Monday, September 21, 2009

From the Newsdesk

Two issues in the news over the past week have brought to mind lessons of the lacrosse case.

The first, of course, came at Hofstra, where a freshman student named Danmell Ndonye falsely accused five men of raping her. Four of the men were arrested, solely on the basis of Ndonye’s claims; the only one of the four who was a Hofstra student was immediately suspended by the university.

The falsely accused men were saved by technology: one of them had recorded the episode with his cell-phone camera, thereby proving that Ndonye was lying. One of the suspects admitted, “It didn't look good for us. I thought we would do time.” Imagine this case without the existence of a cell-phone video capability—or the lacrosse case without cell-phone camera (which established a timeline), cell-phone triangulation technology (which showed Collin Finnerty wasn’t at the house when the “crime” allegedly occurred), or bank ATM videos (which showed Reade Seligmann wasn’t at the house when the “crime” allegedly occurred).

Sadly, this case seems to offer a lesson for those intent on self-protection under Duke’s new, draconian sexual assault code. Since the code requires evidence of consent at each stage of the intercourse process (“Conduct will be considered ‘without consent’ if no clear consent, verbal or nonverbal, is given”), and since even if consent is given a student can nonetheless be found guilty (“Real or perceived power differentials between individuals may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion” [emphases added]), a written contract indicating consent at each stage of the process could be challenged (on the grounds that it was “unintentionally” “coercive”). Of course, videotaping acts of intercourse is—to put it mildly—in terrible taste. But as long as Duke’s code maintains its current wording, there would seem to be little alternative.

On another front: the New York Times covered the accuser’s recantation in an article penned by Anahad O’Connor. O’Connor’s article shielded Ndonye’s name, yet included the names and ages of the four men she falsely accused. Even assuming that a rationale exists for shielding the names of false accusers (which is quite a stretch in and of itself), what possible rationale could exist for not reporting the name of the false accuser while simultaneously reporting the names of the people she falsely accused? I e-mailed O’Connor for comment, but have not received a reply; if I do, I will post it.


Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the murder of a Yale graduate student, the New Republic reminded us of the fate of James Van de Velde, the Yale lecturer deemed a suspect (but never accused, and almost certainly innocent) in the 1998 murder of Suzanne Jovin.

Van de Velde, who had been a popular lecturer (whose courses dealt with more “traditional” topics out of favor with the then-dean of faculty, Richard Brodhead). Van de Velde had been questioned by police, but had not received any media attention—until the day before spring term 1999 classes, when he received a letter from Brodhead informing him that he would be removed from the classroom for the pending term.

Here is how James Bennet, writing in the New York Times Magazine, described the next day’s events:

The next day, students showed up for one of Van de Velde's classes to find a terse notice of its cancellation on the blackboard. In a statement, Yale noted that it presumed Van de Velde innocent, but that the New Haven Police had informed the University that he was "in a pool of suspects in the murder. "Under these circumstances," it continued, "it is inevitable that his classroom presence would be accompanied by continuing speculation about events outside the classroom that would constitute a major distraction for students and impair their educational experience."

The police confirmed Yale's statement, and for the media this was a bugler's call. Van de Velde's telephone and doorbell rang, he said, from 6:30 in the morning until 11 at night. He took to sleeping on a friend's floor.

Brodhead assured Bennet that he believed “the presumption of innocence is not a trivial thing.”



Anonymous said...

KC -- My daughter (and their families), who live in eastern Long Island, were visiting us for the High Holydays, and one of them brought with her the Long Island edition of Newsday from Friday, September 18. I had occasion to notice the paper's headline: The Hofstra Case, Why Her Story Changed. While I had heard something about the rape accusation, I hadn't paid much attention to it. Thus, when I saw the headline it did catch my attention (because it sounded vaguely like the Duke/Durham case, although, as we all know, Mangum has yet to recant). I proceeded to read some of the stories about the case, and what I found most interesting, which is the point you make about other news publications: the names and pictures of four of the five accused are splashed all over the paper. As for women who falsely accused them, not even her name, let alone her picture, is to be found anywhere in any of the Newsday articles.

Then there was Joyce Brown's column on page 3 (Tough questions and lessons learned). After the very first "question" I gave up on her. In it she put all the onus of the incident on the men. She stated, "The men did nothing illegal, but that doesn't make the behavior any less despicable." Well, what about the women involved? Was her behavior any less despicable? Of course, I suppose in Joyce Brown's world it's always the man (or men) never the woman, and by leaving her unidentified she lets her off scott-free.

Jack in Silver Spring

Dan Weber said...

what possible rationale could exist for not reporting the name of the false accuser while simultaneously reporting the names of the people she falsely accused?

I can think of a good justification: to correct for previous stories that identified them by name.

If Bob Smith was an accused rapist, and we found out that the accuser recanted, then explicitly identifying Bob Smith helps to clear his name.

Now, this raises the distinct point of Bob Smith's having been identified in the first place, and there are good arguments to be made that he should not have been.

But once someone is identified as a rape suspect, later spelling out the fact that all charges are dropped and the accuser recanted seems good.

Debrah said...

"O’Connor’s article shielded Ndonye’s name, yet included the names and ages of the four men she falsely accused."


This practice really has to end.

Why doesn't someone in the media protest this archaic method?

Given Brodhead's impotent and damaging history, his mishandling of the Lacrosse Hoax is certainly in character.

Anonymous said...

Haunches 85:

THe Van de Velde case is instructive in understanding Brodhead's poor decision making during the Duke lacrosse debacle. In both cases, Brodhead ruthlessly threw people associated with the University under the bus for public consumption. Why would he do that? Because both Duke and Yale are sited in locations with reputations for being (at best) unfriendly and (at worst) outright dangerous. His goal in both instances was to protect the reputation of the University, and the underlying facts and people's lives were irrelevant. The Van de Velde case had an additional lurking danger for Yale: 5 years before Jovin's murder, a Yale lacrosse player (!) had been killed. Yale had just started recovering Iin terms of applications and yield) from that murder when the Jovin murder happened. It was critical for Brodhead to establish that it was a lunatic associated with Yale rather than random New Haven violence. Similarly, during the Duke lacrosse debacle, Brodhead worked overtime to paint his own students as racist, violent rapists rather than admit the school was surrounded by opportunists and cutthroats. Cutting the players loose and making wrong and inflammatory statements about Duke students sent a clear and unmistakeable message: the problem was an internal Duke cancer, which it excised, and not a surrounding community problem that will not get better.

Do not underestimate how cynical Brodhead is, nor overestimate his abilities. He will say and do absolutely anything to advance what he peceives to be his own self interest. By the same token, I recall screaming at my TV during hte 60 Minutes interview to get him out of there because he came across as a panicked schoolboy in way over his head. In the lacrosse case, he was exposed because the allegations against his students were so stupid and refutable. He has no business being in charge of anyone or anything, and why the Trustees continue to support him is a source of great mystery to the alumni base.

Anonymous said...

Hi KC,

You are spot on, as usual.

I am glad the truth came out so quickly.

However, I don't think it fair to compare these guys with the Duke lacrosse accused. If the Duke players had behaved the way the Hofstra guys behaved, I bet somebody would be in jail, and Nifong would still be an attorney.

I disagree with those who think the newspapers should publish the 18 year old accuser's name (and picture). I also don't think the papers should have published the accused guys names.

The media shows its hypocrisy in publishing the names of the accused and not the false accuser. However, given their ages (and the ubiquity of the internet), I don't think the solution is to publish more names.

Didn't we used to treat young folks, especially troubled young folks, with a bit more compassion? Give their frontal lobes some time to become fully developed?


jamil hussein said...

Somebody should send this article with a note to Wendy Murphy (CC every Women's Studies Depts:)

Women DO lie about rape.

Anonymous said...

Yes they do lie but that does not mean that women are not raped and frequently tortured and killed by the rapist. I think it is awful to compare these guys, who indulged in group sex with an 18 year old freshmen,to the Lax Team who I cannot believe the Team would have have so little respect for themselves to engage in this behavior.
KC, you are a Professor and see freshmen all the time. Are they gullible, uncertain and trying to please. What do you think of these guys? Are they victims?

A nony mouse said...

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, Dr. Johnson.

This is surely a wonderful opportunity

a lesson for those intent on self-protection under Duke’s new, draconian sexual assault code. Since the code requires evidence of consent at each stage of the intercourse process

Now, young men will feel no shame in placing hidden vid-cams in their rooms to record their 'interactions' with their honeys of the moment.

The 'evidence of consent' can always be sold to porn sites, regardless of whether the man is charged with violation of the sexual conduct code.

Anonymous said...

Where would Brodhead rank on a list of the worst major university presidents? I would think he'd be in line for one of the big trophies and not one of the small ones.

Anonymous said...

If people want to have group sex-for whatever reasons-and all are of legal age what is despicable about that? There is so much puritanism in these stories.There also seems to be an implication that women do not like to participate in sex as much as men do and that male interest in sex is morally bad in many ways.The notion of men having so much power is hardly even questioned anymore.I had boys at my feet as a young girl.A besotted boy will do anything for you. Women's studies has become totally twisted.

No Justice, No Peace said...

Not prosecuting the false accusers is beyond deplorable, even evil, and has significant historic precedent.

"...what was important in 1941 was the decision, embodied in orders issued by Heydrich in May and confirmed...exempting from punishment members...who carried them our..." - "Modern Times", Paul Johnson

Appropriately Johnson's writing is located in Chapter Eleven titled, "The Watershed Year".

Intentionally not enforcing existing laws and formally exempting others from those laws achieves the same evil ends.

As history showed, "Their lieutentants obeyed blindly or in a pathetic terror, and the vast nations over which they ruled seem to have had no choice but to stumble in their wake towards mutual destruction. We have here the very opposite of historical determinism - the apotheosis of the single autocrat. Thus it is, when the moral restraints of religion and tradition, hierarchy and precedent, are removed, the power to suspend or unleash catastrophic events does not devolve on the impersonal benevolence of the masses but falls into the hands of men who are isolated by the very totality of their evil natures."

Johnson reminds us of why we must de-construct the de-constructionists, and their abettors and strive toward the truth. Anything less leads to some very, very bad things.

William L. Anderson said...

What I find interesting -- very interesting -- is that few news outlets really have used the "they were no angels" line on the five falsely-accused men, but they spared no invective going after Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans.

I remember how vicious the attacks were -- including the Burness missive in Newsday -- even after it was obvious that the charges were a lie. Now, you tell me what is more disgusting, a team hiring a couple of strippers or five young men engaging in what essentially was a gangbang of an 18-year-old female.

One of the accused said he had a wonderful girlfriend. It would seem to me that this "wonderful girlfriend" might have something to say about her boyfriend.

Yet, we have heard time after time that the lacrosse players were a bunch of animals who got what they deserved. Now, tell me what conduct on behalf of those players invited rape charges, and brutal rape charges at that. We heard that Collin was a "gay basher" and Houston Baker claimed that the "lacrosse team beat up a gay man."

At least no one has lied in the press about these five young men in the Hofstra case; in the situation of the lacrosse players, all the press did was to lie.

On another note, I see that Duke University has adopted the very same police regarding sex (or, to be more accurate, consensual sex) that was in place at the institution formerly known as Antioch College. Yes, Duke now is channeling Antioch, or perhaps the leadership at that university wants to be Antioch With An Endowment (which seems to be shrinking rapidly).

So, that will be Brodhead and Steel's legacy: they turned Duke into Antioch College. Not exactly a proud heritage.

Anonymous said...

To Haunches 85

I agree wholeheartedly with your diagnosis of Dickie Brodhead as being completely self-serving. I disagree that his motives were to "protect the images of Yale and Duke". While my disagreement is, obviously, a minor point, I subscribe no motives to Brodhead that are directed toward the greater good of either university or anyone other than himself. His statement justifying his removal of the Yale professor is as definitionally arrogant as his statements regardiung the firing of the Duke lacrosse coach. Brodhead actually believes that, because of his intellect, he is omnipotent and much wiser than all other humans. Therefore, he believes he can, and has an obligation to, predict future actions of those he considers to be lesser in intellect (by his definition, that would be the rest of the univers). He then "boldly" acts to prevent all lesser beings from the perils he predicts in his twisted mind.

This man is deranged, and he must be removed before he ruins Duke University.

My fear is that Dickie Brodhead has so badly injured Duke that recovery is impossible.

Anonymous said...

From Anahad Oconnor:
"Actually, Rich, the reason the article did not contain the accuser's name is really quite simple. At the time the article was published, the authorities had yet to release it. It only came out at a later time. If you're upset, you should direct your outrage at the district attorney's office."

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 10.13:

Is this quote actually from O'Connor? If so, could you forward it to me? (

Chris Halkides said...

Here is a link to an article by Andrew Cohen (hard to believe) that touches upon the problems of so much pretrial publicity in the present Yale case, in which Raymond Clark is the alleged killer:


Anonymous said...

KC and folks:
Two semi interesting notes.

1. My kid just entered law school (the world needs more, right?) and I found on the school's website outlines of each of the courses for the fall term. One syllabus has what appears to be 1/3 of the course with a title: "Nifong."

It might be interesting to see how many law schools are incorporating, or not, the examples/lessons of the
Duke/Nifong debacle. And of course, the particular spin.

2. Burris has a column (whole back page) in the most recent Chronicle of Higher Education on Study Abroad. Not very insightful nor groundbreaking.