Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
WGBH’s current lineup includes a program called “Greater Boston,” which
examines the region's top news and newsmakers. Hosted by Emily Rooney, Greater Boston, combines feature reports and in–studio interviews, providing a fresh approach to and in-depth analysis of timely news, politics, and public affairs issues of local interest.
A team of contributors provides commentary on topics ranging from breaking news to community concerns, politics to media, education to the environment. The week ends with Friday’s Beat the Press, a lively discussion of what the media covered that week, and why.
Last Friday’s “Beat the Press” featured a roundtable discussion of the “
The panel had an intelligent discussion of the article, noting the holes in
Around six minutes into the segment (which is available in streaming video, and so can only be linked to at the start of the broadcast—scroll around three-quarters of the way through), former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara brought up the media’s handling of the Duke case. The following exchange occurred:
McNamara: We’re not going to get an answer [about
] until we have the facts. I mean, let’s remember the Duke case. [Putting herself in the mindset of reporters from spring 2006]: It is easy enough to speculate what might have happened, but something did happen, let’s find out what it was before we rush to judgment— Jena
Rooney: We don’t know what happened in the Duke case. We never will.
Mark Jurkowitz [panelist]: But history sort of rendered its verdict on that one.
Rooney: Something happened.
The conversation then returned to the
The Attorney General's report produced a minute-by-minute time line asserting that nothing happened. The Disciplinary Hearings Committee chairman, Lane Williamson, asserted at Mike Nifong’s ethics trial that the evidence in the case showed that nothing happened. Indeed, Nifong himself has now admitted that nothing happened.
Rooney, it appears, chose to sit on a major story. In asserting that “we don’t know what happened in the Duke case. We never will . . . something happened,” Rooney was implying that she either:
(a) was privy to information that the Attorney General and the State Bar did not possess; or
(b) that the Attorney General and the State Bar had engaged in a cover-up to prevent the “truth” from being known.
After the program, I e-mailed WGBH for comment on Rooney’s assertions, and asked if she would be willing to share her evidence publicly. I did not receive a reply; if one arrives, I will post it.
It’s worth noting that Rooney is a well-regarded journalist, hardly a Wendy Murphy-style ideologue. She also has a personal connection to the news program whose prize-winning work exposed Mike Nifong's misconduct to the country, 60 Minutes. (Rooney's father is 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney.) Her remarks, therefore, were especially disturbing.
Rooney's comments serve as only the latest example of the “something happened” crusade. Recall, for instance, the stunning immediate post-exoneration assertion of another figure of considerable national prestige, sports columnist John Feinstein:
Since “everything but rape” included the other false charges (sexual assault and kidnapping), Feinstein, like Rooney, was asserting that the Attorney General and the State Bar had engaged in some sort of cover-up to prevent the “truth” from coming out.
In the end, nothing can prevent figures such as Feinstein or Rooney from allowing personal biases, prejudices, or simple journalistic sloppiness to override the facts. But the continued willingness of prominent media personalities to engage in the “something happened” charade has direct bearing on the three players’ civil suit against
For instance, would Feinstein, Rooney, and like-minded figures be able to engage in their ill-founded speculation if:
- DPD Cpl. David Addison had not repeatedly made false statements about the evidence in the case;
- DPD official spokesperson Kammie Michael had not, falsely, stated on March 28, 2006 that the DPD knew for certain that Kim Roberts had not made the first 911 call;
- Nifong had not engaged in his slanderous pre-primary publicity crusade;
- Nifong and Mark Gottlieb had not conspired to violate the DPD’s official policy on lineups and run a third, suspects-only, lineup;
- Gottlieb’s superiors in the DPD had not stood aside as the lineup was implemented, and than rationalized the decision thereafter;
- Gottlieb had not given false testimony to the grand jury, to the effect that Mangum gave consistent stories after her initial encounter with SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy on the night of March 14th;
- Dr. Brian Meehan had not agreed to produce a report that specifically excluded mention of the multiple unidentified males’ DNA found in Crystal Mangum’s rape kit;
- DSI owner Richard Clark had not sat idly by as Meehan prepared his report, which violated both state law and DSI company policy;
- Nifong had not repeatedly lied to the court about the scope and content of his conversations with Meehan.
Without this pattern of misconduct by Nifong, DPD employees, and DSI, there would have been no case—and thus no possibility for the likes of Rooney or Feinstein to continue to float their theories.
In an interview last week, former Duke and current
Only a small fraction of the public accepting the Rooney/Feinstein version of events would mean that millions of people would occupy the “something happened” contingent. The responsibility for that outcome is Durham’s and Durham’s alone.Hap tip: T.N.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
A first-rate editorial from the Chronicle on John Burness’ retirement; as usual, the editorial page hits all the right points. Elliot Wolf offers his personal reflections on the op-ed page. Both columns are worth reading in full.
Several Group of 88 members are back in the news, providing concrete examples what Group defender Prasad Kasibhatla has termed the “mainstream voices of reason” on Duke’s campus.
In a column criticizing Bill Cosby’s critique of black parental culture, Karla Holloway seems to exhibit a belief in “free speech for me, not for thee”: “Instead of addressing how racial biases have hindered our children’s potential,” she writes, “Cosby’s exhortations solidify the association between race and achievement. I think it is time for us to hear less from
Meanwhile, in a Duke News Service press release noticed by Jon Ham at Right Angles, AAAS professor Anne-Marie Makhulu speaks about her area of scholarly expertise—witchcraft:
“When people say they believe in magical forces, they believe in magic that can make the world equal and just in circumstances where it’s not,” Makhulu said. For some, “witchcraft is about recuperating what is ethical, just and moral.”
“We need enchantment in our lives because our world has become disenchanted,” Makhulu said. “We need faith that promises something bigger and better than what we have.”
Of course, Makhulu has every right to her political belief that “our world has become disenchanted.” But professors need to be wary of allowing their political agenda to shape how they approach their area of scholarly expertise.
And, from the archives, a DIW reader noted a 2001 profile of Houston Baker—a figure who, wrote Emily Eakin of the New York Times, had “a full-time assistant, a plush office and the ear of deans and administrators. And yet, as Mr. Baker sees it, in some ways he has more in common with the black inmates in
Finally, some interesting comments from And Smith provided a poignant, if accurate, summary: “I think a small part of the public understands (the seriousness of what happened) and those closest to the university know. But most people don’t understand the impact. Those guys had to leave school. They had to postpone their educations and not play sports. Reade Seligmann’s a good friend of mine. His girlfriend was at school, but he wasn’t allowed to be around campus. Anytime somebody’s accused of something there’s always going to be some doubt, regardless of what the outcome is. They’re always going to be known as the accused lacrosse players, and it’s something they’ll have to carry around a long time.
And Smith provided a poignant, if accurate, summary: “I think a small part of the public understands (the seriousness of what happened) and those closest to the university know. But most people don’t understand the impact. Those guys had to leave school. They had to postpone their educations and not play sports. Reade Seligmann’s a good friend of mine. His girlfriend was at school, but he wasn’t allowed to be around campus. Anytime somebody’s accused of something there’s always going to be some doubt, regardless of what the outcome is. They’re always going to be known as the accused lacrosse players, and it’s something they’ll have to carry around a long time.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Last week, Group of 88 stalwart and current Academic Council chairperson Paula McClain spoke to the University Faculty meeting. After framing events at Duke in terms of the history of
At first glance, the comparison between Duke and
In this respect, McClain might have been better served had she chosen to quote not Mandela but F.W. De Klerk; indeed, her current situation resembles that of De Klerk in the early 1990s. The last president of apartheid
In other matters, Bill Anderson provides what I fear is a prescient analysis on why a criminal investigation of the Nifong/DPD/DSI misconduct looks increasingly unlikely.
Baldo has his latest very funny Liestoppers cartoon.
An excellent response to Charles Piot's Transforming Anthropology "representative" scholarly publication. Piot, meanwhile, continues (in his capacity as chairman of the African-American Studies Department) to suppress the "Shut Up and Teach" video upon which his talk was based.
Durham received an extension, and will not file its reply to the players' civil suit until Dec. 10.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson recently observed, "The prosecutors and police are not the people the public wants to see investigated. But I think with the abuses we've found with evidence, sometimes they need to be investigate." After events in
Finally, my colleague Stuart Taylor will be speaking at Duke on Nov. 2, courtesy of Duke Students for an Ethical Duke. Information is available here. Stuart has offered to forgo a speech and instead conduct a debate around the themes of the book. So far, Bill Chafe hasn't seized the opportunity to advance his neo-Prohibitionist agenda. No word, either, from Wahneema Lubiano and why it's her "privilege" to use Duke's dollars to engage in political activism. Nothing, likewise, from Prasad Kasibthala on how the Group of 88 represent "mainstream voices of reason" in the academy.
Monday, October 22, 2007
This announcement has just arrived, from John Burness:
It's been a long time in the making, but I wanted you to know that we are announcing today that I will be retiring at the end of this academic year. I told President Brodhead when I was renewed a few years ago that I'd give him two more years. Little did I realize that lacrosse would emerge with a half-life that extends seemingly forever.
Since I've been at Duke, I've had perhaps the best and most interesting job in higher education and truly outstanding colleagues to work with. This place has been on a roll and it's been a joy to be in the middle of it. But I'm coming up on my 63rd birthday, and after 17 years of 70+-hour work weeks at Duke-accentuated by the intensity of the saga of the past year-and-a-half-it's surely time for me to slow down and get a new life. I plan to lose weight and do some writing on issues on issues in higher education-not necessarily in that order. Anne and I plan to stay in Durham, and I'm looking forward to continuing to be active in issues that matter to me.
I had a massage this morning, and my masseuse told me she had never seen me so relaxed. Must be a sign.
Over the past 18 months, there were, obviously, some University-related issues on which I disagreed with Burness. That said, he always treated me professionally. He was courteous in answering any and all questions that I had, on or off the record. And his deep knowledge of both Duke's institutional history and the Duke-Durham relationship was helpful to me in trying to understand some of the cross-currents in this case.
Lacrosse issues aside, Burness enjoys a very favorable reputation among people who write about higher education issues. His understanding of how the academy operates and his general preference for transparency are qualities not all that common in University publicity chiefs.
In writing about the case, one valuable Duke initiative that bore the Burness trademark was the on-line archive of presidential statements and articles/editorials. I'd like to say that any university involved in a case like the lacrosse affair would have maintained such a website. But, as anyone who follows higher education knows, in fact few universities would have done so--the normal (and erroneous) reaction is to do everything possible to shield the institution from any outside scrutiny.
Burness' retirement presents an opportunity for Duke to have a new public face--ideally, someone with a background in issues related to due process or students' rights. I'd like to think that the administration will take advantage.
In recent weeks, a handful of nooses have appeared on college campuses. Diverse recently asked some African-American Studies professors for their interpretations of this disturbing development. Two Group of 88 members were interviewed.
Lee Baker—as often has occurred—offered a thoughtful reply, noting that the anonymity of the internet seemed to encourage hate speech. He pointed to one (non-lacrosse) vile e-mail he had received.
Then there was Mark Anthony ("thugniggaintellectual") Neal:
Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, an associate professor of Black Popular Culture at
The magazine cited two colleges (
Last Tuesday, Duke announced that Donna Lisker, currently director of the Women’s Center, would become associate dean of undergraduate education. According to the Chronicle, Lisker will focus on “coordinating both the academic and social strains of undergraduate life.”
Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki said that he pushed for the appointment because “I wanted to make sure I have diverse perspectives. Donna brings a very different perspective.”
Lisker was among the most frequently quoted Duke officials in articles about the lacrosse case. In the days and weeks following Crystal Mangum’s false allegations, she gave interviews to the Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the (Toronto) National Post, and WUNC; she also gave several interviews to the New York Times.
In an e-mail to me, Lisker explained her approach to the case in the following way:
I chose not to sign the faculty statement that appeared in the Chronicle because I directed the Women’s Center, an administrative unit with the mission of serving all students. I tried never to make a public statement that would make any student feel unwelcome in my center. At a time of high emotion, we wanted to be a place for dialogue -- and I think we were successful in that.
In the weeks following the initial accusations many reporters wanted to talk to the person at Duke responsible for sexual assault support services and education. That was me, and I agreed to speak only in generalities about how sexual violence typically affects a college campus. I did not speak about the lacrosse case with any specificity; indeed, I could not, as I was not involved. And it’s not good practice for a women’s center director to speak to the media about specific student cases, as it compromises the expectation of confidentiality for the next student who might come in. I was asked repeatedly if we had student survivors of sexual violence who would speak to the media. I responded negatively (and with some incredulity) every time. My principal goal, and that of my staff, was to protect our students, both those currently connected to the Center and those who might be in the future.
The first sentence above is a commendable one—a stark contrast to the choice made by Group of 88’er Joseph Harris, who signed the statement even though he directed the University Writing Program.
Nonetheless, as I noted in response to Lisker, it seemed that her statements frequently strayed from the general to the case-specific. In the Baltimore Sun, March 30, 2006, Lisker appeared to question the value of the presumption of innocence:
“I just don’t know,” Donna Lisker, the director of Duke Women’s Center, said when asked if protesters would now feel they are being heard. “Innocent until proven guilty is a critical presumption. But these are such serious charges.”
In the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 2006, Lisker appeared to presume guilt:
“Something like this takes away that sense of security” and provokes “fear and anger.”
After the DNA tests came back negative, Lisker expressed an unusual perspective on the case, to the National Post, on April 12, 1006:
“I’m of two minds,” [Lisker] told the National Post of her take on the inconclusive [?!] DNA results. “On the one hand, I’d be absolutely delighted if these allegations were proven untrue because I wouldn’t wish that [sexual assault] on anyone.”
“But as a women’s advocate, I am also concerned about the spectre of a possible false report, because people underreport sexual assault as it is,” Ms. Lisker said. “I don’t want it to deter anyone from reporting.”
By May 2, 2006—after charges already had been filed against Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty—Lisker presumed guilt on WUNC radio. Note the absence of “alleged” in her discussion of the “assault.”
It’s worth reiterating that this interview occurred well after the heady days of Mike Nifong’s pre-primary publicity crusade. By this point, defense attorneys—for weeks, and publicly—had denied that any “assault” of any kind occurred. Indeed, the day before Lisker spoke of “the assault,” Kirk Osborn had released a minute-by-minute alibi for Reade Seligmann.
After another panelist suggested that contemporary
I disagree with social conservatives on nearly all cultural issues. But there’s something off-putting about a university administrator suggesting that her ideological opponents are more likely to commit rapes—even if, as she hastened to add, most cultural conservatives were not prospective criminals. Imagine the outrage if Duke had appointed as associate dean a conservative who had publicly asserted that feminists were more likely to file false rape reports.
Shortly before the start of the 2007 lacrosse season, Lisker gave an interview to Newsday, where she continued to take an uncompromising stance against the team:
I’m sure there will be cheering for the team and a lot of fans, but there’s something weird about that. I don’t want to paint all the players with one brush, but there is still the issue of their behavior we know to be true: They had a party, hired women to strip, the women were (verbally) threatened and there was underage drinking. Can we talk about that part of it?
Of course, the unqualified assertion that “the women were (verbally) threatened” was hardly “know[n] to be true”—at any point in the case. That a Duke administrator publicly made such a claim as late as February 25, 2007 (the date of Lisker’s Newsday interview) is troubling.
Two of the three undeniably “known” items—a party, underage drinking—occur every weekend in every college in the country other than institutions of the religious right (whose values Lisker doesn’t support), raising questions about why Lisker would single out the lacrosse players’ party. The third—the hiring of strippers—was done not by the “players,” as Lisker suggested, but by the captains, who had repeatedly apologized for having done so, both privately and publicly. That record, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Group of 88, all but one of whom either refused to apologize or who retracted their apologies after privately doing so.
As to Lisker’s question: a strong argument exists that the players’ party was the most “talked about” college party in U.S. history
On March 14, 2007, Lisker returned to the criminal case, about which she would only concede that “it’s hard to know” the truth. She did, however, lash out at the alleged mistreatment of
Lisker didn’t say how defense attorneys should have appropriately responded to a woman whose repeated lies threatened to put three innocent Duke students in jail for 30 years. She explained via e-mail:
I never presumed guilt in this case, and said over and over that we had to honor due process as a foundational principle of our justice system. That statement rarely made it into the articles when I was quoted (reporters wanted me to say something more controversial), but I said it nonetheless.
One of the issues I did talk about was the effect the case had on survivors of sexual violence in the Duke community. In the early weeks, when the case was all over the media, we saw a sharp increase in the number of students seeking help for past incidents of sexual violence. The extensive media coverage of the case acted as a trigger and we were inundated with students in crisis. We were glad to be there for them during a difficult time.
I am absolutely delighted that the charges in this case proved to be unfounded; though these comments were never printed, I told several reporters that I would have hated to believe our students capable of such behavior. I did worry, and still do, that one of the after effects of this case -- or any case of false accusation -- is that it becomes harder for a student who has been the victim of a legitimate crime to speak up. They fear they will be met with skepticism and disbelief. That’s the context of my NY Times quote.
I’ve no doubt that Lisker is correct in noting that after any false accusation, “it becomes harder for a student who has been the victim of a legitimate crime to speak up.” Yet the blame for such a development belongs to the person who made the false allegation (Mangum) and the people who exploited it (Nifong, the Group of 88, talking heads such as Wendy Murphy or Nancy Grace, journalists such as Bob Ashley), not those who fought to expose Mangum’s lies. One wonders what behavior by defense attorneys Duke’s new associate dean for undergraduate education would have considered acceptable.
More broadly, Lisker’s comment raises questions about what case she was actually observing. For months, the mainstream media inaccurately portrayed Mangum in overly positive terms—as an honors student and working mother who had reluctantly embraced stripping because she wanted to spend more time with her children. The reality, of course, was far different.
By the end of spring, Lisker had backed off her hard line of February, telling the New York Times that she hoped the lacrosse team did well in the 2007 national tournament, since, “It’s been a trying year for Duke, and I welcome anything that contributes to healing in our community.”
As Group of 88’er Paula McClain made clear in her address last week, a call for “healing” without any accountability for those who behaved inappropriately is standard fare these days at Duke.
Lisker’s is the first administrative appointment announced since President Brodhead apologized for some faculty members’ “ill-judged” and “divisive” statements on the case. Many of Lisker’s statements could have been predicted, given her position at Duke and her long-held beliefs. And, as is clear in her e-mails to me, Lisker gives no indication of the malevolence toward some Duke students under which so many in the Group of 88 appear to operate. If the administration had made any concrete policy steps showing it had come to grips with what caused the faculty’s (and its own) rush to judgment in the case, perhaps the Lisker appointment would have passed without controversy.
But such a development has not occurred. Since many of Lisker’s statements about the case have not stood the test of time, the appointment, therefore, raises a question of management: assuming Brodhead meant what he said in his apology, why would a University president want administrators whose statements and actions were “ill-judged”? After all, administrators are paid to make good judgments.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
[A few updates on this post: (1) Piot, who also chairs the AAAS Department, continues to suppress the videotape of the February “Shut Up and Teach” forum upon which his article was based.
(2) The Transforming Anthropology editors admitted to one DIW reader that it was not peer-reviewed before publication, a remarkable policy for a scholarly journal. Even so, there would seem to be no justification for the editors not ensuring that the article was factually accurate.*
(3) Piot has declined to respond to repeated requests as to why he did not reveal that one professor his article defended was, in fact, his partner, Anne Allison. Most people would doubt the objectivity of a figure who, in covertly defending his partner, appeared to allow his emotions to get the best of him: “[Using] a rhetorical strategy characteristic not only of right-wing media in this country (from Limbaugh to O'Reilly) but also of totalitarian thought and authoritarian regimes the world over . . . Johnson's . . . characterizations are not only consistently wide of the mark but deploy surveillance tactics that the right-wing Horowitz machine has canonized and that recall nothing so much as the campus witch hunts of the McCarthy era. ”]
“Clarifying” professor Charles Piot has published his attack on the blog—promised in his appearance at the February “Shut Up and Teach” forum, in which he said that critics of the Group of 88 should “shut up and teach”—in the most recent issue of Transforming Anthropology.
In reading this post, keep in mind: above all else, the Piot article gives a sense of what is considered a scholarly publication in his field.
The “Piot Principles,” as laid out in his article:
- Ignore contemporaneous documents, if doing so will advance the metanarrative.
- Don’t mention conflicts of interest.
- Even into spring 2007, at least one Duke professor continued to use class time for questionable non-academic activities.
- In a scholarly publication, authors should avoid citations when making their most difficult-to-sustain points.
1.) Ignore contemporaneous documents, if doing so will advance the metanarrative.
a.) Reflecting the new party line, Piot claimed that the “intent” of Group members “was never to speak to the events at the lacrosse party.” Indeed, he asserted, “the ad in question was never about the lacrosse players nor about the party they hosted in spring 2006.” He cited instead—incredibly—Hurricane Katrina as a possible motivation.
Unfortunately for Piot, Wahneema Lubiano, the author of the ad, said exactly the opposite—in the cover e-mail inviting professors to sign the ad. Wrote she, “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident.” There was no mention to broader concerns with racism or sexism, and no mention of Katrina. It’s hard to get much clearer than Lubiano’s statement.
How did Piot—who, as a member of the AAAS and Cultural Anthropology departments, certainly received Lubiano’s mass e-mail—deal with this document, which disproves his thesis?
His article did not mention the Lubiano e-mail.
b.) Piot conceded that the Group of 88 ad did, in fact, say, “To the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” According to Piot, however, the 88 signatories (who collectively committed themselves to “turning up the volume”) were under the impression that readers would not believe that the ad thanked the protesters who had received the most media attention—the potbangers and those who blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters:
It is important to note that there were multiple campus protests going on at the time. The ones that the ad referred to . . . were never the “potbanger” protests that Johnson cites over and over again, but rather those taking place at the open mike outside the
. Allen Building
Such a claim, of course, strains credulity. It asserts that 88 Duke faculty members—who included more than a dozen professors of English or Literature—were incapable of writing a sentence stating that they only referred to one specific protest; and months later, when many of the same people signed the “clarifying” ad, remained incapable of doing so. It also ignores that at least two Group members (Susan Thorne and Alberto Moreiras) admitted, in writing, that the wording of the ad did thank all of the anti-lacrosse protesters.
Nonetheless, set aside logic and common sense, and accept Piot’s words at face value. Here are some photos of the “open mike” protesters who Piot now claims were the only protesters that the Group was thanking:
And here is Emily Rotberg’s description of the open-mike event from the Chronicle:
“This is a matter of white privilege,” senior Tiana Mack said. “When I read what was going on, it made me think about Jim Crow.... If these three culprits get away with it, it will prove to me that Duke does not honor the black woman’s body.”
Some demonstrators wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Men’s Lacrosse? Not fine by me” and “Men’s Lax, Come Clean.”
Senior Jay McKenna alluded to the widespread belief that the lacrosse players are not fully cooperating with the investigation.
“The fact that this wall of silence has been constructed only adds to the mystery, which adds to the speculation,” he said, noting that he knows members of the team.
To sum up: According to Piot, in writing “to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard,”:
- the Group of 88 was not thanking protesters who carried “castrate” banners and blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters.
- the Group of 88 was thanking protesters who wore T-shirts reading “Men’s Lax Come Clean”; posted writings condemning the players’ presumption of innocence; and asserted, “If these three culprits get away with it, it will prove to me that Duke does not honor the black woman’s body.”
That’s the best after-the-fact rationalization he could offer?
2.) Don’t mention conflicts of interest.
Piot’s discussion of the Campus Culture Initiative provides some insight into the integrity of his approach. Here’s how his article described the blog’s critique of the CCI:
A constant refrain [of the blog] is that the committee recommendations—which were unusually mild—were railroaded by the presence of three faculty members who were ad signatories. In advancing this claim, Johnson bizarrely assumes that three people could influence the opinions of a committee of twenty-four.
Since even President Brodhead—who Piot, in February, described as a supporter of the Group of 88's statement—all but dismissed the CCI’s recommendations, it seems that Piot is in the minority in terming the CCI’s agenda as “unusually mild.”
Piot’s passage also left out two rather important items. First, though he elected, for reasons he failed to explain, to conceal their names, the three professors referenced (Peter Wood, Karla Holloway, and Anne Allison) were not simply members of the CCI—they were chairs or co-chairs of three of the CCI’s four subgroups. They ran the athletics, race, and gender subgroups. (Piot erroneously stated that Peter Wood was a Group of 88 member. Wood was not, and I never made such a claim.)
The blog focused less on the influence of the trio than on what it said about the CCI’s agenda that anti-lacrosse extremists were assigned to chair or co-chair three of its four sub-groups. Indeed, the Chronicle made a similar point, referencing Wood, Allison, and Holloway: “The composition of the CCI's steering committee has hurt its credibility . . . Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture.” Beyond this point, however, Piot’s insinuation that subcommittee chairs had no more power than any other member of the committee is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst.
Even more striking, however, Piot chose not to mention that one of the three CCI figures whose performance his article defended was his partner, Anne Allison. (Here’s a passage from Allison’s Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan: “It was my partner, Charlie Piot, who first suggested this book, and he has been tireless in offering assistance and encouragement of all kinds throughout its production. It is he who wrapped its everyday labors within joys both profound and mundane. I have no words to express my feelings and thanks.”) DIW posts critiqued not only Anne Allison’s CCI work but also her spring 2007 course, “Group of 88 for Credit.”
Perhaps Piot would have penned the exact same article had he never met Anne Allison. But basic ethics—if not a formal conflict-of-interest policy—require disclosure of such a deeply personal connection, so readers can determine whether the author has an insurmountable bias.
I e-mailed Piot to ask whether he believed an author should disclose when writing about the conduct of his current or former partner. He did not reply. I also e-mailed the journal’s editors to ask about their policy on such matters. They, too, did not reply.
3.) Even into spring 2007, at least one Duke professor continued to use class time for questionable non-academic activities.
The assertion in Piot’s article that the Group’s ad—a statement published in the “most easily seen venue on campus” signed by 88 faculty members and (allegedly, if, as we know now, improperly) endorsed by five academic departments—had no impact reflected another element of the Group defenders’ new party line: It “was a virtual nonevent on campus.”
Piot noted but essentially dismissed the fact that the ad provoked negative commentary, within a week of its appearance, from a Chronicle editorial and op-ed. He didn’t even mention that the lacrosse players noticed the ad immediately and expressed deep dismay about it. From the summer 2006 Chronicle article:
“This is a social disaster.”
That was the tagline of a paid advertisement signed by 88 members of the Duke faculty that appeared in the April 6 issue of The Chronicle.
“I think that all of us kind of checked over our teachers to make sure they weren’t on that list,” [Bo] Carrington said.
Such evidence, obviously, undermines Piot’s preferred storyline. As with the Lubiano e-mail announcing the ad’s existence, Piot simply ignored it.
Piot also—falsely—implied that defense lawyers became concerned about the Group’s ad only after coverage of it appeared on the blog. The reverse, in fact, is true: as revealed in interviews with both several players and nearly every defense attorney involved in the case, the lawyers noticed the ad as soon as it appeared in April 2006, and were horrified that such a statement could have been published by Duke professors. Piot did not contact any defense attorneys to obtain the truth about his theory.
But perhaps most disturbing were the following items from Piot’s article:
No student of the over 100 I polled knew about the existence of the blogs, let alone had heard the name KC Johnson . . . Another colleague asked a 110-person Intro class in spring 2007, a class filled with athletes and lacrosse players, how many had heard of the Group of 88, and only three raised their hands.
Piot did not reveal where he conducted his poll; perhaps he camped out on
a.) What was the academic rationale for a Duke faculty member using class time to conduct a survey about the Group of 88?
b.) How did the unnamed professor frame the question? Given Carrington’s statement above, did the unnamed professor understand that using class time to ask a question about the Group’s statement could be considered applying inappropriate pressure on the lacrosse players and other athletes in his/her class?
c.) Were the students informed that their responses would be used as data in a scholarly publication? If so, did they sign informed consent forms—as Institutional Review Board guidelines would seem to require?
d.) As early as January 2007—according to Group member Cathy Davidson—the statement’s signatories understood that they might be subject to a civil suit from lacrosse players. (Davidson admitted, “I have had lawyers look at the original [Group] ad and ambiguity of the language could be made, in a court of law, to seem as if we are saying things against the lacrosse team.”) A claim that the ad had no impact might have been one line of defense in such a lawsuit. Did the unnamed professor inform his or her students that their responses might be used as evidence to defend the faculty in a civil suit filed by their fellow students?
I e-mailed Piot to ask him whether he or the unnamed professor had obtained informed consent forms from the 110 students. He did not reply. I also e-mailed the journal’s two editors, to ask if they had ascertained from Piot whether he had complied with IRB policies. They, too, did not reply.
4.) In a scholarly publication, authors should avoid citations when making their most difficult-to-sustain points.
Two Piot assertions were particularly remarkable in this regard.
a.) “To claim that a group of faculty whose intent was never to speak to the events at the lacrosse party [sic] was in some way responsible for a university’s, a town’s, and indeed an entire nation’s ‘rush to judgment’ speaks volumes about Johnson’s own ideological agenda.”
Piot’s citations for this statement: None.
In more than 1,000 posts totaling more than 870,000 words, the blog never made such a claim or even anything resembling such a claim. Indeed, the blog never discussed any linkage of any type between the Group’s activities and “an entire nation’s rush to judgment.”
In interviews (and, occasionally, in the blog) I discussed one possible linkage between the Group’s ad and events in Durham: that in spring 2006, in the crucial weeks before the D.A. primary, an undecided voter of good faith in Durham could easily have taken from their own professors denouncing the players a belief that Mike Nifong’s crusade was justified. But the blog never (in, again, more than 870,000 words) discussed any linkage between the Group’s activities and “a town’s . . . rush to judgment.”
That Piot spent so much effort attempting to disprove points that the blog never made raises questions about whether he even read the posts he cited elsewhere in his article. The blog (as reflected in its subtitle) focused on two interrelated, but distinct, questions:
- (1) What did it say about
’s legal culture that a prosecutor like Mike Nifong could construct a case on a tissue of massive procedural violations, and then sustain the case for months? Durham
- (2) What did it say about Duke’s academic culture that, ignoring the academy’s traditional role as defenders of due process, dozens of arts and sciences professors instead made statements condemning the victims of Nifong’s procedural abuses—even to the extent of issuing a full-page ad, paid for out of Duke funds, and allegedly (if, it turns out, falsely) endorsed by five academic departments?
Discussions of the Group of 88’s ad, obviously, have appeared in the blog’s attempts to answer the second question. To my knowledge, none of the myriad reviewers of either Until Proven Innocent or the blog—with the sole exception of Piot—have indicated any difficulty in understanding this point. That Piot failed to comprehend a point that every other reviewer easily discerned says considerably more about his competence than about mine.
b.) “The virulence and ad hominem nature of his attacks on Black females far exceeds that reserved for their White male counterparts.”
Piot’s citations for this statement: None.
In more than 1,000 posts totaling more than 870,000 words, the blog never engaged in such behavior. The blog criticized black female professors (Wahneema Lubiano, Karla Holloway). It criticized white male professors (Bill Chafe, Peter Wood, Alex Rosenberg). It criticized white female professors (Anne Allison, Cathy Davidson, Diane Nelson). It criticized black male professors (Mark Anthony Neal, Houston Baker, Maurice Wallace). It criticized Hispanic professors (Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Antonio Viego). It criticized mixed-race professors (Grant Farred). The common element in the critique was the professor’s position on issues relating to the lacrosse case and the race/class/gender trinity upon which the Group’s approach was based.
A follow-up question: Why did the journal’s editors not demand from Piot citations to support his unsubstantiated claims?
These are only the two most flagrant examples of Piot (without citation) inventing items that never appeared in the blog. He did so on more minor matters as well. For instance, the article accused the blog of “presuming that [Group members’] courses are designed to indoctrinate students with left-wing propaganda.” Piot provided no citation for his claim.
“Indoctrination” is a concern of some right-wing academic critics, especially David Horowitz. Yet, since Piot claims to have read the blog closely, he knows that I’m an Obama supporter who backs gay marriage and abortion rights. I’ve also (in, again, more than 870,000 words on the blog) never once expressed a concern with indoctrination. Indeed, Piot could have used the blog’s search engine for “indoctrinate” or “indoctrination” to find the one and only entry of the blog’s more than 1,000 entries that use the term. The post, from September 2006, chastised President Brodhead for using language similar to that of Horowitz to justify his handling of the lacrosse case. I considered such language beneath his status as an academic leader.
Why, then, did Piot assert that the blog had accused Duke faculty of attempting to “indoctrinate” students, when no evidence existed to substantiate his claim? And why did the Transforming Anthropology editors allow him to print the uncited allegation?
The remainder of Piot’s article displayed a similarly peculiar approach:
- As John in
pointed out, Piot demonstrated a Luddite’s understanding of how the comments section at a blog works—particularly a blog like DIW, which had more than 90,000 comments. Carolina
- Having compared me to an (unnamed) African dictator in his February talk, Piot retreated to U.S.-only examples for Transforming Anthropology: he contended that the blog recalls “nothing so much as the campus witch hunts of the McCarthy era.” For good measure, he added comparisons to Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, and David Horowitz. What behavior typifies this McCarthyite/O'Reilly/Limbaugh/FOX News/Horowitz attack on the Group of 88? “[Johnson] posts the titles of classes they are teaching and surveils their syllabi.” Astonishing.
- Piot fantastically asserted that my (a “White critic”) noting Mark Anthony Neal’s description of himself as “thugniggaintellectual”—which the Group member offered (in the University alumni magazine, no less!)—invoked “the aura of a racial epithet.”
- In a footnote, Piot stated that the official, departmental websites of Duke cannot be trusted on so basic an issue as faculty affiliation with the department. Website information, he suggested, needs to be verified personally with the department chair. This line of argument would be expected from a professor at a third-tier community college, which might lack funds for a complete website. To see it presented by a professor at a top-ten university is almost comical.
- Piot offered the following item—as another footnoted source: “As a colleague in the English Department commented: ‘If his reading of the ad is representative of his reading practices generally, KC Johnson would have failed Intro to
.’” What does it say about the values of Transforming Anthropology that it allows an author to offer anonymous ad hominem attacks as scholarly evidence? Reading
- Piot suggested that Group members didn’t need the CCI’s proposed Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative because “the classes of professors in the so-called group of 88 were overflowing.” Here are some figures on recent Group members’ enrollments, as opposed to total slots available: 7 of 40; 16 of 40; 9 of 17; 16 of 40; 18 of 30; 18 of 30; 4 of 15; 8 of 16; 9 of 40. Most people, I suspect, would not consider such figures overflowing.
- According to Piot, “Johnson has also suggested that the quotes in the original [Group of 88] ad were made up by the ad's author, Wahneema Lubiano.” As with so much in his article, Piot provided no citation for his allegation—perhaps because a blog search for “Lubiano” coupled with “made up,” “invented,” or any synonym of the term reveals, unsurprisingly, no matches. I did take note of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s uncontested report that “Wahneema H. Lubiano, an associate professor of literature and African and African-American studies who had been taking notes during the forum, volunteered to write the ad, using those notes and students’ comments from newspaper articles.”
- Piot complained about how other media (the Chronicle, ESPN) had allegedly misquoted Group members—as if such misquotings, which were not made by the blog, could be used to indict the quality of the blog. Indeed, it sometimes seemed as if Piot’s beef was as much with the mainstream media (the Chronicle, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, ESPN) as with the blog. In his version of reality, it seems, everyone got the story wrong except for the Group of 88.
- Piot went to great lengths attacking the blog for not immediately accepting at face value the Group’s claim of vile e-mails—overlooking the fact that Group members waited months before releasing any of these e-mails (a total of two, in his article, plus a phone message transcript), while they had described clearly innocent e-mails as “harassment.”
- Piot concluded his article by defending the perspective of—remarkably—Shadee Malaklou. He did so, even more oddly, in a passage where he conceded that I did not begin my involvement in this case as a reflexive defender of the lacrosse players or critic of the Brodhead administration. I have followed the evidence as I have learned more about the case; Piot, for reasons he never explained, seemed to view such behavior as a negative.
It goes without saying that no record exists of either Piot or his partner making any statements or taking any other public act to defend due process for all Duke students during the last 18 months.
Two items to conclude:
1.) The Piot article is the only evidence offered by Professor Prasad Kasibhatla to justify his recent claim that the “narrative put forward by critics like Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson” represented a “tragic rush to judgment” about the Duke faculty. In addition to being repeatedly contradicted by the documentary evidence, however, the Piot article went to press more than 100 days before UPI even appeared in print.
[Update, 3.25pm: I sent the post to Prof. Kasibhatla. His response: “I do not have any desire to read your blog further.”
Having expressed what some would consider a stunningly closed-minded attitude, he added that he would “continue my efforts to mobilize mainstream voices of reason within the Duke community.”]
2.) This article represents what passes for a scholarly publication in Piot’s field. Indeed, it is listed as a “representative publication” on Professor Piot’s CV.
*--modified for clarity. This statement strikes me as a distancing, but I don't want to distract from the main point, which is that the editors still had an obligation to ensure the factual accuracy of the piece.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
In a move that could define "gall," Mike Nifong is demanding that the state pay for his civil suit attorneys--even though he's being sued, in part, for behavior that led to his conviction on criminal contempt charges. The Rocky Mount Telegram--among the first papers in the state to editorialize against Nifong's conduct--editorializes that "state taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill in a civil case of someone who already has been found 'guilty' of misconduct and lying, two apparent elements that are key to the players' lawsuit."
[Update, 12.27ET: The AG's office has denied the Nifong request. WRAL reports, "In a letter sent to Nifong Thursday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley wrote that state law allows the Attorney General's Office to deny legal representation to state officials being sued for actions outside the scope of their official duties or actions that involved fraud, corruption or malice." The N&O has the full letter. Nifong's attorney responded that the DA was disappointed in the decision and noted, extraordinarily, "I don't know why I continue to expect people to do the right thing."]
John in Carolina urges Charles Piot to release the videotape of the "Shut Up and Teach" forum. If Piot really believes that Group of 88 members are great teachers, presumably a videotape of five Group members acting as public intellectuals would silence the Group's critics once and for all. So why does Piot continue to suppress the tape?
Lee Hamel ('62) produces a powerful op-ed in the Chronicle.
And Shreya Rao reveals in the Chronicle that DIW has spawned a spoof site.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The John Hope Franklin Institute is inviting Duke professors to apply for faculty fellowships for the 2008-2009 academic year. The six recipients will each receive a two-course workload reduction. The theme: “The Alternative Political Imaginaries.”
The co-directors: Group of 88 member Michael Hardt and Women’s Studies/”clarifying” professor Robyn Wiegman. Wiegman is best known for lobbing intellectually unsustainable allegations of racism against Steve Baldwin and for announcing that presuming the lacrosse players’ guilt wasn’t a “crime.”
The program’s wording is arrestingly blunt, even for the Group of 88 and their campus allies:
The humanities have come to be characterized in recent decades by an overarching concern for politics, from the politics of cultural practices and knowledge production to political issues more traditionally conceived, such as state power, social movements, public policy, and law. As a result, almost all humanities scholarship is now considered political in one sense or another, whether it names its political intention or not . . .
Although our investigation of alternative political imaginaries will be wide ranging, we have a specific investment in using this topic to rethink what we see as the predominant way in which humanities research approaches politics today, namely critique: the critique of commodity culture, representational practices, colonial thought, patriarchal structures, tyrannical regimes, racial hierarchies, sexual normativities, and so forth. Such critical practices generally seek to unmask domination and speak truth to power with the implicit belief that doing so will undermine and topple its control . . . We sense, however, that a search is already underway within the humanities for alternative political imaginaries that will enable producing not just different affects but different itineraries for political scholarship and action . . .
Fellowship proposals from Duke faculty members should include . . . your teaching goals and the ways in which your participation in the seminar might support your work in the classroom.
Over the past 18 months, evidence was rather scarce of the Group of 88 and their allies “speaking truth to power” in
How many Duke parents, alumni, or trustees are aware that the University’s humanities openly state that their goal is not instructing students in the traditional disciplines of the liberal arts, but instead engaging in political activism based on a “critique of commodity culture, representational practices, colonial thought, patriarchal structures, tyrannical regimes, racial hierarchies, sexual normativities, and so forth”?
Friday, October 12, 2007
Additional coverage from:
[Update, Sat., 10.13pm]: Also, the Chronicle discussion thread has an excellent "deconstruction" of the Piot article (on which I will be posting Monday), including several offerings from DIW commenters.
The journal in which Piot published his piece, Transforming Anthropology, has as its past editor Group of 88 member Lee Baker; its current co-editor is Penn professor Deborah Thomas, who previously taught in Duke’s Cultural Anthropology Department. (Sixty percent of the 2006 cultural anthropology department members signed the Group statement.) The journal describes itself as “the chief publication of the Association of Black Anthropologists.”
In the academy, a "forthcoming" publication normally has a precise definition: the manuscript has been completed and accepted by the press, and is in the publication process. Because academic presses sometimes are slow in publishing books, the process can sometimes take 15 or 18 months until the book finally appears.
This case already has featured one highly unusual definition of "forthcoming"--that of Group of 88 statement author Wahneema Lubiano, who has listed two books as "forthcoming" . . . since 1997. Now, another of the anti-lacrosse faculty appears to have adopted Lubiano's flexible definition.
Kerry Haynie recently distinguished himself when he attacked UPI--which, he admitted, he hadn't read. Last October, he sent Steve Baldwin a nasty e-mail after Baldwin criticized the Group of 88. And, when asked why he signed the "clarifying" letter, Haynie refused to give an explanation, responding instead, "Get a freaking life! Quote me."
Haynie came to Duke from Rutgers. Here's a line from his Rutgers website: "Professor Haynie's next book, Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks? Campaign Finance Reform and Minority Group Representation is under contract with Stanford University Press and is forthcoming in 2003."
By 2005, having been hired by Duke as a tenured associate professor on the basis of his Rutgers record, Haynie was no longer listing the book as forthcoming: "He is currently completing a book on campaign finance reform and minority group representation to be published by Stanford University Press." His CV listed the book as "under contract." Here's a line from Haynie's current Duke website: "K. Haynie (with Kathlen [sic] A. Bratton), Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks? Campaign Finance Reform and Minority Group Representation (forthcoming 2007), Stanford University Press." (Co-author Bratton--whose name Haynie's website misspells--only lists the book as "under contract.") And here's a line from this morning's Stanford University Press website (which "only list books that are currently in print or forthcoming") after searches done for "Haynie" and "Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks?": "No books matched your query." There's no doubt a contract for the book exists. Yet Haynie has been quite . . . flexible . . . over a four-year period, in publicly asserting that the book was actually completed. On another matter, a strong review for UPI from Thomas Sowell.
Here's a line from Haynie's current Duke website: "K. Haynie (with Kathlen [sic] A. Bratton), Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks? Campaign Finance Reform and Minority Group Representation (forthcoming 2007), Stanford University Press." (Co-author Bratton--whose name Haynie's website misspells--only lists the book as "under contract.")
And here's a line from this morning's Stanford University Press website (which "only list books that are currently in print or forthcoming") after searches done for "Haynie" and "Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks?": "No books matched your query." There's no doubt a contract for the book exists. Yet Haynie has been quite . . . flexible . . . over a four-year period, in publicly asserting that the book was actually completed. On another matter, a strong review for UPI from Thomas Sowell.
There's no doubt a contract for the book exists. Yet Haynie has been quite . . . flexible . . . over a four-year period, in publicly asserting that the book was actually completed.
On another matter, a strong review for UPI from Thomas Sowell.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
The lacrosse case divided into 11 periods; with each new stage, the miscarriage of justice intensified.
1.) The Party: March 13-14, 2006
I can add little to 60 Minutes’ efforts. The broadcast demonstrated:
- Unless laws of time, space, and motion do not apply in
, the three people charged are innocent. Durham
- Unless common sense in evaluating evidence doesn’t exist in
, no rape at all occurred. Durham
- Reasons for doubting accuser Crystal Mangum included her ever-changing story and contradictions by the other dancer. The players’ statements, meanwhile, have remained constant. That all three players passed polygraph examinations administered by highly respected law enforcement figures gives added weight to their statements.
2.) The “Investigation”: March 16-23, 2006
After a confused 24-30 hours, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, for reasons that remain unclear, assumed control of the investigation. In the months preceding the lacrosse party, Gottlieb had arrested 10 times as many Duke students as the area’s three other supervisors combined. (The offenses all involved noise and alcohol-related violations.) Credible allegations of misconduct have come to light regarding his handling of these arrests.
Gottlieb’s investigation was almost laughably shoddy. He didn’t request a search warrant for the players’ house until 48 hours after the alleged attack. At his initial interview with Mangum, he failed to take contemporaneous notes. Nearly a week passed before he tracked down the second dancer, Kim Roberts; when he did, she deemed Mangum’s claims a “crock.” And it was weeks (if ever) before Gottlieb obtained statements from the accuser’s recent sexual partners or filled in gaps about her pre-party behavior.
Mangum, meanwhile, offered myriad, mutually contradictory versions of events. Sometimes she was raped by three people; sometimes, by five. Sometimes the second dancer was an accomplice; sometimes, a fellow victim. Mangum’s recollection that one attacker told her he was soon getting married suggested intent to deceive: this otherwise bizarre claim would have enhanced her credibility had she actually (as she believed) danced at a bachelor party.
According to Inv. B.W. Himan’s notes, Mangum described at least two of her attackers in ways didn’t remotely resemble any of the lacrosse players. No wonder, then, that she identified none of the suspects that police presented to her in photo line-ups on March 16 and March 21. On March 16, police presented four groups of six lacrosse players each. In each group was one suspect named Adam, Matt, or Brett (the police selected only 2 of the 3 Matts on the team as suspects) and five fillers (players not named Adam, Matt, or Brett). On March 21, police showed the accuser two more groups, with one suspect apiece (the other two residents of the house, Dave Evans and Dan Flannery) and five lacrosse players as fillers. In total, Mangum viewed 36 of the 46 white lacrosse players and identified no one as an attacker.
Medical evidence likewise failed to sustain the accuser’s claims. The SANE nurse’s medical report, which listed “diffuse edema of the vaginal walls” as the only significant item, provided little evidence for the accuser’s story of a brutal, sustained attack. Indeed, this swelling could have been a result of Mangum’s known activity in the hours and days before the party, which included several instances of consensual sex and a job that involved entertaining with a vibrator in a hotel room.
In his “straight-from-memory” report, produced four months later, Gottlieb would claim that Himan’s contemporaneous notes were wholly incorrect, and the accuser really had provided dead-on descriptions for the three players ultimately indicted—Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty. The report raises an unanswerable question: if Mangum had so precisely described Finnerty, why did police not show her Finnerty’s photo, on either the 16th or the 21st?
Virtually the only “evidence” that Gottlieb’s inquiry generated came as a result of the cooperation by the three residents of the house—Evans, Flannery, and Matt Zash. The trio each gave statements to the police without asking for counsel. They offered to take polygraphs—an offer the police, for reasons that remain unclear, spurned. And they willingly provided swabs of their DNA.
Despite this cooperation, Duke administrators actively assisted the state. Without informing President Richard Brodhead, administrators demanded from the captains a candid account of the evening’s events, allegedly citing a non-existent “student-faculty” privilege to encourage the captains to disclose any criminal activity. Multiple sources confirm that Coach Mike Pressler, apparently acting on orders from above, instructed the other players not to tell their parents about the police inquiry. Meanwhile, Dean Sue Wasiolek arranged for a local lawyer, Wes Covington, to act as a “facilitator” in arranging for a group meeting with police.
The night before the meeting, one player broke down and told his father, who happened to be in
3.) The Nifong Usurpation: March 24-April 6, 2006
The District Attorney’s assuming personal control of an ongoing—and scarcely begun—police investigation fundamentally transformed the case. Appointed to the office in 2005 despite a pattern of emotionally unstable behavior during his half-decade sojourn in
In a primary electorate almost evenly split along racial lines, Nifong faced long odds. A strong white candidate, Freda Black, enjoyed higher name recognition than the incumbent as a result of her prosecuting a high-profile murder case in 2003. The two also had a personal history: Nifong had fired Black almost immediately after becoming district attorney. Meanwhile, a black attorney, Keith Bishop, ran a desultory campaign but threatened to siphon enough African-American votes away from Nifong to ensure a Freda Black victory. By late February, the local elite had delivered its verdict: Nifong’s fundraising had dried up; personal loans to his campaign kept his candidacy afloat.
Under personal, financial, and political pressure—and perhaps even, at first, believing that a crime occurred—Nifong seized the opportunity to exploit the case. He quickly secured a court order demanding that the players submit DNA samples and new photos. That motion, we now know, was fraudulent:
- Nifong claimed that the players called each other by first-name aliases and uniform numbers at the party; no evidence existed for either claim, as even the transparently pro-prosecution New York Times conceded.
- Nifong withheld from the court that the accuser had failed to identify any suspects in an official photo lineup.
- Nifong, it turned out, falsely promised the court that negative DNA tests would “immediately rule out any innocent persons.”
Confident that DNA would “show conclusive evidence as to who the suspect(s) are in the alleged violent attack upon this victim,” the D.A. launched a publicity barrage that seemed unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement purpose but did much to boost his name recognition in the run-up to the primary. Though Section 3.8(f) of the North Carolina Code of Professional Responsibility requires prosecutors to “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused,” Nifong gave dozens of interviews. He termed the players “hooligans” whose “daddies” would buy them expensive lawyers. He made a host of statements not backed by items in police files. He mused, “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong.” And, in a blatant bid for the black vote, he deliberately exaggerated the racial element of the alleged attack.
As he basked in the media spotlight, Nifong appears to have learned that, contrary to his assurances, the DNA results would be negative. But he refused to discard the case for lack of evidence, and instead instructed police to conduct another lineup. Only this time, he would ensure that the accuser identified someone. In violation of
Duke Law professor James Coleman, former chief counsel to the House Ethics Committee, later wrote that these Nifong-mandated procedural irregularities “strongly suggest[ed] that the purpose of the identification process was to give the alleged victim an opportunity to pick three members of the lacrosse team who could be charged. Any three students would do; there could be no wrong choice.”
In the lineup, Mangum identified the three suspects, with varying degrees of certainty. Her performance gave no indication that she was a reliable eyewitness. After having not recognized him at all on March 21, she now claimed that Evans attacked her, and that he had a mustache—even though he didn’t have one. She claimed to be 100% certain that Seligmann attacked her—even though three weeks earlier, she said she was only 70% sure that Seligmann even attended the party. As Joseph Neff has pointed out, the lineup was riddled with other such inconsistencies. Indeed, the only player that the accuser twice identified as attending the party with 100% certainty wasn’t even in
With knowledge that the DNA tests were negative and surely understanding that his procedurally dubious identification would not survive close scrutiny, Nifong fanned the flames of public indignation. The D.A.’s office stood aside as Judge Ron Stephens released the (out-of-context) contents of a vile e-mail by lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen. Though the e-mail actually played off a scene in American Psycho, as follow-up emails from other players recognized, to the public, the e-mail confirmed the players’ guilt.
In this critical period, Nifong had three indispensable allies:
- The media—first the N&O, and, after March 27, the national networks and especially the Times—uncritically accepted his version of events, framing the story as a morality tale of white, rich, athletic excess, exploiting a poor, black, demure mother of two.
- Among what
’s Kurt Andersen has termed the Duke faculty’s “loopy left,” the players were guilty until proven innocent. In late March, Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies, issued a public letter denouncing the “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us” and demanding the “immediate dismissals” of “the team itself and its players.” A week later, on April 6, 88 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty signed a public statement saying “thank you” to campus demonstrators who had, among other things, carried a banner reading “CASTRATE” outside the lacrosse players’ rented house, distributed a “wanted” poster of the lacrosse players, and publicly branded the players “rapists.” By contrast, no Duke professor publicly criticized Nifong’s conduct until months later. New York
- Brodhead failed to resist his faculty’s assault on due process. Moreover, whether intended or not, his actions fortified a public image of guilt. On March 25, in an unprecedented move, the president canceled (at the last minute) the lacrosse team’s game against
, citing underage drinking at the party. Then, after the April 5 release of the McFadyen email, Brodhead demanded Pressler’s resignation, cancelled the lacrosse season, and issued a statement anchored by a lament on the evils of rape—at a time when the players were firmly denying any sexual contact, much less rape. These moves enjoyed enthusiastic support from Board of Trustees chairman Robert Steel. Georgetown
In normal circumstances, the media and the academy can be counted on to value due process and dispassionate analysis of evidence. In this case, however, both groups not only failed to stand up for procedural regularity, but gleefully joined the rush to judgment. As Ed Bradley noted, the “biggest surprise for us was the presumption of guilt.”
4.) The Effects of Demagoguery: April 6-May 3, 2006
As Duke’s anti-lacrosse movement peaked, Nifong started losing control of public sentiment. On April 6, Mangum gave a written statement contradicting both her earlier version of events and the second dancer’s statement. (Police never re-interviewed the second dancer to resolve the discrepancies.) That same day, the accuser’s “driver” told police that before the party, she was behaving erratically and had fulfilled a variety of one-on-one “appointments.” Then, on April 10, defense lawyers publicly revealed that the DNA tests revealed no matches to any players.
These three developments ended any hope for Nifong to mount a credible case. At the same time, the D.A. discovered that mobilizing the electorate’s basest passions carried risks as well as rewards. In a tumultuous forum at NCCU held on April 11, local activist Victoria Peterson claimed that
In mid-April, Nifong’s obligations as
But Seligmann struck back. He quickly produced unimpeachable electronic evidence—culminating in an ATM video of him a mile away at the time of the alleged attack—proving his innocence. (His attorney, Kirk Osborn, had offered this evidence to Nifong, but Nifong had declined to meet, despite a state bar mandate not to “intentionally avoid pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor’s case or aid the accused.”) Perhaps as important, testimonials flooded in regarding Seligmann’s character, demolishing the negative caricature of the players constructed by Nifong, the Duke faculty, and the media.
The voters, at least initially, seemed not to care. On the evening of May 1, each of
5.) The Effects of Procedural Fraud: May 4-Oct. 26
In the months after Nifong’s primary victory, three themes dominated the case.
First, the district attorney behaved in an increasingly erratic fashion. Consider:
- On the day of Evans' indictment, Nifong engaged in a profanity-laced public tirade against one of the lacrosse attorneys, Kerry Sutton--who, ironically, had supported him in the primary.
- In a rambling June e-mail to Newsweek’s Susannah Meadows, Nifong asserted, “None of the ‘facts’ that I know at this time, indeed none of the evidence that I have seen from any source, has changed the opinion that I expressed initially.” As he initially expressed his opinion on March 27, this assertion suggested an extraordinary closed-mindedness. The evidence that came in after March 27 included: the DNA tests; the accuser’s own statement(!); the Seligmann alibi; the procedurally flawed lineup; the statement from the accuser’s “driver” about her pre-party medical activity; and the SANE nurse’s report.
- Acting upon a nearly three-year-old unserved warrant, the D.A.’s office ordered the arrest of the cab driver who picked up Seligmann on the night of the party, Moezeldin Elmostafa. At the trial, which resulted in a quick acquittal, Himan’s notes indicated that “Mr. Nifong wanted to know when we picked [Elmostafa] up.” The document enhanced the credibility of Elmostafa’s claim that when Inv. R.D. Clayton arrested him, “The detective asked if I had anything new to say about the lacrosse case. When I said no, they took me to the magistrate.”
- After learning that two members of the Animal Control Board, on which he sits as D.A., had signed petitions to place Lewis Cheek on the ballot as an unaffiliated challenger to him, Nifong threatened to resign from the board.
- In the September court hearing, the N&O’s Benjamin Niolet described the odd environment: “When defense lawyers spoke, Nifong occasionally sighed, rolled his eyes, laughed quietly or rubbed his temples.”
Second, Nifong has abandoned all pretense of seeking “justice” for Mangum. In the September hearing, the D.A., citing nothing beyond his own (non-existent) psychological expertise, said he “supposed” that the attack lasted only five minutes, ten at the outside. He added that defense attorneys could test his tale against the accuser’s 30-minute version by cross-examining the accuser as vigorously as they wanted at trial.
The D.A. had little choice, of course, but to move forward—if only to minimize the likely financial and ethics sanctions that will emerge once this case ends. He also needed to maintain his base in the African-American community to have any chance of holding off the Cheek effort in November.
Third, even as overwhelming evidence has emerged that through procedural fraud, the D.A. constructed a case out of whole cloth, Nifong’s enablers kept the faith.
- In the media, Bob Ashley’s Herald-Sun adopted the ingenuous dual strategy of simply ignoring news that damages the prosecution’s case while suggesting that a trial is necessary to heal the community. Meanwhile, Slate columnist Jack Shafer suggests using the Times’ coverage as a case study in examining why it is “so hard for newspapers that have climbed out onto a limb in reporting a story to turn back once they hear the wood cracking.”
- The Duke arts and sciences faculty appeared frozen in time, circa April 8: the leaders of Duke’s Campus Culture Initiative include the team’s most vitriolic critics, such as Peter Wood and Karla Holloway. The continued prominence of figures such as Wood and Holloway shatters the argument that the Group of 88 and their supporters were just caught up in the heat of the moment when they denounced the lacrosse players in the print. Holloway’s remarks, for instance, came long after evidence of the players’ likely innocence and Nifong’s certain misconduct had emerged—but she treated both of these developments as essentially irrelevant. “Justice,” Holloway claimed, “inevitably has an attendant social construction. And this parallelism means that despite what may be our desire, the seriousness of the matter cannot be finally or fully adjudicated in the courts.” Therefore, she continued, since the presumption of innocence “is neither the critical social indicator of the event, nor the final measure of its cultural facts,” judgments about the case “cannot be left to the courtroom.”
- The Brodhead/Steel administration, operating from the premise that a trial gives the players a chance to be “proved innocent,” attempted to rewrite the history of American higher education, rationalizing its own passivity on the grounds that professors and academic institutions should not comment on procedural abuses in the criminal justice system.
In some respects, Nifong’s enablers needed a trial as much as the district attorney does, if for different reasons. For the Times, a trial would have prevented Duff Wilson from becoming the 2006 version of Judith Miller—the reporter who uncritically trusted incredible government documents that reinforced the journalist’s preconceptions. For the Duke faculty, a trial would have improved chances of the school’s adopting what Group of 88 member Mark Anthony Neal termed a “progressive” curriculum. For the Brodhead/Steel administration, self-preservation was the motive, to avoid a possible alumni revolt.
6.) The October Hearing and Nifong’s Election Triumph
The October 27 hearing was the final event of the case before the November election. Its defining moment came when Nifong admitted—under repeated questioning from Brad Bannon—that he had never spoken to Mangum about the facts of the case. How did he test her reliability, then? By chatting about unrelated topics, such as her children. Bannon, quite correctly, said this assertion “stretched credulity.”
Those who followed the case closely already knew this was Nifong’s party line—the N&O’s Ben Niolet had revealed it in a devastating profile of the district attorney. (The item was one of dozens of facts N&O broke about the case. The total number of accurate Herald-Sun scoops? One, coming in mid-November and regarding the accuser's one-time supervisor at the strip club, Yolanda Haynes. Editor Bob Ashley complained, mysteriously, that the paper lacked good sources on the case.) But few in the national media, it appeared, read the N&O, and Nifong’s admission was major news.
The admission placed Nifong on the defensive, part of a broader pattern of highly erratic pre-election behavior by
This record appeared not to disturb Nifong’s faculty enablers among the Group of 88. In a novel interpretation of the statement’s meaning, Group member Alex Rosenberg told the New York Sun that he had abandoned the presumption of innocence to protest the role of alcohol on campus and “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.” (The statement, in fact, mentioned neither item.) Two days later, Grant Farred penned an op-ed that ranks as the single worst publication by a Duke faculty member regarding the case. The Literature professor stunningly contended that those Duke students who registered to vote in
The anti-Nifong coalition combined Beth Brewer with veteran political operative Jackie Brown; Chronicle columnists Kristin Butler and Stephen Miller with N&O columnist Ruth Sheehan; longtime Durham residents with Duke Students for an Ethical Durham, the umbrella organization that coordinated the voter registration drive. All advocated a vote for the Lewis Cheek line, although Cheek said he wouldn’t serve if elected. Perceptive—and prophetic—observers urged
Because it is almost certain that Nifong will be suspended or disbarred, he will not be able to continue in office. And as the governor may be choosing the next district attorney in
, the best option is to start looking to the future now and save the community the disruption and pathetic spectacle of Nifong’s protracted death throws. Durham County
On Election Night, Nifong prevailed, but short of a majority. (He tallied 49 percent of the vote.) In the end, the DA owed his victory to two factors. First, he received near-monolithic support (around 95 percent) from
7.) The December Hearing and Its Aftermath
Nifong’s victory turned attention to the next hearing in the case, scheduled for December 15. Defense motions dealing with the apparent withholding of exculpatory DNA evidence, the April 4 lineup, and a change of venue were released in consecutive days before the hearing. The lineup motion demonstrated in extraordinary detail the extent of Mangum’s flawed performance—the only evidence that Nifong had to link anyone to any “crime.” Beyond her many errors (she was 100 percent sure that she saw chatting with Kim Roberts outside the house someone who actually was in
The December 14 motion could be used as a case study in the dangers of flawed procedures. Nifong had ordered the police to orchestrate a lineup confined only to suspects (the 46 white lacrosse players). Is it any wonder that the results he received were worthless?
The lineup motion almost certainly would have ended the case at the next scheduled hearing (Feb. 7). But it got overshadowed by the DNA controversy. Under extemporaneous questioning first from Bannon and then from Seligmann attorney Jim Cooney, Dr. Brain Meehan eventually admitted that he and the DA had entered into an agreement to intentionally withhold results showing that the DNA of several unidentified males in the accuser’s rape kit. Before the hearing, Nifong said he didn’t know about Meehan’s findings; directly afterwards, he said he did—but felt it important not to turn over this information, so as to protect the privacy of the unindicted lacrosse players. How such a course would, in any way, benefit the unindicted players Nifong explained neither then nor since.
The Meehan revelations marked the beginning of the end for Nifong. On December 20, he received a letter from the State Bar informing him of possible ethics charges on the DNA issue. With his career going up in smoke, the district attorney panicked. He sent his chief investigator, Linwood Wilson, to meet with the accuser. At this meeting,
In short, the December 21 story was not only a frame—it was a stunningly blatant frame. But Nifong treated it as legitimate, dropping the rape charges the next day, while leaving in place the sexual assault and kidnapping charges.
Nifong and his advisors (the “Troika” of Wilson, wife Cy Gurney, and citizens’ committee co-chair Victoria Peterson) apparently thought the new version represented a clever way of minimizing the significance of the withheld DNA evidence. Instead, the DA presented to the Bar and the national media the image of a rogue prosecutor who would stop at nothing to bring the case to trial.
Within a week:
- Duke president Richard Brodhead—who heretofore had avoided all public criticism of Nifong—publicly urged the DA’s recusal from the case.
- The State Bar filed ethics charges against Nifong, citing the “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation” in his pre-primary public statements about the case.
- The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys publicly called for Nifong’s recusal.
Though Nifong would remain on the case for another two weeks, he implicitly recognized his isolation in one of the case’s many “Only in
8.) Nifong’s Ethics Problems
On January 12, apparently under advice from counsel, Nifong formally recused himself from the lacrosse case—the first step, in all likelihood, toward losing his license to practice law. Cameramen captured a shot of the springtime media darling walking, alone and in the dark, to his car as he drove away from his office. The attorney general’s special prosecutions division took over the case.
Shortly after Nifong removed himself from the case, the Bar amended its ethics complaint against him. Focused on his decision to enter into an intentional agreement with Dr. Meehan to withhold exculpatory evidence, the Bar accused Nifong of not only massive ethics violations, but also of repeatedly lying to the court, breaking three state laws, and violating the Constitution. In many ways, the disgraced DA was his own enemy: he offered no fewer than 11 separate (and often mutually contradictory) explanations for the decision to withhold the DNA.
The Bar, it was clear, had heard enough from Nifong. In a devastating response to Nifong’s plea to dismiss some of the charges against him, the Bar accused the DA of asking the Disciplinary Hearings Commission “to undertake statutory construction, interpretation of case law, and semantic hair-splitting.” It ridiculed his citation of court orders from Judges Stephens and Smith, noting “that the content of each Order was based on Nifong’s misrepresentations to the Court as alleged in the Amended Complaint. Therefore, Nifong is effectively arguing that he can make false statements to a court which result in the entry of an order, and then use the order that is based on his misrepresentations to claim he committed no discovery violation.” And it correctly argued that the “Defendant’s contention that he was under no obligation to provide the information because no trial date was set necessarily implies that he was also entitled to withhold and never disclose potentially exculpatory information in any case that settled prior to trial.”
9.) Nifong and the Political World
Smart political figures distanced themselves from Nifong; those less politically astute failed to do so. In the former category was Governor Mike Easley, who told an audience at the
I had to listen to how the poor dear lacrosse players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and fucked her against her will—not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out. Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.
When criticized for the remarks, Marcotte deleted them from her website. As other groups pored through Marcotte’s writings, it turned out she was an equal-opportunity author of vile material, and soon thereafter she resigned from the campaign.
10.) The Nifong Faithful
But while Nifong was gone from the scene and seemingly on his way to losing his law license, the furor he unleashed continued unabated, especially at Duke. As the new year dawned, Brodhead invited Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty to return for spring-term classes. (Both declined to do so.) Then, in perhaps the most important campus development in the previous nine months, 19 professors (17 from Economics) published a letter implicitly rebuking the Group of 88, endorsing Brodhead’s call for an inquiry into Nifong’s misconduct, and stating that they would welcome all student-athletes, including lacrosse players, into their classes.
The Group of 88 swiftly responded. Karla Holloway resigned her position as the Campus Culture Initiative’s race subgroup chair by publicizing fifth-hand, unsubstantiated gossip about Duke students. (To my knowledge, she was neither disciplined nor criticized for her actions.) Cathy Davidson published an N&O op-ed describing the Group’s ad as a response to racist defenses of Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans “on the campus quad” sometime between March 29 and April 6. Neither then nor at any time since has Davidson revealed who these defenders were or what they were saying. She appears to have simply made up the rationalization. Holloway joined 86 colleagues in issuing a statement purporting to “clarify” the Group of 88’s ad, which defiantly rejected all “public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it.” Then, Group members Diane Nelson and Pedro Lasch darkly hinted at a conspiracy against them—motivated for unspecified reasons and staffed by unspecified people.
The duo had joined four other anti-lacrosse professors at a “shut up and teach” event at which they barred all recording devices and then proclaimed that their critics should “shut up and teach.” (“Free speech for me, not for three,” apparently.) Finally, on February 23, the Group saw one of its most prominent members, Political Science professor Paula McClain, elected to a two-year term as chairwoman of the Academic Council. McClain’s triumph coincided with the long-anticipated release of the Campus Culture Initiative report, which carried political correctness to a new level—demanding, among other things, the end of admissions breaks for athletes but their expansion for minorities. The report’s highlight, however, was a de facto Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, a proposal that all Duke students be forced to take a class on “diversity” in the United States—offerings disproportionately taught by the Group of 88.
The CCI report was scarcely a week old when it had been torn apart by several Chronicle editorials and op-eds. The Group, however, continued to have its defenders, even if their number had shrunk, through the efforts of people like Michael Corey (Blue Devil Weekly), Josh Perlin (Cornell Daily Sun), and Steven Marcus (Newsday).
Group of 88 members weren’t the only Nifong enablers to remain faithful to the end. Politically correct columnists acted as if nothing had changed after April 6, 2006. From the shelter of her lily-white, upper-class Connecticut suburb, Times columnist Selena Roberts penned a column mocking the lacrosse players for seeking jobs on Wall Street and arguing, “To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined . . . but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.” One problem: Roberts herself, in a March 2006 column, had made precisely that connection.
As the Herald-Sun continued its case-long record of serving as a de facto Nifong press office, the state NAACP maintained its record of using the case to abandon 70 years of positions on criminal justice issues. Rev. Curtis Gatewood, president of the Durham NAACP from 1994 until 2002, described the State Bar’s ethics charges as part of a “conspiracy to disrupt justice in this
11.) Exoneration and Disgrace
On April 11, 2007, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced the results of his office’s investigation. Not only would all charges be dropped, but the three players were declared “innocent” victims of a “rogue prosecutor.”
Nifong’s troubles were just beginning. In a five-day proceeding in late June, the Disciplinary Hearings Commission of the State Bar found him guilty on 27 of 32 counts of ethical improprieties. He was disbarred and forced to resign as DA. In late August, Judge Smith found him guilty of criminal contempt for lying to the court about his conversations with Meehan; Nifong was sentenced to a day in jail. And, in early 2008, he declared bankruptcy to avoid a civil suit filed by the falsely accused students against him, the city of
Duke, too, was sued for its conduct. In late June, it announced a settlement—rumored to be $18 million—with the falsely accused students. In late September, Brodhead apologized for the “ill-judged and divisive” statements by many Duke professors, and also for his own unwillingness to demand that all Duke students receive due process in dealing with local authorities.
Most of Nifong’s ardent defenders, however, refused to back down. Both the Herald-Sun and the New York Times defended their flawed reporting in the case. Only one of the Group of 88 (Arlie Petters) apologized for signing the statement. Allies of the Group from elsewhere in the academy praised the Group’s performance, even after the AG’s declaration. And, on campus, the personnel policies that had led to the hiring of so many Group members continued without question. Duke, proclaimed Brodhead, would “move on” without a review of why so many faculty had rushed to judgment on the case.