What can be said about a criminal case in which the mainstream media became a lynch mob, the district attorney’s maneuvering led to disbarment, the left screamed “racism!,” political candidates ran on the promise of justice, and dozens of faculty members at an elite college publicly demanded the conviction of its own students before trial?
In 2006 three Duke University students and lacrosse players were accused of rape by a black stripper named Crystal Mangum. Even though two of the students had rock-solid alibis for when the assault supposedly occurred, they were all indicted. After months of travesty, the accusations were revealed as outrageous lies. What then did the lynch-itchy crowd say? Next to nothing.
Lawsuits have surrounded the Duke lacrosse rape case since 2007. Three of them, taken collectively, constitute one of the most significant political and legal battles of our time. What have you heard of them? Next to nothing.
The Original Duke Case
Three young men were pitted against the entrenched corruption of a court system, an ambitious district attorney, a police department, and the left-biased academia to whom they had entrusted their futures. While DA Michael Nifong hid evidence and Duke University paid for an ad in which 88 faculty members denounced the accused, self-proclaimed civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson played the race card whenever Mangum’s shifting story was questioned.
All the students had on their side was truth, the support of family and friends, and the unflagging analysis of a handful of bloggers. Truth won.
But the win is being reversed by silence. Despite the three-ring circus that has ensued since charges were dropped, the normally scandal-hungry media remains mute. Those who cried, “Hang them now; try them later!” have moved on without apology.
If the current struggle to procure justice were allotted one-tenth the attention given to the false charges, the Duke case would shine a badly needed spotlight on some of the worst institutional wrongs in our society.
When the criminal case crumbled spectacularly, most people assumed the matter was over; after all, there was little in the media to suggest otherwise. Those few who still followed the case probably assumed that Nifong’s disbarment was the final chapter.
But from the moment all charges were dropped on April 11, 2007, those victimized by Duke University and the Durham police department have been seeking remedies for the burlesque of justice they endured. The victims include more than the three indicted students. For example, in 2010 ex-lacrosse coach Mike Presser settled a slander suit against Duke. Presser, who led the Duke team to national renown, was pushed out by the administration shortly after the accusations arose.
The media silence continued, even regarding the slow-motion train wreck that became Crystal Mangum’s life. She has been arrested on charges ranging from arson to child abuse, but the coverage generally has been either brief and matter-of-fact or sympathetic.
Now the silence may be breaking. Mangum’s current indictment on a murder charge has caused some commentators to revisit the parody of justice called the “Duke case.” The Atlantic, for example, is to be applauded for leading the discussion.
As for the rest of the media and the left, they have another chance to act with decency.
Law Suits Proceed
As for the three lawsuits wending their way through the courts since 2007, last month a federal judge gave them the green light. Two were brought by most members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team, who seek redress from Duke and the city of Durham. Among the charges: Police violated their constitutional rights by requiring the submission of DNA evidence based on false information provided by Duke.
The remaining suit was brought by the three indicted players. Because they settled with Duke earlier, the suit focuses on the misconduct of specific police officers in the department. For example, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb is being sued for violating Fourth Amendment rights, obstructing justice, and making false public statements.
The suits are a rare opportunity to lift the veils that protect academic, police, and court misconduct from public view. Any media outlet that considers police corruption and the ability of ambitious district attorneys to destroy the innocent to be newsworthy will follow the suits closely.
Or will journalism be left to the bloggers again?