The Magazine

Durham Bull

The phony Duke rape case, and who was really assaulted.

Sep 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 02 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Until Proven Innocent

Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case

by Stuart Taylor Jr. and K.C. Johnson

Thomas Dunne, 432 pp., $26.95

Now that: (1) all rape and related felony charges stemming from the supposed white-on-black sexual assault said to have been committed by three Duke lacrosse players at a team party on March 13-14, 2006, have not only been dismissed but the three young men have been completely exonerated as "innocent" by the attorney general of North Carolina; (2) the prosecutor, Durham district attorney Mike Nifong, who brought the patently false charges in an effort to court the black vote in his election race, has been disbarred, obliged to resign from office in disgrace, and even sentenced to jail for a day for lying to the court; and (3) the supposed rape victim has been revealed to be, if not a pathological liar, certainly pathological, I'm waiting to see exactly how many members of the mainstream press assigned to review this meticulous and damning dissection of the case by Stuart Taylor Jr. of National Journal and Newsweek and Brooklyn College historian K.C. Johnson will finally name the name in print or on television of the hired -stripper/exotic dancer/soi-disant student who caused all the trouble.

Her name is Crystal Mangum.

Taylor and Johnson do so. And they also publish a photograph of the
-bruise-, contusion-, and cut-free face of the then-27-year-old Mangum, taken by the Durham police on March 16, 2006, exactly three days after she said she had been beaten, kicked, and choked (with her head banged against a sink), as well as penetrated orally, vaginally, and anally for 30 minutes in a group-house bathroom by the three Duke students she later identified in a rigged photo lineup as the since-graduated lacrosse cocaptain David Evans and then-sophomores Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty.

Of course, outside of Mangum's story, which changed materially about a dozen times as the months passed, there was not a shred of evidence--physical, forensic (as in DNA), testimonial, or otherwise--to link the three (or any other member of the Duke lacrosse team) to a gang-rape of Mangum.

In fact, there was no evidence that sex of any kind between Mangum and any lacrosse player had taken place, or even could have taken place, on the night of the party, given that (as Taylor and Johnson have carefully documented using time-stamped photographs, receipts, phone records, and police statements, as well as multiple interviews of the players present that night) Mangum spent the entire hour she put in at the party either "dancing" (four minutes of "mumbling and stumbling," according to Taylor and Johnson), locking herself in the bathroom in the sole company of her fellow stripper, Kim Roberts, haggling incoherently with assorted players in the living room and outside the house over whether she deserved to be paid $400 for a four-minute performance; and beating on the door to be let back into the house to retrieve a lost shoe, until she finally passed out on the back stoop and was carried to Roberts's car by several players.

One of the three accused, Seligmann, had left the party well before the supposed sex crimes occurred, as his trail of cell phone, taxicab, and ATM receipts indicated, and Finnerty departed soon afterwards.

So you would think that after April 11 of this year, when Attorney General Roy Cooper, who had taken over the case from Nifong in January and appointed two of his senior prosecutors to conduct an independent investigation, declared at a press conference that "these three individuals are innocent of these charges," Mangum would have forfeited the last shreds of her status as an alleged sex-crime victim deserving to have her name kept out of print, and been inducted into the Tawana Brawley Memorial Hall of Rape-Hoax Fame.

But I'm not counting on it. As Taylor and Johnson observe, most of the nation's major media outlets--"including, of course, The New York Times--continue to protect the anonymity of false accusers such as Crystal Mangum even after they have been proven beyond any doubt to be vicious liars bent on sending innocent men to prison."

That is because, from March 2006 to April 2007 and beyond, much of the mainstream media, including the Times, operated as a "journalistic echo chamber" (the words are Taylor and Johnson's) that credulously channeled not only Nifong--who violated all canons of prosecutorial ethics by publicly declaring the three defendants guilty before trial and accusing the rest of the team of erecting a "wall of silence" to cover up the crimes--but also a considerable segment of Duke's arts and sciences faculty, who turned viciously against their own students in order to further political agendas that included race-baiting, Marxist class war, man-hating feminism, and plain hostility toward competitive sports and the athletes who engage in them.

Crystal Mangum was a piece of work. She had been discharged from the Navy after showing up for assignments drunk and getting pregnant by someone other than the man to whom she was then briefly married; had pleaded guilty in 2002 to larceny, drunk driving, and assaulting a government official after stealing a taxicab, leading police in a high-speed chase, and aiming the stolen cab at a pursuing officer who had exited from his squad car (fortunately, he jumped away just in time); and had claimed to have been the victim of an earlier three-man gang-rape in 1993 when she was 14 (her father said she had made that up), and also a death threat by her former husband in 1998 (he denied any such thing).

She had a history of psychological problems, including a brief mental hospitalization in 2005, and she frequently combined large quantities of alcohol with an array of prescription and nonprescription drugs while pursuing multiple careers: dancing (and passing out) at an outfit called the Platinum Pleasures Club; giving half-hour "private performances" in hotel rooms and elsewhere; having sex with a man she described as her boyfriend and also with at least one of the "drivers" who transported her to the "private performances"; oh, and also reputedly taking courses at the historically black North Carolina Central University in Durham--although, as Taylor and Johnson point out, "virtually no one on campus appeared to have any contact with her before the fall of 2006."

Attorney General Cooper gave up on Mangum after she showed up "significantly impaired" for an interview on April 4, 2007, and "admitted before the meeting that she had taken Ambien, methadone, Paxil and amitriptyline."

Mike Nifong was another piece of work. The various prosecutorial outrages he committed that led to his June 16 disbarment on grounds of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation" included: arranging for the rigged photo lineup that Mangum was told consisted solely of the 46 white members of the Duke lacrosse team (enabling her to pick out the three defendants in a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey process), even though he knew that she had failed to identify a single one of her supposed assailants in two earlier photo lineups that had included, as is proper, nonteam ringers to ensure that the lineup was not unduly suggestive; securing felony indictments against Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann after learning the results of the DNA tests that exonerated them; and, most egregiously, concealing from the defense lawyers (via deliberate omission from a May 12, 2006, lab report) the fact that a medical exam conducted on Mangum shortly after the supposed rape revealed the presence of DNA from at least four different men on her person and underwear, none of which, needless to say, matched that of anyone on the lacrosse team.

Even while excoriating the team's "stone wall of silence," Nifong refused to meet with lawyers for Seligmann offering the young man's airtight alibi, and repeatedly rebuffed other attempts by the defendants to clear themselves without going to the expense of a trial. He pursued a trumped-up accessory-to-shoplifting charge against Moezeldin Elmostafa, the Ethiopian immigrant cab driver whose records corroborated Seligmann's alibi. (Elmostafa was quickly acquitted by a jury.)

Taylor and Johnson have plenty to say about Nifong and his pandering to Duke's black electorate, but the gravamen of their book is the appalling conduct of Duke's radicalized faculty members and the numerous journalists who were only too eager to report the story as a morality play of "race and gender"--privileged white males carnally abusing an impoverished black woman--rather than as a real-live case of an alleged rape concerning which there was plenty of evidence, even during the earliest weeks, to suggest that it had not actually occurred.

The negative results of the players' DNA tests--"virtually conclusive proof of innocence," as Taylor and Johnson note--were released by North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation on April 10, 2006. Defense lawyers had already tried to show Nifong--and had certainly shown the press--the time-stamped photos that had recorded all but six minutes of Mangum's hour-long stay at the lacrosse party. It was public knowledge that Mangum's medical examination had revealed no cuts, bruises, or abrasions consistent with rape; the only sign of possible physical trauma had been some moderate vaginal swelling consistent with voluntary sexual activity (the suppressed May 12 lab results suggested plenty of that) or the ingestion of prescription drugs that Mangum admitted to having taken the day of the party.

For most Duke students, "DNA day was a huge turnaround," as one undergraduate informed Taylor and Johnson. They simply stopped believing anything Nifong said. Not so their professors and the press. Throughout the spring and summer of 2006, Duke's faculty radicals and their media camp followers repeatedly tried, convicted, and hanged the three defendants. Taylor and Johnson report these travesties--which included, on the faculty side, endorsement of a series of rowdy demonstrations in which activists distributed "Wanted"-style posters bearing the photographs of the lacrosse team's white members, banged pots and pans throughout the night in front of players' off-campus houses, hurled death and arson threats, and shouted "Rapist!" and "Castrate them!" whenever they saw a lacrosse player on campus--in exhaustive but fascinating detail, drawing in part from Johnson's blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, which chronicled most of them on a day-to-day basis throughout 2006 and 2007.

(I must state here, in the interests of full disclosure, that Taylor and Johnson quote from my January 29 cover story for THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "Duke's Tenured Vigilantes," on page 122; I have also met Stuart Taylor professionally on one occasion.)

The leader of the anti-lacrosse faculty contingent was Wahneema Lubiano, an African-American literature professor who labeled herself a "post-structuralist teacher-critic-leftist" and had somehow received tenure at the academically prestigious Duke, despite never having published the scholarly monograph that is the usual prerequisite for elevation to lifetime job security at a major research university. Lubiano became famous for drafting a "listening statement" signed by 88 Duke professors and published in the campus newspaper that thanked the protestors for "making collective noise" and endorsed the proposition that something had "happened" to Mangum on March 13-14.

During the summer of 2006, even as evidence of the players' innocence mounted, Lubiano published an online article implying that Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann had to be guilty because they belonged to the "dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus"--they were "perfect offenders."

That seemed to be the prevailing view, as Duke professors used various bully pulpits on hand--articles, emails, op-ed pieces in local newspapers, and interviews with the media--to denounce and belittle lacrosse players, varsity sports in general, and any Duke undergraduates (such as the members of the women's lacrosse team, who wore the numbers of the indicted players on their wristbands) who dared to stand up in solidarity with the young men they knew were not guilty of rape.

Reacting to all this, the Duke administration, led by English professor and university president Richard Brodhead, covered itself in cowardice. Within weeks after the alleged rape, Brodhead, seemingly terrified of the protestors and a radicalized faculty with the power to turn him into another Lawrence Summers, terminated the lacrosse season, fired the coach, suspended Finnerty and Seligmann (Evans was in the process of graduating) and a fourth, never-accused, lacrosse player who had the misfortune to send a tasteless joking email about the incident, and appointed a "campus culture committee" stacked with members of the Group of 88, as it came to be called, to investigate racism and sexism at Duke.

As for the media, the standouts of the unskeptical print and electronic press were: MSNBC, whose frequent guest Wendy Murphy, confronted with the negative DNA evidence, speculated out of nowhere that that was "because a broom handle was used," falsely stated that the players "took the Fifth .  .  . [and] refused to cooperate" with police, and declared that she was tired of being obliged to "respect the presumption of innocence"; CNN, whose Paula Zahn complained about "what seems to be a concerted effort by the defense to trash this alleged victim"; and of course, the New York Times. There, columnist Selena Roberts inveighed against "a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings." Reporter Rick Lyman closed a story with the quotation, "Is this going to be a team of rich white men who get away with assaulting a black woman?" And reporters Duff Wilson and -Jonathan D. Glater (as late as August 25, 2006!) wrote a front-page story parroting an ex post facto memorandum compiled by a Durham police officer at Nifong's request that miraculously corroborated Mangum's latest version of events but contradicted the contemporaneous reports of medical personnel and other police.

As can be seen, this is a merciless and unsparing book, but it is also fair. Taylor and Johnson do not minimize the negative aspects of Duke student culture--heavy drinking and loud, late-night partying, of which the lacrosse affair was a sadly typical example--and the often-justifiable resentment that Durham's blacks, many of whom worked low-paying jobs on the Duke campus, harbored toward the students who paraded, sometimes rudely, their wealth, leisure, and moral carelessness.

On the night of March 13-14, two players (none of them the three accused rapists) flung racial epithets at Mangum and Roberts, although in all fairness this was in response to a disparaging remark Roberts had made about the sexual inadequacies of "white boys." Columnist Ann Coulter summed up the situation best: "Lie down with strippers, wake up with pleas."

Until Proven Innocent should be required reading for all college professors and journalists as a lesson in the trumping of facts by ideology. Fat chance. Although many reporters and media commentators eventually acknowledged, and corrected, their mistakes, others did not, including the Boston Globe, which labeled Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann as "louts" the very day after their exoneration, and ESPN.com columnist Dan Shanoff, who called them "douchebags."

The Duke faculty, with the exception of a handful of professors who braved the vindictiveness of their fellows, behaved even worse. Lubiano and other Group of 88 members staged a defiant teach-in in which they portrayed themselves as victims of a campaign of intimidation. The campus culture committee issued its report recommending that all Duke undergraduates take a required course in "diversity" taught by members of the Group of 88. (To his credit, Brodhead responded less than enthusiastically to that suggestion.) And, just a few days ago, Group of 88 sympathizer Scott Eric Kaufman, a journalism instructor at the University of California at Irvine, posted an entry on his blog, Acephalous, calling for Johnson to be ostracized by the prestigious history website Cliopatria, even though Johnson has a doctorate from Harvard and is the author of four scholarly books.

The Duke lacrosse debacle, which cost three innocent young men and their families a year of disgrace and millions of dollars in legal bills, seems to have made only the smallest dent in the ideological carapaces of our nation's chattering classes.

Charlotte Allen is the author, most recently, of The Human Christ.