The Magazine

Durham Bull

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

Sep 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 02 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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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.