Remember the so-called “Duke lacrosse rape case”? That was the scandal that briefly riveted the nation’s attention not once but twice. The first time was in March 2006 when a black stripper called Crystal Mangum accused three Duke University lacrosse players of kidnapping and rape. Yikes. The bien pensant commentariat went into overdrive to condemn not just the three lacrosse payers, but the entire Duke lacrosse team and indeed the “racist” culture of white privilege at Duke.
A few days ago, Ms. Mangum was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her boyfriend who died from wounds she inflicted with a kitchen knife. That hasn’t made too many headlines, but its is a sad, if ironically apt, coda to the whole sorry story.
Travel back to 2006. Syracuse University early on got into the act when it decided not to accept as transfers any students from the Duke lacrosse team—not just the three accused chaps, mind you, but anyone contaminated by having played lacrosse for Duke. “I think it would be inappropriate,” sniffed Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross. (Where is he now? Llama farming in Peru? Nope. Still athletic director at Syracuse.)
But there are at least two other aspects of the case that deserve comment. One is the role of the media, which pounced on the story with unseemly delight. Oh, how the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and countless other bastions of liberal self-satisfaction loved it! Race. Class. Sex. Victimhood. It was the perfect morality tale. Those white jocks at “the Harvard of the South” just had to be guilty. And what a good time we were all going to have lacerating the malefactors while at the same time preening ourselves on our own superior virtue!
The editorials, the op-eds, the comments, the analyses poured forth non-stop, demonstrating that one of the deepest human passions is the urge to self-righteous pontification. The novelist Allan Gurganus epitomized the tone in an op-ed for the Times in April 2006: “The children of privilege,” he thundered, “feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing.” You don’t say? Even sports writers got into the act. Selena Roberts located Duke University “at the intersection of entitlement and enablement, . . . virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside.” By August 2006, as District Attorney Michael Nifong’s case was betraying worrisome fissures, the Times published a 6,000-word article arguing—“praying” might be a more apposite term—that, whatever weaknesses there might be in the prosecution’s case, “there is also a body of evidence to support [taking] the matter to a jury.” As the Times columnist David Brooks ruefully noted after the tide had begun to turn, the campaign against the athletes had the lineaments of a “witch hunt.”
Indeed. Richard Brodhead, Duke’s president, got out his broomstick and suspended the accused students, fired the lacrosse coach, cancelled the rest of the team’s season, and pandered to every possible PC interest, but especially to those baying for the heads of the accused. (One commentator estimated that only 3 percent of Brodhead’s statements could be construed as supporting the accused students.)
And then there was the Duke faculty. As Vincent Carroll, writing in the Rocky Mountain News, noted, “the most astonishing fact, hands down, was and remains the squalid behavior of the community of scholars at Duke itself. For months nearly the entire faculty fell into one of two camps: those who demanded the verdict first and the trial later, and those whose silence enabled their vigilante colleagues to set the tone.”
Particularly egregious was the behavior of the “Group of 88,” a congeries of faculty activists and fellow-travelers who signed “What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?,” a full-page manifesto published in April 2006 in the Duke student newspaper. The statement, which purported to be “listening” to students on campus, mingled anonymous student comments with racialist agitprop. “Regardless of the results of the police investigation,” ran part of the introductory comment, “what is apparent every day now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism.” There followed a mosaic of histrionic proclamations: “We want the absence of terror,” one student is supposed to have said. “But we don’t really know what that means.” “This is not a different experience for us here at Duke University. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists . . .”
Some of the Group of 88 were common or garden-variety academic liberals—timid souls whose long tenure in the protected purlieus of the university surrounded by adolescents has nurtured their risible sense of self-importance and political enlightenment. But a good percentage were radicals more devoted to political activism than scholarship. Indeed, one scandal that still has not received sufficient publicity is the preposterous pseudo-scholarship purveyed by many trendy academics. A look at the CVs of many members of the Group of 88 provides a case in point, partly shocking, partly embarrassing. It’s 99 percent race-class-gender gibberish embroidered with a toxic dollop of ill-digested lit-crit-speak and infatuation with the dregs of pop culture. “Shuckin’ Off the African-American Native Other: What’s PoMo Got to Do with It?,” Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, etc. This is scholarship at one of America’s best universities?