It’s been ten years since the Duke lacrosse rape hoax, an occasion marked by “Fantastic Lies," the latest entry in ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series, which aired last Sunday night. Former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent made an appearance, but evidently spoke in only general terms about the media frenzy, while the New York Times’ own sorry complicity in the saga didn’t get much play. Neither did the Times itself carry a review of the show, no surprise, given that the entire saga marks a shameful episode in the newspaper’s journalistic history.
In 2006, Crystal Mangum, a stripper hired by the Duke University lacrosse team, made false charges against three of the Duke lacrosse players, causing a media frenzy that touched on issues of race, sex, and privilege, with the matter of guilt or innocence often left aside in the coverage.
The school’s left-wing faculty piled on, taking the side of the accuser, in a statement by the notorious “Group of 88” faculty members which thanked campus demonstrators for distributing a “wanted” poster of the lacrosse players. But Mangum’s story fell apart, and Durham, N.C. prosecutor Michael Nifong, who pushed the case against the Duke players for the sake of politics and headlines, was jailed and disbarred for fraud and misconduct (Mangum is currently in prison for murdering her boyfriend).
As reported here before, of all major media outlets, the Times coverage of the Duke events was the most friendly to the rogue prosecution of any news outlet. Okrent himself told the Duke University student newspaper in the aftermath of the hoax that "I think The Times' coverage was heartbreaking. I understand why they jumped on the story when they did, but it showed everything that's wrong with American journalism.'"
Indeed, the Times shamefully played prosecutor with the racially charged rape hoax, sliming three innocent Duke lacrosse players. The most notorious story was Duff Wilson and co-author Jonathan Glater's 5,600-word front-page summary of the case on August 25, 2006, a story so slanted it was fricasseed by law-writer Stuart Taylor Jr. in Slate. The subhead to Taylor's rebuttal reads "The New York Times Is Still Victimizing Innocent Dukies."
A 2007 book, "Until Proven Innocent -- Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case," by Taylor & KC Johnson, ripped apart the Times' shoddy coverage of the case, taking particular aim at Duff Wilson’s article, and a series of columns by Selena Roberts.
Roberts was particularly odious in smearing the athletes even after they all been found innocent of the hoax charges: "Don't mess with Duke, though. To shine a light on its integrity has been treated by the irrational mighty as a threat to white privilege. Feel free to excoriate the African-American basketball stars and football behemoths for the misdeeds of all athletes, but lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids.” It sure sounded like Roberts found the false rape charges worthwhile in the end, if it opened up rich white privileged Duke to “change.”