Saturday, March 24, 2007

Duke lacrosse: Bigots with big vocabularies

From the very beginning of the case there were those who tried to use the events in Durham in the same way that racist websites use crimes committed by minorities. Both use sensational headlines to drive home their ideological point.

When neo-nazis use the "Wichita Massacre" to promote their racist views, thinking people recognize their flawed logic. Paula Zahn does not give them a respectful hearing on her show. Yet those who used the lacrosse case to underline the evils of "white skin privilege" and the "misogynistic attitudes of the patriarchy" were sought out as commentators in the early days of the Duke case.

How can the same method be despicable in one case and perfectly respectable in another?

D. W. Griffith's lurid depictions of black rapacity in "Birth of a Nation" is a permanent stain on his reputation as a filmmaker. Wendy Murphy's lurid fictions have not kept her off TV.

At Duke, a criminal investigation became the launching pad for hundreds of sociological animadversions. That was apparently A-OK. The New York Times was happy to let Selena Roberts weigh in. Dahlia Lithwick in Slate fretted that "the Duke lacrosse team's rape scandal cuts too deeply into this country's most tender places: race and class and gender "but she seemed to accept that the punditry on those issues was as valid as the criminal investigation.

Apparently, though, you need a special decoder ring to play the pundit game. Back in 1995 Newt Gingrich tried his hand at extrapolating from specific crimes to sociological generalizations. His musings generated howls of outrage.

At least Gingrich was discussing a real crime and the actual criminals. With the lacrosse case a torrent of words poured forth about the deeper societal meaning of events that never happened. Then, like a snake swallowing its tail, the hoax enablers used these sweeping conclusions about privilege, widespread racism, and endemic sexism to attack those who questioned the hoax.

Andrew Cohen of the Washington Post, for example, dismissed the evidence of innocence last year and maintained that Nifong still had a strong case. Why did anyone think otherwise? They were bigots, of course:
I suspect race and money and access to the media have a lot to do with it. I have often wondered how media coverage might be different -- how the cynical, skeptical skew would turn -- if the alleged victim in the case were white and the alleged defendants black.
Cohen's piece was a prime example of the totalitarian echoes that sounded throughout the commentary on the case. The accused were excoriated for who they were-white, male, privileged. Those who brought up inconvenient facts about DNA or alibis were quickly accused of being rape apologists, paid mouthpieces, or racists.

UPDATE: Selena Roberts just does not know when to fold. She helps make my point with her latest pathetic and hateful column on the Duke case.
There is a tendency to conflate the alleged crime at the Duke lacrosse team kegger on March 13, 2006, with the irrefutable culture of misogyny, racial animus and athlete entitlement that went unrestrained that night.
"Irrefutable"? More like systematically refuted. Each point of her litany grew out of the lurid reports in the early days of the hoax. Subsequent investigations have shown that they were wildly off the mark. Yet, here she is, still trying to sell the same old snake oil.

Hey, i wonder if i can blame her problems with the truth on the "culture of dishonesty" the prevails at the NY Times? Seems to me that there is more evidence of that (Jayson Blair, Walter Duranty) than there is against the lax team.

See also:
From the cone of silence to Emily Litella

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