Magazine article The American Conservative

The School for Scandal

Magazine article The American Conservative

The School for Scandal

Article excerpt

The School for Scandal [Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Case, Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson, Thomas Dunne Books, 420 pages]

By Richard B. Spencer

IN THEIR NEW BOOK on the Duke lacrosse fiasco, Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson recount an episode that almost perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere in Durham after three lacrosse players had been accused of gang-raping a black stripper, Crystal Mangum, on the night of March 13, 2006. A few weeks after the incident, professor Reeve Huston opened his class on labor history announcing that he could remain silent no longer and must express his outrage towards the lacrosse players-five of whom were enroUed in his class. Huston professed that the aUeged rape-which he was positive had taken place-was part of a long history of "alpha males assaulting black women." The selfdescribed "Gramscian, Foucaultian feminist" asserted there is no doubt "an ejaculation had occurred." (In reahty, no player ever touched Mangum except when helping her into her car.)

As Huston's students collectively cringed, one lacrosse player in the class, Jay Jennison, was moved to draw a cartoon rendering of the impassioned oration. Months later, when Detective Benjamin Himan of the Durham poUce was illegally searching Jennison's dorm room (standard procedure in D-town), Himan discovered the cartoon and exclaimed as many a TV detective has exclaimed before-"Bingo!" It seems that in the Bizarro World Durham had become, a cartoon rendering of aprofessor making a ridiculous claim could be considered "evidence."

The Duke lacrosse case was a deadly serious matter, for it involved three manifestly innocent young men-Dave Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty-put into legal jeopardy. But there was always a hint of farce about the affair. Mike Nifong was not just a prosecutorial thug but a seU-dramatizing prima donna. His alUes among the Durham poUce were knaves and incompetent buffoons. The so-caUed "Group of 88"-the faculty members who signed a fuU-page manifesto in Duke's student paper decrying the "social disaster"-made pronouncements of high melodrama and convolution. The Duke Lacrosse Case may yet become a TV-movie, but it would make a better opera buffa.

Until that version is composed, we'U have to make due with Taylor and Johnson's Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Case. It is no mere scandal-driven instabook but a thoroughgoing narrative interwoven with broader reflections on America's legal and educational institutions. The authors are weU prepared to write such a history. Taylor, a Harvard Law graduate, is a senior feUow at the Brookings Institution and, as a journalist, covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times. (ThankfuUy, he pulls no punches in criticizing the distorted coverage of his former employer.) Johnson, a Harvard Ph.D., is a diplomatic and poUtical historian at Brooklyn CoUege. Since April 2006, Johnson has maintained the blog "Durham-in-Wonderland"-the aptest of titles-in which he has examined just about every aspect of the affair.

The lacrosse players, as weU as their famiUes and counsel, made the authors privy to details of their interactions with the poUce, the prosecutor, and the Duke administration that until now were unknown. As someone who followed the scandal closely, I found a new revelation on almost every page.

WhUe many still claim "we may never know what reaUy happened on March 13," we actuaUy know a great deal Jn fact, Taylor and Johnson have compUed an almost mmut^by-minute account ofthat fateful night Time-stamped photos taken at the party reveal around a six-minute window in which any attack could possibly have taken place. In this line, Evans, Finnerty, and SeUgmann were three of the worst suspects for Mangum to have chosen, as digital records of their using an ATM, making ceUphone caUs, paying a cabbie, and swiping into their dorms are unimpeachable. …

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