[Update below, 6.18pm, 5-20.]
Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook, has a research profile (“Gender, Sexuality, Masculinity, Political and Social Movements”) that would put him at home with the race/class/gender-obsessed Group of 88. Kimmel’s personal website describes him as “among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today”; his most recent book is Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.
Kimmel is no stranger to the Duke campus. In 2009, he gave a campus lecture on “Adventures in Guyland.” The lecture’s two co-sponsors were the Women’s Center, formerly headed by Prof. Robyn (“Campus Enforcer”) Wiegman and the Kenan Institute of Ethics, formerly headed by Prof. Kathy (“speciesism”) Rudy. Keep those connections in mind.
Yesterday, Kimmel penned an article for the Huffington Post offering the now-familiar meme that the killing of former UVA lacrosse player Yaerdley Love by former men’s lacrosse player George Huguely illustrates “lacrosse and the entitled elite male athlete.” Kimmel argued that “such guys [as Huguely] are the epitome of what I describe in my book Guyland as the ‘culture of entitlement.’ They think they can do anything they want and get away with it, and usually they’re right.”
Kimmel claimed that Huguely benefited from “a culture of protection” typical of lacrosse—“a bubble of class privilege, athletic status and a fraternal wagon-circling when things go wrong. If things go terribly wrong, the culture of protection -- including parents, coaches and alumni boosters -- hire high-priced lawyers who manage to get records expunged and witnesses to forget what they saw. Lacrosse’s bubble of protection is a bit different from that of football: It's a country-club entitlement, based more on class than athletic revenue.”
It’s difficult to generalize about an entire sport based on one incident, so Prof. Kimmel provided some additional examples to strengthen his thesis:
It was a bunch of lacrosse players from Glen Ridge (N.J.) High School who gang-raped a 14-year-old moderately retarded girl in 1989, and it was members of the Duke lacrosse team who were accused of raping a stripper hired for a team party. (Yes, yes, I know: The woman who accused them turned out to be a lying schemer; the guys were exonerated. But it's interesting that their friends and classmates found the story utterly plausible, as they told countless reporters. And the team did, after all, hire strippers for their team party in violation of all team and university rules.)
The paragraph above contains three unambiguous statements of fact:
(1) That the Duke lacrosse captains violated “all team and university rules” when they hired strippers;
(2) That “friends and classmates” [emphasis added] of the Duke lacrosse players told “countless” reporters that they considered at least one version of false accuser Crystal Mangum’s tale “utterly plausible”;
(3) That high school lacrosse players raped a mentally challenged 14-year-old girl in New Jersey.
None of these statements has any basis in reality.
(1) The hiring of strippers for a spring break party was a tasteless and stupid decision. But, like the roughly 20 Duke student groups or teams that apparently hired strippers in the 2005-6 academic year, the lacrosse captains violated no existing Duke rules in their decision.
I e-mailed Prof. Kimmel to ask for a citation to even one “team and university rule” (much less “all” rules) the lacrosse players allegedly violated. He replied, “I remembered reading that the then-president said something of that kind when it happened.” He provided no citation for the article in which he encountered this statement. No record of such an assertion by President Richard Brodhead exists.
(2) It’s quite true that a small minority of Duke students—and a more significant contingent of faculty (about 88 of them, to be precise)—not only found Mangum’s tall tales “utterly plausible” but made public, guilt-presuming statements on the case. Indeed, I’m not at all surprised that upon his invited visits to Duke, Prof. Kimmel discovered that figures such as Profs. Weigman and Rudy presumed guilt. But faulting the lacrosse players for dozens of the Duke professors setting aside the academy’s traditional fealty to due process in a rush to judgment would be a little like officials in the Celtics-Magic series calling a foul on Paul Pierce for getting his head in the way of Dwight Howard’s elbow.
In any event, and more significant: just who were the friends of the lacrosse players who told countless reporters that they found at least one version of Mangum’s fabrications (presumably not the one in which she claimed to have been raped while suspended in mid-air) utterly plausible? I asked Prof. Kimmel to provide me with some citations to corroborate his claim.
He declined to do so, and merely said, “I suspect that I relied on those reports from faculty [emphasis added] and the students I read about in the same media outlets as any other New Yorker, plus a couple of lecture trips to Duke in the past three or four years, during which time I spoke to quite a few students and faculty [emphasis added] who said they weren’t at all surprised.”
Nothing in the above reply, of course, relates to Prof. Kimmel’s remark about “friends” of the lacrosse players doing anything, much less telling “countless” reporters that they had found Mangum’s story “utterly plausible.” His presenting as fact that the players’ friends found Mangum’s story “utterly plausible” is highly misleading at best and unprofessionally inaccurate at worst.
(3) As part of his effort to discuss the particularly unappealing characteristics of lacrosse players, even in comparison to football players, Prof. Kimmel also mentioned a 1989 gang-rape by lacrosse players—of a mentally-challenged 14 year-old-girl—in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
Some might argue that this example was a bit of a stretch—two crimes, committed 20 years apart, hardly confirm the allegedly pernicious culture of a sport.
In any event, and much more significant: the Glen Ridge rape wasn’t committed by lacrosse players. It was committed by football players. (The victim was 17, not 14.) And in 1989, at the time of the rape, Glen Ridge High School didn’t even have a lacrosse program.
In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Prof. Kimmel if there was another 1989 Glen Ridge gang rape, this one committed by lacrosse players, to which he referred. He did not reply.
Doubtless Prof. Kimmel did not write an essay for a high-profile publication intentionally littered with factually inaccurate or wildly misleading statements—statements he based on recollections of unspecified articles that a “New Yorker” might have read four years ago. Indeed, I have little doubt that Prof. Kimmel actually believed that what he wrote was true. In the groupthink atmosphere that dominates so many humanities and social science departments, “facts” that conform to the prevailing narrative, such as those Prof. Kimmel presented in the quoted paragraph, get “remembered” in ideologically convenient ways, to such an extent that a prominent professor could pen an article for one of the highest-trafficked news sites on the internet and not even bother to check his assertions.
For those in the reality-based community, however, such cavalier disregard of facts is nothing short of extraordinary, and is fatal to the credibility of the author.
[Update: Prof. Kimmel e-mails to say that the factual errors have been removed from his item as it was cross-posted, and that these errors will also be removed from the HuffPost item. (As of this writing, the HuffPost item has not been changed.) No notation exists in the cross-posted item that an edit to remove factual inaccuracies has occurred.]