Forum: September-October 2007

October 1, 2007
A Duke lacrosse player

Jon Gardiner

A High Price to Pay

The news that Duke charges $25,000 to scatter one's ashes in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens [Quad Quotes, May-June 2007] would be laughable if it were not an obscene profanity against those who would want to maintain "contact" with Duke even after death.

By attempting such extortion from those on the way to the grave, Duke is adding further credence to the popular notion that it is a snobbish, elitist club to which ordinary human beings need not apply for membership.


Vice Presidential Correction


I am writing to offer a correction to the article titled "Vice Presidential Changes" in the Gazette section of the May-June 2007 issue. A sentence in the third paragraph states that I "served as an Army Green Beret in the Vietnam War." That statement is not correct and may have resulted from a misinterpretation of my biographical overview, which states: "From that time [1969] until August 1975, he was an officer in the United States Army serving with the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Forces. His army career included a one-year combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam."

I served with the 82nd Airborne Division prior to going to Vietnam, where I served as a platoon leader with "A" Troop, First Squadron, First Armored Cavalry, Americal Division. When I returned to Fort Bragg, I was assigned to the John F. Kennedy Center for Special Warfare (later renamed the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance). I was initially assigned as executive officer of Company "E," which was responsible for the training in Phase One of the Special Forces Qualification Course.

I later became commanding officer of Company "B," where the students attending the Special Forces Officers Course were under my command. I did not serve with Special Forces in Vietnam.



The State of Journalism

I respect Kevin Sack's Journalism (with a capital "J"), but am disappointed his Futrell acceptance was a vehicle for the very outdated self-indulgence that has the media in the dire straits he decries ["Futrell Journalism Award Winner" and Under the Gargoyle, May-June 2007].

Sack bemoans that quality doesn't corral readers, citing circulation declines despite Pulitzers. No wonder newsrooms are alienating their audiences. By turning noses up at unique local information that should be their advantage in a commoditized market, journalists like Sack give readers little motivation for loyalty.

I take exception to Sack's broad-brush characterization of "new media," having "little interest in assuming the old media's mission of fully and fairly reporting the news." For every "lazy and cynical" aggregator, there is someone doing what newspapers will not.

I know of what I speak. Gary Cohen '92, J.D. '95 and I started PegasusNews.com to provide what newspapers don't-deep customized content for niches and neighborhoods.

Sack might be surprised to see our database of every candidate, official, and contributor in our region-something the newspaper does not provide. He might be appalled to learn that mere citizens reported on elections in towns that journalists eschew. When we cover mundane things, we get hundreds of responses and thousands of eyeballs-partly because of technologies Sack fears, delivering unique and wanted information to each individual. Your trivia is critical to someone else.

While Sack's employers talk about "standards of accuracy and fairness" and their self-anointed position as the "bearers of witness," the new media are practicing transparency and inclusion.

Next year, I hope Duke will honor someone who will not use this forum to grouse that his entitlement is being stripped away. Only a small percentage of his audience will "risk their asses in Baghdad." The rest will have to join us in risking them here at home.


 

Like Kevin Sack, I am deeply concerned by the demise of newspaper journalism. To me, the most troubling outcome of this trend is the tendency for many people to only frequent websites or other sources that reinforce their already-held biases. Instead of getting balanced and objective information, they are satisfied with opinion based on questionable or no research, as long as it agrees with their own, since it raises their own opinion to the status of "fact" in their own minds.

That our political climate is the most divisive I've seen in forty years is at least in part due to this trend. It is hard to have thoughtful political dialogue when so many people are willing to accept assertion as "Proof" and anything they see on the Internet as "Truth."

As I was browsing in a bookstore the other day, another customer asked me if I knew of any good books on Hillary Clinton. I mentioned one and told him I hadn't read it but heard it was fair and objective. He replied, "But does it dump on her real good and make her look like a bitch? That's what I'm looking for." I'd guess this man was not an avid reader of Mr. Sack's or any other newspaper.

The new technologies have opened up a whole new world of opportunity for people to read and hear only what is comfortable for them, and have made those pesky objective newspapers expendable. And that is very sad for all of us.



Lacrosse: The Latest Round

I'm writing to ask for a correction or clarification of a factual error in your article "One Year Later" [May-June 2007]. You quote Professor Michael Gustafson, who refers to "Lubiano's reference to the players as 'perfect offenders.' " Professor Gustafson is incorrect. I did not call the players perfect offenders.

The essay [he refers to] discusses at some length the rhetoric that circulated in the immediate wake of the incident. I wrote there that some of the rhetoric coming "either from those defending the alleged offenders or those defending the alleged victim, is rhetoric driven, haunted, by a fight over whether or not we have offenders who can be seen as 'perfect' in their villainy" or "a victim whose victimage can be seen as necessarily complete and thus 'perfect.'"

Throughout that essay I tried to make sense of, and wrote about the perspectives of, those who were defenders of the alleged victim or of the team. Among other things, I argued that in discussing the need of those who were critical of the team to intensify what they saw as the players' "perfectness as offenders," various differences (ethnic, wealth, behavioral) among the players that complicated this picture had to disappear. That essay attempted to explain the flattening out of complexities in the general public discussion. Its entire five and a half pages are accessible to you and to Duke Magazine readers via the Duke African & African American Studies blogspot: http://dukeaaas.blogspot.com/2006/04/social-diasater-voices-from-durham.html


 

I appeared in "One Year Later." There are two parts I would like to comment on where I believe I have been unclear or have implied statements not actually made by my colleagues.

First, the article stated, "Where some outside commentators on the lacrosse case see a faculty at war with itself, Gustafson says the conversation among colleagues has been civil." I wanted to clarify this to say that my conversations with colleagues have been civil, but that I certainly cannot speak for all others. I have had both face-to-face and electronic "conversations" with several faculty members, including those with whom (to quote one of them) there are "clear spaces of disagreement." I have learned much from them-sometimes abandoning that which I once defended and sometimes feeling even more positive about my own opinions. Unfortunately, there is ample proof that not all interactions have been so collegial.

Second, regarding the following line: "In the posting, he referred in particular to Lubiano's reference to the players as 'perfect offenders,' and to another colleague's equating white innocence with black guilt and men's innocence with women's guilt." The wording of my weblog posting did imply the above. Dr. Lubiano, in her article, "Perfect Offenders, Perfect Victim: The Limitations of Spectacularity in the Aftermath of the Lacrosse Team Incident," actually stated that, "If a crime occurred, I want to insist that … the offenders need not be spectacularly represented or constructed as perfect offenders…." Dr. Holloway, in her article, "Coda: Bodies of Evidence," did not herself set forth the equations above but discussed how many in society viewed the case, stating that "… innocence and guilt have been assessed through a metric of race and gender."

With the attorney general's declaration of innocence for the previously indicted players, and with the announcement of a settlement between them and the university, we can now examine our responses as an institution and as individuals to the myriad complex issues that the last year and more have (re)illuminated. An important part of that examination will be to focus on what people actually said or wrote rather than others' interpretations thereof, and so I am glad to have the opportunity to make the clarifications above.


 

Robert Bliwise's article "One Year Later" is quite a disappointment. One would think that a respected institution of higher learning would seize this opportunity for a meaningful examination of its own conduct in the Nifong/Mangum affair. Instead, the vast majority of the article is devoted to criticism of Nifong and the news media.

The article briefly skims over the university's many mistakes. Unfortunately, by the end of the piece, the author depicts the administration as a victim of Nifong and the news media, when in fact the administration was a willing participant in the public humiliation of some of its finest student-athletes and their coach.

The author's treatment of the Group of 88 takes a similar tack. The article fails to examine why so many alleged scholars have been unwilling to meaningfully discuss their decision to make an unfounded, public accusation against a group of their own students. Professor Baker receives a lot of critical e-mail because of his conduct? It's shocking that a professor should ever be subject to criticism for his public statements. There should be a law!

In the end, the author endorses President Brodhead's cowardly desire to simply "move on" without closely examining the university's misconduct or correcting the underlying reasons for it. On a topic of such obvious importance to the Duke community, the magazine should take a more serious and constructive approach. I look forward to a more penetrating article that is more in keeping with an elite university's mission.


 

While we agree with most of your article regarding the Duke lacrosse case, we are disturbed by one omission. There is nothing in the article acknowledging that such failures of justice occur regularly for many in the poor and minority community. Prosecutorial overreaching, corrupted eyewitness testimony, rush to judgment, and racial bias are commonplace. The community overreaction in this case demonized white power and privilege; usually it demonizes poor and minority individuals.

I (David), when hearing of the Duke charges, assumed that the accused were guilty, just as I had twenty-one years ago when Darryl Hunt was charged with rape and murder here in Winston-Salem. I was wrong both times. Our default response is that the prosecutor got it right; yet as the Duke case reminds us, we must be careful about our default judgments. In Winston-Salem we have learned that many layers of "justice" created a terrible wrong for Darryl Hunt, a poor black man convicted of raping and murdering a white woman, then exonerated after eighteen years in prison.

The Duke case reminds us that justice can go wrong for anyone, regardless of race and class. Thankfully, none of the Duke players spent significant time in jail. Is that a function of their social and economic power? We think so. Of the 203 people in this country who have been wrongfully convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence (after spending an average of twelve years in prison), 121 are African Americans; almost none have had significant economic power. See www.innocenceproject.org.

We assume the justice system will work for us. For those unable to afford powerful attorneys, it often doesn't. Let us use the injustice of the Duke case to build a justice system that truly works for everyone.


 

"One Year Later" is an excellent précis of Duke's complex, multifaceted responses to manage the lacrosse crisis. What was not discussed, however, was senior-level decision-making.

At the time critical strategic decisions were required (principally in late-March 2006), Duke officials simply did not have the information to forcefully challenge Nifong and the ravenous news media, both of whom had opportunistically decided that the "perfect firestorm" of race, sex, affluence, class, and so forth was too publicly appealing to prudently await the legal system's determination of facts. Under these circumstances, what realistic options did Duke have, other than to advocate the historically proven discovery process and to highlight the presumption of innocence?

Similarly, Duke is so large, so complex, and has excelled in so many arenas that no major issue can be appropriately or practically evaluated from the perspective of any single Duke interest or constituency. Had Chairman Robert Steel, the trustees, and President Brodhead-with no substantive evidence and several weeks before the SBI's initial DNA test results were available-aggressively advocated student innocence based solely on passionate declarations, what consequences might have adversely impacted Duke-and its many programs, schools, and relevant groups-if the two DNA analyses had implicated our students?

I respectfully suggest that senior university officials adopted a judicious strategy both by emphasizing the legal system's eventual determination of the truth and by stressing the assumption of innocence. In retrospect, errors were made, many founded on the reasonable-but horribly erroneous-assumption that no long-term professional prosecutor would knowingly, intentionally, and systematically mislead the Durham and Duke communities (and the entire nation, for that matter).

I am extremely proud of the way the Duke Three-and their families-comported themselves throughout their ordeal; I have contributed to their legal defense fund; and I have not removed their blue "innocent" wristband since the day it was first distributed. With this said, however, I believe the effortlessness with which many now retrospectively censure Duke's administration probably belies the decisions they would have made fifteen months ago, had they been responsible for overall, university-wide leadership and management, including every Duke constituency and all Duke interests.


 

What mystery lies in the Duke lacrosse story becoming such a feeding frenzy for the media (and Duke's own grandstanding faculty), when its administration signals to the world that it will join willingly in the condemnation of its accused students, its unaccused students, its culture, legacy, and alumni? The wolves were in charge of the hen house, and everyone knew it.

I don't know with whom President Brodhead was communing in those first months after the story broke, but I personally know of no one who waited until the tide turned against the D.A. to condemn the administration's handling of the matter. Mr. Bliwise's suggestion that President Brodhead valiantly remained calm and neutral while the judicial process ran its course is demonstrably false and only draws his own objectivity into question. Unlike the "analogous" case studies that Mr. Bliwise cites in his article, the injuries that our institution has sustained in this affair were in no small measure self-inflicted, and that makes all the difference.

That the university's trustees were complicit in this disgraceful abdication of reason and responsibility means only that they, as well as Mr. Brodhead, should be removed from office forthwith.


 

The Duke lacrosse case provides a number of important lessons; one of the most important, as Robert Bliwise's "One Year Later" alludes to, concerns the media. However, rather than paint all with a black broad brush, I believe it's critical to distinguish the news organizations which attempted to fairly analyze the continual stream of data out of the case from those that clearly wanted to see the three Duke men convicted, in order to support their own ideological agenda.

Even before the DNA "evidence" came back negative, Fox News presented numerous panels of lawyers who systematically went through all of the contradictions in the case and concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the three Duke men were guilty. The Wall Street Journal also consistently and persuasively refuted the charges. Ed Bradlee's 60 Minutes lacrosse scandal segments on CBS were some of the best in the history of the show. Newsweek started with the awful cover story, but then seemed to reverse course when the facts became evident.

In contrast, multiple reporters at The New York Times, as Bliwise stated, stuck to its "narrative of privileged whites abusing poor black women" for as long as possible. At some point in the history of the case, one couldn't help but deduce that agenda, rather than fact, is the driving force in their reporting. As the Times is a premier provider of world and national news, this recognition has very serious implications, reaching far beyond the Duke lacrosse scandal.

As George Eliot wrote, "The scornful nostril and the high head gather not the odors that lie on the track of truth."


 

A true leader has the vision and courage to recognize what is right, especially in the face of adversity, and fears not the consequences of unreasonable response. A true leader needs not the benefit of hindsight to make clear the right path. From March 2006 to date, President Brodhead's mishandling of the challenges presented has proven him incapable of effectively leading Duke into the future.

While President Brodhead can point to a few ineffectually communicated words here and there for a feeble claim that he "emphasized" the protection of the rights of Duke's students, his claim fails the laugh test. The vast majority of his words and actions, and in many cases his silence, emphasized an aura of guilt of the students and of the university. From the beginning, President Brodhead abdicated his responsibility as Duke's leader to stand up for fairness and truth. Instead, President Brodhead chose the path of political expediency. He failed to effectively counter factually inaccurate and inappropriate statements about Duke and its students, failed to forcefully speak out against procedural irregularities, and failed to take appropriate action in response to repeated attacks upon the due process rights of Duke's students. That is unacceptable.

If such failures in leadership are not enough, for the same reasons that President Brodhead forced the resignation of lacrosse coach Mike Pressler—because confidence in his ability to lead had been compromised, and a need to move forward in a new direction—President Brodhead should resign or be dismissed. And, based upon [trustee chair] Bob Steel's letter of April 11, 2007, in which Mr. Steel stated that the board agreed with the principles President Brodhead established and the actions he took, the resignation of Mr. Steel and any board members that acted in lock step with President Brodhead are also appropriate.


 

After reading the article "One Year Later" on accusations against Duke lacrosse players, I skipped to the back page and read "Bearing Witness" on the decline in U.S. daily newspaper circulation. The first article described outrageous reporting by the press when covering both the Duke lacrosse case as well as other controversial college cases. Could there be some connection between an increasingly biased and sensationalist press and the decline in newspaper readership? Granted, many factors play a part in the readership decline, but for my family, bias and sensationalism are key reasons for not subscribing to a major paper. For Dukies who want to explore press bias further I recommend the book Journalistic Fraud by Bob Kohn. A lawyer and avid New York Times reader, Kohn chronicles the decline in reporting standards at the Times. The contrast between the Times' objective reporting on Watergate and its demonstrably slanted reporting on events of today is startling. No thanks, I'll find other sources of news.


 

The "One Year Later" is thoughtful and presents as an attempt at evenhanded treatment of the subject, but reads as an implicit affirmation of the destructive actions by the trustees through Chair Steel, President Brodhead, and the malicious Gang of 88, who sought for the sake of political correctness to smear innocent students and appease those with ulterior designs on Duke. We would be better off without them.

So many alumni and non-alumni friends who know of my Duke connection ask me why our trustees and administration quietly mouthed "innocent 'til proven guilty" but in actuality and in their expressions and actions treated the team as guilty. And they have never publicly apologized to the players or the team for the shabby treatment.