Precisely Tuned to the Outrage Frequency

Abigail Thernstrom reviews a new book on the Duke rape case.

Her conclusion:

…The [North Carolina] attorney general–after an agonizing yearlong investigation, culminating in [Durham district attorney] Nifong’s removal from the case–determined in April 2007 that [the accused rapists] Messrs. Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann were innocent of all charges. Nothing–absolutely nothing–had happened at the party. The players’ innocence had been apparent to their own attorneys from the outset. It should have been apparent to Mr. Nifong, too, given all the exculpatory details he knew. But he was desperate to win a close primary election and needed black votes, so he proceeded with an unjustified prosecution and publicly vilified innocent young men.

In this fundamental injustice, he was aided and abetted by others in Durham. Richard Brodhead, the president of Duke, condemned the lacrosse players as if they had already been found guilty, demanded the resignation of their coach and studiously ignored the mounting evidence that [the accuser’s] charge was false. He was clearly terrified of the racial and gender activists on his own faculty. Houston Baker, a noted professor of English, called the lacrosse players “white, violent, drunken men veritably given license to rape,” men who could “claim innocence . . . safe under the cover of silent whiteness.” Protesters on campus and in the city itself waved “castrate” banners, put up “wanted” posters and threatened the physical safety of the lacrosse players.

The vitriolic rhetoric of the faculty and Durham’s “progressive” community–including the local chapter of the NAACP–helped to intensify the scandal and stoke the media fires. The New York Times’ coverage was particularly egregious… It ran dozens of prominent stories and “analysis” articles trying to plumb the pathologies of the lacrosse players and of a campus culture that allowed swaggering white males to prey on poor, defenseless young black women. As one shrewd Times alumnus later wrote: “You couldn’t invent a story so precisely tuned to the outrage frequency of the modern, metropolitan, bien pensant journalist.” Such Nifong allies–unlike the district attorney himself–paid no price for their shocking indifference to the truth.

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