful these characterizations may have been to the players and their families—than being labeled as an unmarried mother and stripper damaged the reputation and credibility of the accuser.

There’s only one problem with this argument: Mangum was, in fact, an unmarried mother whose sole source of income came from stripping (or prostitution). The media, obviously, couldn’t falsely describe Mangum as married, nor could journalists falsely claim that she had another profession—say, computer programming. The accused lacrosse players, on the other hand, were not “hooligans,” unless the word is defined to apply to any college student who ever engaged in underage drinking or attended a tasteless spring break party—which would render the epithet all but meaningless.

Or take the following passage:

There is some support for the claim that early coverage contained information that reinforced impressions of Duke lacrosse players as spoiled, privileged, and loutish. There are references to prior misdemeanor charges, quotes from neighbors and professors, and discussions of the team’s collective reputation that can be characterized as undermining the individual defendants’ reputations . . . Although our analysis does not comprehensively evaluate this dimension of the coverage, some suggestive evidence comes from a search for the terms “record,” “criminal,” “violat[-e, -ing, -ion, -or, -ed],” or “assault” . . . Viewing this particular dimension as a frame contest, the score would be eight to forty against the defendants. On the other side, however, the news also offered many positive character witnesses testifying to the decency of these young men and relatively few testimonials to the character of the accuser. [emphasis added]

Again, the media can’t produce items wholly out of thin air: the fact that virtually no one who knew Mangum, including her fellow students at NCCU, had anything positive to say about her meant that journalists couldn’t offer positive testimonials to Mangum’s character. (From the start of the case, the NCCU campus paper, the Khanna period at the N&O, and national magazines like Vanity Fair tried to find people to say good things about Mangum.) The inability of most people in the media to find anyone willing to praise Mangum doesn’t explain data containing far more references to the players’ (minor) alcohol-related arrests than to Mangum’s arrest for robbery and trying to run over a police officer.

Indeed, even as the duo faults the media for not using the case to explore the more general problems of the criminal justice system, Entman and Gross essentially give a pass to the faculty “activists” and civil rights groups that might have been expected to have advanced such an argument at the time. “The apparent story of privileged whites victimizing a black woman,” they write, “fit larger cultural narratives, making it almost inevitable that third parties would insert themselves into the struggle over media framing. The use of this high-visibility case as a platform for advancing more-general political agendas is also nothing unusual and, leaving aside the particulars of the case, is not even undesirable. After all, we are constantly being told that the United States enjoys a vigorous marketplace of ideas, so there is nothing wrong with spokespersons for various ideological points of view seizing on big news stories to promote their political interpretations and preferences. What was obviously problematic in this case was that these spokespersons tended to treat the defendants as guilty and used that conclusion as a basis for their larger political arguments about white racism and privilege. The weak factual basis of this particular case does not in itself logically preclude the possibility that their arguments to the more general points were valid. [emphasis added] A large body of evidence supports the view that white privilege and white racism do continue to oppress African Americans, particularly poorer African Americans. And there is a sound basis in this particular instance for suggesting that Duke University is a relative bastion of white privilege in a city where many working-class whites, blacks, and Latinos struggle to make ends meet and to receive adequate educations, job opportunities, health care, and other privileges that most Duke students (and professors) take for granted. In the context of increasing income- and wealth inequality nationally, and of continued black–white disparities across an array of indicators, the Duke lacrosse story, as it first seemed to be, was a reasonably compelling symbol.”

Perhaps I’m naïve, but it seems to me that when a preconceived worldview causes someone to erroneously rush to judgment and make highly public, moralized condemnations of innocent people, it’s time to ask what faults in that preconceived worldview caused such a misjudgment. Yet there’s no evidence that any of the Group of 88 (or similarly-inclined figures in the media) have engaged in any such critical self-reflection.


At its heart, though, the fundamental problem with the Gross/Entman article comes in its pedagogical approach: in the lacrosse case—an instance in which, ultimately, there were not “two sides” to the story—statistical analysis can obscure as much as it illuminates. Take the example of Duff Wilson’s August 25, 2006 New York Times article. According to Entman, “The stories were coded at the paragraph level: 23 grafs coded as containing info suggesting guilt only, 26 coded not guilty only and 14 coded as both being present in the paragraph. This may appear more balanced than it would using a qualitative approach, but that's what the data say. Nonetheless, there's no disputing that such balance is problematic given that it appeared long past the point at which there should have been much credence to not guilty claims. However this piece was exceptional in this respect, not typical, as our data reveal.”

Recall that this nearly 6000-word, front-page, article:

  • contained four outright errors of fact, each of which made the players look “more guilty”;
  • purported to have examined the transcript of the photo ID lineup, but didn’t mention that Mangum had positively identified at least two people who weren’t in Durham the night of the party, or any of the other inconsistencies in the session, mentioning instead only that she correctly identified the lacrosse player who paid her, the only correct ID in the entire session;
  • did not mention the fact that Nifong was facing a challenger in the Nov. election, and desperately needed an overwhelming black vote to prevail;
  • did not mention that Jim Coleman (a figure with impeccable credentials on issues of race) had publicly branded Nifong unethical;
  • did not mention how the police photos didn’t show bruising of Mangum, despite leading the article with Sgt. Mark Gottlieb’s “notes,” which purported to recall bruising at the photo session;
  • and, perhaps most important, saw its central thesis—“While there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury”—deemed false in a subsequent public announcement from the state’s Attorney General.

The fact that, in the Entman/Gross coding system, this article is classified as stressing more the players’ likely innocence suggests that the coding system doesn’t help us much in analyzing the media’s response to the case.

This coding system, alas, leads Gross and Entman to offer the following conclusion: “Interestingly, The New York Times, which received substantial criticism for its purportedly pro-Nifong and anti-accused coverage, actually more disproportionately favored ‘not guilty’ inferences than the other sources . . . Certainly these figures do not portray a media homogeneously attacking the lacrosse players.”

Even Times executive editor Bill Keller and Times sports editor Tom Jolly aren’t making such claims; both have apologized for the paper’s downplaying the evidence that supported innocence. In this respect, Gross and Entman have positioned themselves as more royalist than the King, minimizing errors in coverage that the paper’s editors no longer defend.


In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a historian of Congress, a topic dominated by political scientists, most of whom employ the kind of quantitative analysis used in this article by Entman and Gross. In the course of writing three books on Congress and foreign policy (two published by Harvard University Press, one by Cambridge University Press), I have found that quantitative poli-sci literature on Congress obscures as much as it illuminates. So in general terms, I’d be unfavorably inclined toward this article’s research approach.

That said, I’m disinclined, for the reasons presented above, to adopt the thesis presented by Entman and Gross. To conclude with a question directly related to the article’s thesis: virtually everyone closely involved in the case—from Nifong on one side to the defense attorneys on the other—believed that the Times and the N&O offered dramatically differing portraits of what occurred in Durham. What does it say about the merits of the Entman/Gross coding system that their model assigns comparable scores to the two papers?