After DIW’s version of March Madness (the worst of op-eds; Duke faculty publications; “news” articles; and soundbites), I had a request to remember the best work of the case. Thursday’s post focused on the media outside of the Duke campus; today’s looks at the best from the campus along with the best from the political realm.
In this category, one figure is of towering significance: Jim Coleman. (If this point sounds familiar, it should.) In a period of maximum tension locally, when the Group of 88 and the potbangers were still riding high, he conducted a fair and impartial investigation of the lacrosse players. His conclusions showed the bad and the good—the team drank too much, but also the players were good students who treated athletic staff well, had a solid record of community service, and had a good relationship with the women’s team.
In the aftermath of the Coleman Committee report, only closed-minded ideologues could accept the caricature of the lacrosse players offered by Nifong, his media allies—the Herald-Sun and the New York Times—and his on-campus facilitators, the Group of 88.
On campus, meanwhile, the Duke Chronicle has provided a combination of news articles, analysis pieces, op-eds, and editorials that has been superb. It would be an interesting test to give a sample—without the bylines—of the Chronicle and the New York Times coverage to 10 people who hadn’t followed the case closely. I suspect nine of the ten would guess that the Chronicle was actually “all the news that’s fit to print.”
Four other categories:
Kristin Butler’s superb weekly columns have provided one of the few pleasures associated with this case. Whether analyzing Nifong’s misconduct, the peculiar state of Duke-Durham relations, the informal press rule against naming the accuser, or the agenda-driven CCI,
Stephen Miller penned one of the most important columns of the case—on April 12, recognizing the extraordinary inappropriateness of the Group of 88’s statement a mere six days after the ad appeared. And he’s stayed on top of the issue, denouncing the apparent misconduct by Group member Kim Curtis, and organizing a Facebook group with hundreds of Duke students demanding an apology from the Group.
Confronting a lawless D.A. and a Police Department whose official policy was to treat Duke students differently from other Durham residents, the activists in Duke Students for an Ethical Durham responded in a way that would make any educator (except Grant Farred) proud—they organized Duke students to vote, trying to change the system from within.
Student Government president Eliot Wolf was a rare voice of reason on the Campus Culture Initiative. The sole CCI member willing to speak out publicly against the flawed process that resulted in the February report, he has been tireless in demanding a greater student role in shaping the culture in which students will have to live.
Faculty and Coaches
Chemistry professor Steve Baldwin was the only arts and sciences professor to speak out against Mike Pressler’s dismissal; and, in October, he was the first Duke professor to publicly criticize the Group of 88. The expected occurred: the next day, Robyn Weigman, head of the women’s studies program, attempted to silence him with an accusation of racism. But
Engineering professor Michael Gustafson has done his best to appeal to the better angels among his colleagues. The vision of Duke he has offered in his posts is one where professors actually care about their students, rather than focus on forwarding their personal, political, or pedagogical agendas. Like
Perhaps the most spectacular faculty move came in early January, when 19 professors, 17 of whom were from Economics, published a letter endorsing President Brodhead’s call for an inquiry into Nifong’s misconduct and affirming that all students—including student-athletes and lacrosse players—would be welcome in their classes. It would have been much easier for the Ec professors to remain silent and thereby avoid the inevitable attacks from the Group of 88. It was refreshing, therefore, to see a group of professors step up and do the right thing—just because it was the right thing to do.
Women’s lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimel was the first person affiliated with Duke to speak out publicly on the men’s players’ behalf. She also a critical person behind the scenes in keeping people on an even keel last spring—a time when the Duke administration appeared to abandon the players, both legally and on campus.
Beth Brewer was the spokesperson and leading activist for the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek effort. At a time when more experienced figures shied away from challenging the seemingly omnipotent DA, Brewer was outraged at Nifong’s misconduct and devoted hundreds of hours to the campaign. While the Cheek line didn’t prevail, no one did more to ensure that Nifong could not claim support from a majority of
Jackie Brown could have sat out the fall election, thereby not risking going against normal allies in groups like the People’s
There’s little political benefit for a Democratic presidential candidate to endorse a federal inquiry—even though, of course, prosecutorial misconduct disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. So Hillary Clinton remained silent, as John Edwards hired a blogger who gleefully proclaimed the players guilty in January 2007. Barack Obama, meanwhile, stood up for principle, and called for the Justice Department to open an investigation.
Liestoppers obviously has been the key player in this regard. John in Carolina has been relentless; Bill Anderson's columns have ranged widely and persuasively; Johnsville News has provided a useful clearinghouse; LaShawn Barber's forays into the case have been timely; Betsy Newmark and Craig Henry have brought their talents to the case.
Three sites, however, occasionally have gotten overlooked for their critical role in the case:
Jeralyn Merritt at Talk Left saw through Nifong almost from the start--from the perspective of a well-connected criminal defense attorney who was nationally known for her effective defenses of Bill Clinton during the impeachment trial. Alas, over the summer, the TL discussion forum got hijacked by a handful of Nifong enablers who reveled in others' misery and appeared to operate under the belief that an accused was guilty until proved innocent beyond all reasonable doubt. But that shouldn't set aside the many Merritt posts in April--when virtually no one was challenging Nifong--pointing out the DA's procedural shortcomings.
Kathleen Eckelt at Forensics Talk was probably the most helpful blogger for me in terms of information, because her posts explained--in terms a layperson could easily understand--the function of the SANE nurse. Since this was an area about which I knew nothing ten months ago, this blog could not have been anywhere near as effective without Eckelt's contributions. She convincingly showed the flaws in nurse-in-training Levicy's actions in this case, but she also persuasively pointed out the procedural flaws in the handling of medical evidence by Nifong and the police.
Finally, Duke Basketball Report is, without a doubt, the unsung hero of the internet and the case. DBR editors correctly understood that this was in part a sports issue--Nifong went after the players in part because they were athletes, and his enablers in the media and the Duke faculty seized on anti-athlete stereotypes to make their cases--but that the case was mostly a moral issue. DBR commentary was consistently first-rate regarding both the political and the legal elements of the case.
Some appropriate additions, suggested by readers.
Provost Peter Lange, the only member of the administration wholly untainted by the affair, whose response to Houston Baker's race-baiting screed represents one of the high points of the administration's response to the case.
On the blogger front, Jon Ham and Right Angles, whose coverage has been great; and Ham's daughter, Mary Katherine, who produced my favorite video of the case.
Jason Trumpbour and Friends of Duke--which fell between my two categories (on and off campus), and has been perhaps the most significant grassroots organization of this case.
Over the past 12 months, most of my posts have tended to be critical. Lots of people have betrayed their professions in how they handled this case, ranging from Nifong to the Group of 88 to journalists such as Duff Wilson. But it's worth remembering that--both on campus and off--lots of other people ensured that the overall story was not an exclusively negative one.