'Time' Gives Us Our 15 Minutes of Fame
SCOTT SIMON, host:
A couple more stories of the week. Lift up Time magazine's Person of the Year cover and you can see yourself. Time has decided that you - yes, you - although also me - are Time's Person of the Year, for all our blogging, video sharing and Wiki-adding. People look into the reflecting panel on the cover and say, handsome guy. Or - and so young. But just remember, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini were also once Time's Persons of the Year. Suddenly we're not so flattered, are we?
Yesterday, prosecutors in Durham, North Carolina dropped rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of brutalizing the young woman hired as a stripper at a team party. They still face serious charges of kidnapping and sexual offense. And when those charges were filed last spring, just before local primary elections, the 24 hour news cycle abounded with self important and anointed experts providing what amounts to pre-analysis. They've philosophized and solilogized about how college athletes are coddled and spoiled, how preppies of blue-chip schools like Duke can exploit and humiliate townies like the young woman.
Talking heads linked the players to the disgraceful history of white men victimizing black women in America. Sex, race and history - the storyline was explosive and irresistible. But over the past year, much in the case has cracked open. According to papers filled yesterday, prosecutors say that the young woman making the charge now says she cannot recall if she was raped. She has provided multiple and contradictory accounts of what she says occurred. DNA analysis has found no trace of any contact whatsoever with any of the players, much less those charged. They still face more than 30 years in prison.
The Duke lacrosse players admit that they hired the young woman as a stripper. You do not have to see them as blameless innocents who wanted her to help them with their homework and bake gingerbread to feel that the players have been wronged as they've been held up as poster boys for sexual brutality, rather than bores and oafs.
In 1989, public hysteria both reflected and amplified by the press helped along the conviction of five African-American teenagers for rape in the Central Park jogger case. But 13 years later, after they'd all served their sentences, the Manhattan district attorney found evidence that exonerated the teens. The press can rarely wait until all the facts are in before reporting about a case. Reporting is not the court system.
But some of the supposition and analysis, which can also wreck lives and poison the atmosphere, might be able to wait until just a few facts are known.
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