The New American Tyranny: A Prosecutor, the Faculty and Journalists

A review of Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson
In one of  the final scenes from Robert Bolt's classic 1966 film: A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More confronts Richard Rich, who has lied about hearing Sir Thomas condemn King Henry the VIII for seeking a divorce. For this statement he never made, More has been sentenced to death. More sees Rich in a new robe and asks him what it represents. Rich responds that he wears the colors of Wales. More tells him that for all God's glory, it is wrong to lie, and then asks: But for Wales?"

And what in the end was the motivation for District Attorney Michael Nifong to falsely accuse three innocent Duke lacrosse players of raping a drunken, serial-lying stripper named Crystal Mangum? A bigger pension.  By winning election to a four year term, Nifong put himself in position to enhance his pension by $15,000 a year.

Nifong had promised North Carolina Governor Michael Easley that he would not run for a full term at the time he was appointed to the job to fill out the term of the prior DA who had resigned.  That broken promise was a clue to Nifong's character.

Once he became a national media star and a hero to angry Durham blacks, enraged and hateful left wing faculty, and a cheering mob of press flaks, led by Duff Wilson and Selena Roberts of the New York Times, Nifong got carried-away, descending into an ever deeper pit of lies, deceptions, and prosecutorial misconduct. To a degree that the authors of Until Proven Innocent argue is unique in American legal history. In the short term, Nifong won, obtaining a narrow win in the Democratic primary, and then a similar small margin victory in the November election, against a candidate whose name was on the ballot but said he would not serve. Nifong won both times by winning the votes of Durham's large black population, whipped up into a  frenzy by the tales of horrible crimes supposedly committed by the lacrosse players, for which Nifong would be the agent for delivering justice.

Stuart Taylor, a distinguished lawyer and legal affairs writer, and K. C. Johnson, a  Professor of History at Brooklyn College who has faced the politically correct army of the left over his own job, have written a brilliant, engrossing and comprehensive history of the Duke travesty. In the end, Michael Nifong's greed cost him his job, his reputation, and a brief jail stay.  It cost Duke University a significant amount of money ($20 million or more in payouts), and did great damage to its crawl up the prestige ladder of elite higher education.

More importantly, the case exposed the rot at the core of the humanities faculties in many colleges across America -- an angry collection of professors with few classes to teach, little useful research to conduct, but plenty of time to agitate. In the case of the gender and women's studies and African American studies faculties at Duke, it is clear that in the haste to promote faculty diversity, candidates with scant scholarly achievement were given jobs.  Left wing faculty members, whom one might think would be sensitive to abuse of the rights of the accused, cared not a whit for due process in the case of the accused team members. They saw an opportunity to focus  the case into a teaching moment -- with a bright light focused on what they believed was really at issue here: white rich student athletes abusing low income women of color.

The charges against Reade Seligmann, who had an airtight alibi that should have cleared him from the beginning, David Evans, and Collin Finnerty have now all been dropped, and their innocence proclaimed by the state's Attorney General.  But reading this book provides a look into a very frightening period, when lacrosse team members feared for their lives as militant feminists, encouraged by the faculty blowhards, chanted "Castrate!" and black militants threatened to shoot the team members.

One student later appointed to a commission by Duke President Richard Brodhead threatened the lives of the children of the lacrosse coach Mike Pressler.  Brodhead fired the coach at the same time he cancelled the lacrosse team's season. But never disciplined the student issuing the threat to children. He also never attempted to protect Coach Pressler and his family or the students whose lives were threatened. 

The picture of Brodhead revealed in this book makes Lee Bollinger of Columbia look like a man of great courage and vision by comparison. Brodhead leaped on a high horse to condemn the lacrosse team for alcohol abuse (imagine that at Duke!) and for hiring a stripper. This lacrosse team stripper party was one of more than 20 such parties at Duke in this  particular academic year. One of them was held by the Duke men's basketball team, coached by he holy of holies at Duke,  Mike Krzyzewski, a man strangely silent as another elite Duke team was ruthlessly trashed on campus.

Most students soon figured out that no rape occurred at the stripper party.  They defended the team members and the three accused players. Coach of the women's lacrosse team Kerstin Kimel and her team members were particularly visible supporters of the three accused.  So were writers for the Chronicle, the Duke student paper, and the writers covering the case for the Raleigh News and Observer. And the lawyers for the accused were as good as one could ask for. Especially noteworthy were the roles of Brad Bannon,  Joe Cheshire and Kirk Osborn.  Less well off students who could not afford such quality counsel might now be serving 30 year jail sentences for crimes they did not commit.

If the three players had gone to jail  for a crime they did not commit, that would likely not have troubled  the souls of either cable news blowhard Nancy Grace or Bill Keller, New York Times editor-in-chief, and his team of writers and columnists, all of whom who let loose fusillades of abuse at the lacrosse team for months. When the first Times reporter assigned to the story called it straight in his first thee articles (just the facts), he was pulled off the story for a more compliant team who would emphasize in each story the race, class, and gender angle. 

The Times enabled Nifong's folly, as did the radical Duke faculty and President Brodhead. As Nifong's case began to collapse, the Times hung in with him, trying to resuscitate his image with a long story based on a fraudulent police report prepared by Mark Gottlieb, a Duke-hating  cop.  The report contained demonstrably false and inconsistent information, and the Times bought it whole. So much for the paper of record. No Times editorial has ever been published condemning Nifong.  The Times ombudsman called the coverage in the paper fair.

On Tuesday of this week, the Times editorial page and sports columnist Harvey Araton (who harshly condemned the Duke lacrosse team before knowing the facts) weighed in on what is obviously a big story for the Times -- saving the job of Mets manager Willie Randolph, following the team's end of season collapse .  The Times applauded the firing of Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, who was an honorable and honest man and a good coach. But Randolph of the Mets is black and Pressler is white. And that really is all that matters for the Times.

And in the end, that is the story that Taylor and Johnson tell: For the American left and a prosecutor run amok, justice is not meant to be color-blind. If you are white, and especially if you are a white male, and even worse, one from a family with money, you are guilty and stand accused. Your social standing is crime enough.

They used to call it "bad class origins" in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China.

Richard Baehr is political director of American Thinker.