Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. By Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson. Illustrated. 420 pp. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. $26.95.
For more than a year, the Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault Case has been a major story in law and higher education, and for those of us who took an interest in its early days, it is the Gift That Keeps On Giving. (For some, like disgraced former prosecutor Michael B. Nifong, it is the Gift That Keeps On Taking, but they have no one but themselves to blame for that state of affairs.)
Earlier this month, the Definitive Book on the case written by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor hit the bookstands, and for those willing to buy it, let me say it is worth the read. Other than the attorneys representing the players, perhaps no one knows more about the facts of this sorry episode of injustice than do Johnson and Taylor, and they have put together a good narrative that tells the story as well as anyone could do it.
If it were just a story about dishonest prosecutors and police officers who tried to frame three innocent young men for a rape that never occurred, that would be good enough. However, what made the Duke case so explosive was that it combined the "perfect storm" of prosecutorial abuse, the politics of race, and the political correctness of elite higher education, and from that raw sewage came a precarious situation in which three young men remained in peril of their very lives until North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped charges in April, 2007, and openly proclaimed the students "innocent" of those accusations.
Before going farther, I will point out that I have written more than 60 articles on this case in various forums, including this one, plus thousands of blog posts in which I identify myself. Furthermore, Johnson and Taylor quote two of my articles from Lew Rockwell’s web page, something I believe I need to disclose to readers. Thus, one can accuse me of being less-than-objective, and that is a burden I gladly carry.
I also have met with both men, and had many email exchanges with them, so I am not reviewing the work of strangers, but rather two people I am happy to call friends, and two people for whom I have tremendous respect. Moreover, I already was familiar with the work of both writers long before the Duke case came about, and both had excellent reputations.
In fact, when Johnson and Taylor began early to weigh in on this fiasco (they started their missives in April, 2006, at about the time I published my first article in which I pointed out the case was a lie), I was glad to see their by-lines, as I knew I could trust their judgment. I remembered the infamous tenure battle that K.C. had at Brooklyn College, where he pretty much had outperformed the rest of the history faculty put together, but because he is "only" a liberal Democrat instead of a Marxist, the others ganged up to try to deny him tenure.
Unfortunately for his leftist colleagues, Johnson already knew the basics of academic street fighting and soon put his critics to a rout. The Harvard-trained scholar (where he helped to mentor Dr. Thomas Woods) already was ready to take on the members of the Duke University faculty who rushed to judgment with the infamous "We’re Listening" advertisement in the Duke Chronicle on April 6, 2006. Being familiar both with Johnson and the absurdities of the folk Marxism of the so-called “Group of 88,” I knew it would not be a fair fight, as not one of those miscreants was able to mix it up intellectually with Johnson, and ultimately the faux intellectuals resorted to insults and all of the other lowbrow tactics that academics use when they have run out of ideas. (In this situation, a number of the faculty members there really had no ideas in the first place, and Johnson recognized that fact.)
While Johnson was gleefully engaging the faux academics at Duke (and elsewhere), Taylor, a trained lawyer and journalist, took aim at the press and specifically his former employer, the New York Times. When the Times came out with perhaps the worst story of any journalistic outfit on August 25, 2006, a number of us had at the "newspaper of record."
However, Taylor took the very best shot of all, a piece in Slate that had the Times editorial room running for cover. Wrote Taylor:
The Times still seems bent on advancing its race-sex-class ideological agenda, even at the cost of ruining the lives of three young men who it has reason to know are very probably innocent. This at a time when many other true believers in the rape charge, such as feminist law professor Susan Estrich, have at last seen through the prosecution’s fog of lies and distortions.
He went on:
The Wilson-Glater piece highlights every superficially incriminating piece of evidence in the case, selectively omits important exculpatory evidence, and reports hotly disputed statements by not-very-credible police officers and the mentally unstable accuser as if they were established facts. With comical credulity, it features as its centerpiece a leaked, transparently contrived, 33-page police sergeant’s memo that seeks to paper over some of the most obvious holes in the prosecution’s evidence.
By the time that Taylor simultaneously was done with flaying both the story and the leadership of the Times, the newspaper had lost all credibility in covering the case. Soon afterward, the paper assigned one of its top investigative reporters to help cover for the real damage that its reporters and columnists had done to the paper’s reputation. The Newspaper of Walter Duranty, Jayson Blair, and Judith Miller now could proudly point to its Duke Lacrosse Case coverage as yet another example of ideology and state worship that has characterized the Times’ news coverage for many years.
The important thing strategically about Taylor’s Slate piece was that it eliminated the Times as an engine that was pushing the prosecution of this bogus case. From that point on, the leftist mainstream journalists that had been partly responsible for this bogus case getting its legs either changed their outlook or simply disappeared from the story altogether, leaving it up to the hard left outlets like Counterpunch to carry the water for Nifong and his allies.
Johnson and Taylor also make short work of Nifong and his case, which he needed to win a close election. One of the most important contributions Johnson made to the case was his finding out that in February, 2006, when Nifong seemed almost sure to lose the May primary to Freda Black — a prosecutor he had fired when he was appointed to his post by the North Carolina governor a year before — Nifong loaned his campaign $30,000, a hefty sum from a person who clearly was not a wealthy man. (None of the full-time journalists covering this campaign had found that one piece of evidence that would play a large role in Nifong’s later disbarment.)
It also turned out that Nifong had told his campaign manager, Jackie Brown, that he wanted to win so he could receive a larger pension, $15,000 a year, to be exact. Thus, once again we see the "banality of evil," in that Nifong did what he had to do in order to increase his pension by an amount that he will lose in legal fees many times over.
Lest anyone think that this case was pushed by an "overzealous" prosecutor who simply was seeking justice for a poor, black prostitute who was brutalized by some rich white boys, the following incident will put it all into perspective, and Johnson and Taylor do a very good job here. On March 27, 2006, Police Investigator Ben Himan told Nifong that the case pretty much was at a dead end, with no real evidence existing of a rape. Nifong replied, "We’re f**ked."
However, instead of packing it in right there, Nifong went out that day and began an out-an-out media barrage in which he would tell one news organization after another that there "definitely" was a rape, and that it was racially motivated. In other words, after he realized that he did not have a case, Nifong at that point began his media offensive.
The timing here is important, as Nifong claimed in his response to charges filed by the North Carolina State Bar (which would take away his law license) that his public statements to the press and to citizens’ groups were done because of a "lack of experience" with his job. As the authors point out, Nifong’s media offensive was done precisely to create the impression he had a strong case when, in fact, he had no case. This was not an act of inexperience; instead, it was an exercise in legal cynicism. However cynical Nifong’s actions were, they did work in that he secured two indictments on April 17, 2006, against two people, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, who were not even at the party when the alleged rape took place, and could prove it.
(Nifong secured another indictment in mid-May against David Evans, who told a press conference that day that the case was based upon "fantastic lies." Nifong’s indictment of Seligmann and Finnerty resulted in his winning the early May primary. His indictment of Evans ultimately would lead to the destruction of his career, as Evans’ attorney, Brad Bannon, managed to uncover the DNA information that Nifong illegally withheld from the defense.)
Much of the book deals with the Duke faculty members, the infamous "G88," that gave the green light to Nifong that he could go after the lacrosse players. And it was not just the radical faculty members who joined in the chorus of condemnation. The "Triangle" area of North Carolina, with its close proximities of universities, is notorious for its political radicalism, and the hard-left protest machinery that is eternally well-oiled kicked into gear. This was the "perfect case," and just because the facts did not add up — and the DNA tests came back completely negative — did not discourage these radicals from their morally-satisfying protests and accusations. Even if the truth was otherwise, they did not want to hear it.
The Duke campus exploded with protests led by faculty, radical students, and employees like "sustainability coordinator" Sam Hummel, who coordinated much of the attack machinery. Not only did the protesters openly call for the "castration" of the lacrosse players, but they effectively succeeded in driving many of them away from the university altogether, with some athletes having to sleep in their cars, endure death threats, and generally live in fear because police and prosecutors were lying and faculty, administration, and staff at Duke chose to believe the lies, despite the fact that they were obviously outlandish.
Johnson and Taylor are especially disdainful of Duke’s administration and its weak-kneed president, Richard Brodhead. They lay out just how craven the university administration really was, beginning with the “don’t tell your parents” meeting that the administration scheduled with the players and the police — the players supposedly "represented" by a lawyer who had been disciplined more than once by the state bar. (When parents did hear of the meeting to be scheduled, they immediately demanded that their sons have competent legal representation, and the meeting was cancelled.)
There is much more to dislike from the Duke administration, and Johnson and Taylor lay out in detail the dishonest way in which Brodhead and his top administrators carried out their activities. While giving lip service to "due process," Brodhead made sure that the players would stand condemned, first by firing the coach and cancelling the season, to his infamous "whatever they did was bad enough" remarks to the Durham Chamber of Commerce.
In other words, if the reader wishes to find out what happened from the first day of the case until its absolute deadline in the summer of 2007, then read Until Proven Innocent. That being said, I will lay out some of my disagreements with Johnson and Taylor, although I will emphasize again that I highly recommend this book.
I do wish they had recognized the influence of some people who were left out in this book, mainly the black conservative blogger La Shawn Barber, and the libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy. I especially owe Wendy a debt because she was the person who most influenced me to jump into this fight, and she and I had a large number of email exchanges during this affair, and we even appeared together on one radio talk show. Both women were unyielding in their stand in this case, and I am sure that they helped knock more than one doubter off the fence with their relentless pursuit of the truth.
Johnson and Taylor are political liberals, and people who tend to believe in reform. They are rightly shocked by the lies of the police and prosecutors, the dishonesty of Duke’s administration, the rush-to-judgment coverage of the mainstream media, and the indecent and pathetic performance of a large portion of Duke’s radical faculty. However, as liberals, they tend to believe that such actions can be corrected or at least diverted through political and legal reform. In other words, while they observed at ground level an incredible amount of cynicism, they themselves still tend to keep their reformist nature.
However, I see what happened as something fundamental in modern higher education and the law. Political Correctness is not simply something dreamed up by "liberal wackos" (as Taylor likes to call them), but rather is something that has permeated all of higher education, law, and politics. The modern PC regime is fundamentally opposed to a classical liberal way of life. It is hostile to free exchange in a marketplace, free speech and free exchange of ideas, and everything in Western law that has developed since the Middle Ages.
Indeed, it is totalitarian in nature, and it cannot co-exist with a legal and social order that is Liberal in nature. It makes all of life subject to political thinking, and political thinking based upon raw power. We saw all of that on tap in this prosecution. There was no evidence, only accusations that came from a drug-addicted, mentally-ill prostitute who constantly changed the fundamental nature of her stories, and who could offer nothing in evidence except her ever-changing words. There was nothing believable about what Crystal Gail Mangum told the police, yet the original lies ultimately metastasized into what was known as the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.
That did not happen simply because police and prosecutors chose to lie. It happened because Political Correctness does not demand truth. Indeed, PC thought is the antithesis of truth, and the PC True Believer will tell anyone who will listen that truth is what one creates in order to achieve political outcomes. Face it, those who did the most to spread the lies really did not care whether or not three Duke lacrosse players raped Crystal Gail Mangum in the bathroom of the house at 610 Buchanan Boulevard. As Newsweek’s Evan Thomas put it, "The narrative was correct, but the facts were wrong." Indeed, that is a most cynical statement, and since Thomas was one of those journalists who worked overtime to tell the world that Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans were three vicious rapists, his words tell more than even he would understand.
The Duke Lacrosse Case was a front on yet another battlefield in a war between a liberal order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of the individual and recognizes that the state is an entity that must be both feared and controlled and an order in which the overpowering state is everything, and that political power is something to be worshipped and sought after. In this battle, the "good guys" won, but only because some well-placed and influential people recognized that the thing called "truth" really does matter. It was and is a satisfying victory, but it is only one small victory against some very, very dark forces.
September 18, 2007
William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.