The Duke Rape Hoax: A Look into the Abyss

Dorothy Rabinowitz on how a politically ambitious prosecutor, the “progressive” academic community, and the liberal media combined in an attempt to destroy the lives of three Duke University students.

An excerpt:

No one could have imagined, when the story began last March, how soon and completely that bit of shorthand–“the Duke University scandal”–would be transformed.

Scarcely 10 months after, the term is now almost universally understood as a reference to the operations of Michael Nifong, the Durham County district attorney …, whose abandonment of all semblance of concern about the merits of the rape and assault accusations against three Duke University students was obvious from the first. So was his abundant confidence while broadcasting comments on the guilt of the accused. He seemed a man immune to concerns for appearances as he raced about expounding on the case against the accused lacrosse players and calling them hooligans. He would hear nothing by way of concern from Duke administrators (seven months into this affair, the university president did find an opportunity to mention the accused students’ right to a presumption of innocence)–and certainly none from the politically progressive quarters of the Duke faculty who lent their names to an impassioned ad thanking everyone who had come out to march in protest against the rape and assault of the exotic dancer; 88 faculty members signed it, among them such Duke luminaries as Alice Kaplan, author and student of fascism, and Frank Lentricchia, literary critic.

Unable to take part in the ad signing, Duke’s administrators nonetheless found ways to identify with its spirit. Soon after news broke of the Duke athletes’ alleged brutish sex crimes against a black woman, the administration undertook a well-publicized campaign targeting the entire lacrosse team for offensive behavior. President Richard Brodhead was, it seems, barely able to recover from the shock of his discovery that a party thrown by male jocks could occasion heavy drinking. And related loutish behavior. Not to mention a stripper. Lacrosse was suspended for the season, and the team coach, Mike Pressler, was shortly after forced to resign. Mr. Brodhead in due course reinstated the team, but on probation, and with conditions, i.e., no underage drinking and disorderly conduct, and no harassment. The members of other Duke organizations, sports teams included, which had sponsored parties where alcohol flowed freely and which had featured strippers–an informal count reveals at least 20 known to have done so–no doubt understood that they faced no similar disciplinary action. The reason for the moral-cleansing program devised for the lacrosse team could scarcely have been missed.

Mr. Nifong’s confidence that he had nothing to fear from establishment opinion or from the leaders of the great university as he bounded about making hash of the rules of justice–prime among them the accused’s right to a presumption of innocence–proved justified. And might have remained so longer but for the catastrophic effects of the accuser’s unraveling stories.

…In his role of avenger of a young black woman alleged to have been brutalized by white males, Mr. Nifong proceeded with … assurance. His was a crusade. Who but enemies of the good would object? Confronted with hard questions about his evidence, whether from the defense or the press, Mr. Nifong answered that these challenges were all designed to intimidate the rape victim. More than once the DA suggested, as criticisms of his case multiplied, that he was himself a victim of the press. He could have had little complaint, last summer, about the New York Times, which provided its own reports on the Duke story. It maintained that that the DA’s case had been distorted by the defense and that there was, in fact, a body of evidence that supported the decision to take the case to a jury. A close study of this work’s wondrous logic, and of its body of evidence, should provide rich material for students of the press for years to come.

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