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Lynch mob fever at Duke University

Carey Roberts
web posted April 23, 2007

"Outrageous" is the word that comes to mind that describes what happened to the Duke Three, accused of gang-raping Crystal Gail Mangum during the early morning hours of March 14, 2006.

Our country was founded on the principles of rule of law and the presumption of innocence. But what we witnessed in Durham, North Carolina over the last year had little to do with the even-handed pursuit of justice. Except for the absence of ropes and gasoline, it resembled a small-town lynch mob.

Shame on Michael Nifong who, lacking eyewitness accounts, forensic proof, or DNA evidence, violated a long list of due process procedures. Nifong botched the photo line-up, turned his back on a disconfirming report of the examining nurse, ignored the fact that the accuser repeatedly changed her story, downplayed Mangum's unsavory occupational activities, prejudiced the jury pool by publicly referring to the players as a "bunch of hooligans," pandered to voters to secure his November re-election, and intentionally withheld exculpatory DNA evidence from a key report – and that's only a partial listing.

When the books are closed on this case, history will recount the role played by Duke University president Richard Brodhead. It was Brodhead who incoherently remarked, "if they didn't do it, whatever they did is bad enough," and fueled the hysteria by canceling the rest of the team's season and suspending two of the players from the university.

People will long wonder why the "Group of 88" professors printed a defamatory letter on April 6 proclaiming that certain unnamed students "know themselves to be the objects of racism and sexism …regardless of the results of the police investigation."

Regrettable, too, were the actions of Duke professor Houston Baker, who openly indulged in sexism and racism, denouncing the "drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us" and calling the players "scummy white males."

And hopefully one day we can forget the specter of the Take Back the Night mobs who chanted death threats, eventually forcing one of the defendants to move out of his home.

Jesse Jackson also ended up on the wrong side of the issue. It was Jackson, of course, who shortly after DNA tests failed to match any evidence taken from the accuser, offered to pay Mangum's college tuition so she would never again "have to stoop that low to survive."

And let's not forget Al Sharpton, notorious enabler of false rape accuser Tawana Brawley, who resorted to his usual grievance-mongering.

One day, perhaps USA Today will explain why it opened its pages on March 30, 2006 to malicious rants, one writer claiming the players belong to a "culture of rape" and "exercise their privilege on the bodies and minds of those of us in their environment."

With luck we won't be hearing again from Wendy Murphy, adjunct professor at the New England School of Law, who made television appearances to comment on the Duke case, repeatedly deriding the notion of the presumption of innocence. During one discussion on MSNBC Murphy claimed, "I have never, ever met a false rape claim."

More deplorable was Wheelock College professor Gail Dines who, after the rape charges had been dropped in December, wrote an on-line article stating she was angry "at the way the media humanized these men as victims."

A pox on New York Times columnist Harvey Araton who ridiculed the members of the Duke women's lacrosse team after they wore sweatbands inscribed with the word "innocent" for a Final Four game in Boston.

Most of all, shame on serial rape accuser Crystal Gail Mangum. She filed a complaint in 1996 that she had been raped, but didn't get around to filing the police report until years later. Mangum was willing to see the lives of the three accused men destroyed, millions of dollars in legal bills expended, and the male gender vilified, in order that she could indulge in her monstrous rape fantasy.

Yes, there are heroes in this sordid tale.

The North Carolina State Bar deserves credit for filing ethics charges against Michael Nifong. Attorney general Roy Cooper was courageous in his decision to exonerate the three players and blunt in scolding Nifong for his "tragic rush to accuse."

Columnists Michael Gaynor and Wendy McElroy kept the public apprised of the unfolding scandal. Ed Bradley's 60 Minutes expose on October 15 was a turning point. And throughout, the three accused players conducted themselves with all-star dignity.

The Duke lacrosse team is back on the field and rated in the top five nationally. The azaleas and daffodils are braving a mid-April cold snap. And students stroll to class toting their backpacks and iPods.

But for three former Duke students falsely accused of rape, their lives will never be the same. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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