Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, $26.95.
Political correctness is a dominant ethos on the American campus, but it's hardly an academic issue. Until Proven Innocent shows how the pc crusade has colonized the justice system. Such is its power that an obviously bogus rape charge from a member of an accredited victim group can lead a zealous prosecutor to ignore and withhold evidence. Allied with an axis of leftist professors, twisted cops, professional ethnics, and echo-chamber media, that pc zealot mounted a rush to judgment that could have landed innocents in prison for 30 years.
The Duke lacrosse rape case turned the nation into a kind of studio audience but Until Proven Innocent confirms that blogs, television news, and even lengthy, thoughtful articles are not sufficient for a case of this magnitude. Authors Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson bring it all together, and then some. The encyclopedic detail may prove too much for many readers, who are likely to loath prosecutor Mike Nifong (rhymes with "thong") by the early going, with good reason.
Nifong's crusade against Dave Evans, Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, and by association the rest of the Duke lacrosse team, "may well be the most egregious abuse of prosecutorial power ever to unfold in plain view," say the authors. They show that, during most of the more than nine months Nifong hounded the accused, he had evidence of their innocence right in his hands. On television he went beyond the claims of the accuser Crystal Mangum, whom he never interviewed. Nifong told ESPN: "one would wonder why one needs and attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong."
This 2006 gang-rape case, like the Tawana Brawley accusation of 1987, was a fraud. The blow-by-blow account of the legal maneuvers would be enough for a book but there is much more here. P.J. O'Rourke and Tom Wolfe, on LSD, would be hard pressed to invent antics more ludicrous than those of the Duke faculty. The Group of 88 that rode herd on the accused included faculty Alice Kaplan, Ariel Dorfman, Thavolia Glymph, Wahneema Lubiano, and Mark Anthony Neal, who in Duke Magazine called himself a "thugniggaintellectual" into "gangsta" scholarship and "hard core intellectual thuggery." The group also included professors who post junkthought like this on their website:
"Unless we attempt to read racialized trauma according to a more Freudian, Lacanian understanding for subjectivity we will continue to misunderstand why racial stigma persists and, more generally, why the laws humans create to protect against forms of discrimination leave in place a notion of the racialized subject as emptied of interiority and the psychical."
The Group of 88 mounted pot-banging demonstrations that included banners saying "CASTRATE." Other professors feared to take issue with them they be smeared with charges of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia or right-wingism. The authors also did their homework on Duke president Richard Brodhead, who comes across as Nifong's faculty adviser. While serving as boss at Yale, Brodhead signed a letter urging parole of Weather Underground militant Kathy Boudin.
The media stars in this case show astonishing creativity. "To suggest that they [the lacrosse players] were well behaved, Hitler never beat his wife either. So what?" said former prosecutor Wendy Murphy on MSNBC. That is hard to top but Murphy was up to the task. On CNN she said that the DNA evidence, far from exonerating the players, made the accuser more credible. "These guys watch 'CSI,' and they know that it's a really bad idea to ejaculate on or in the victim," Murphy said. There is much more along these lines, and the print media was no better.
Taylor and Johnson analyze coverage from local papers to the mighty New York Times, whose work was bad enough to make NYT critics move on from Walter Duranty and Jayson Blair. Aversion to facts and a lynch-mob spirit permeate the stories. The exceptions include David Brooks and a few others unwilling to suspend presumption of innocence and ignore the facts. Even after the accused were declared innocent on April 11, 2007, few at Duke or in the media owned up to their prejudices. Indeed, some Duke faculty retaliated against members of the lacrosse team. Confession is not a pc strong suit, but there is a lot more at stake than pride.
"If the American people cannot trust those who they've empowered to pursue justice fairly, then hope for this democracy is lost," said Walter Jones, a North Carolina Representative who called for investigation of Nifong. Readers of Until Proven Innocent will not consider Jones' statement an exaggeration. Nor will it seem out of line that screening for political correctness should be part of the hiring process for prosecutors, police officers, and professors.
The authors know where the trail leads. Toward the end of they recall the rants of pioneering ultra-feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. They represent the gender warriors but classism came into play in this case. At Duke, lacrosse is a badge of classism and racism. It seems to have escaped notice that game itself proceeds from Native Americans and one of its best players of all time is Syracuse and NFL great Jim Brown, who happens to be black.
Political correctness is wrong however you play it, and Until Proven Innocent is a confirmation of the dangers it poses to everyone.