Documenting the Duke Rush to Judgment When three Duke lacrosse players were wrongfully indicted for raping a black stripper in 2006, there was a stampede by the media, members of Duke faculty and one overzealous prosecutor to prove them guilty, say authors Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson. They investigate the case in their new book, Until Proven Innocent.
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Documenting the Duke Rush to Judgment

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Documenting the Duke Rush to Judgment

Documenting the Duke Rush to Judgment

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up: families that qualify for medical help, but don't know it.

But first, not many books earn blurbs from Michael Kinsley on the left to Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, then all the way to George Will on the right.

But National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, whose columns on the charges against members of the Duke University lacrosse team were instrumental in questioning the case, has co-authored a book about the case that raises questions about the culpability of the press and the climate on many American campuses.

Stuart Taylor, co-author with history professor K.C. Johnson of the book "Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and Shameful Injustices on the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case," joins us in our studios.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. STUART TAYLOR (Columnist, National Journal): It's a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: First off, let's say this very plainly. You think that the young men who were charged are good young men, not jerks who happened to be innocent.

Mr. TAYLOR: Exactly. I've gotten to know all of them very well. I've gotten to know their families very well. And they're great kids. I'm very fond of them. That was a benefit of writing this book. If I had not liked them, it wouldn't have been as much of a pleasure to try and vindicate their innocence.

SIMON: Did this lacrosse team inspire a certain kind of resentment in people who, I dare say, often think they're beyond making stereotypes about people?

Mr. TAYLOR: Yes, for sure. One of the striking thing about this is we would have thought that the people who deplore racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes but it was people like that who rushed to judgment against the lacrosse team based on a mere allegation and who were very quick to assume that, well, their fathers are rich, they're privileged, they hired strippers, they're worthless. And therefore, maybe they're guilty. And even if they're not guilty, who cares? They're worthless anyway. That was a wide attitude on the part of many Duke faculty members, many members of the press and many others.

SIMON: In this book, you'd go a lot into the conduct of Mike Nifong, who was then the local prosecutor. Since then he's been disbarred and just yesterday was found in criminal contempt for lying about the DNA report. Is it possible that all of this came about because of a pension?

Mr. TAYLOR: Yes. Nifong told his campaign manager, Jackie Brown, who is a veteran Democratic political operative, later turned against him, that the pension was the reason he had to, he wanted to run for reelection - election. He had never been elected before. He was a career person in the office. He had 27 years. He needed three more years to jack up his pension a lot. And he said, I don't really want this job, to Jackie Brown, but I need it for my pension.

And that is one of the great ironies of the case. It's something as banal as that prompted him to go on a crusade to win an election by inflaming his community based on racial lies.

SIMON: Let me take up what I see as those points in the book which might absolutely drive some members of our listening audience the most crazy. What happened in your estimation of what I think you called the journalistic echo chamber with this case?

Mr. TAYLOR: I think that the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, writers at all of those, many major television hosts completely abandoned any concern for balance, any concern for accuracy, any concern for fairness in order to join a mob of people who were gleefully clamoring the privileged white boys must be guilty.

Let me read you a quote, if I may. Selena Roberts, sports columnist for the New York Times, wrote this on March 31. "Bonded in Barbarity" was her headline. It seethes hatred - those are my words - for - and these are her words - "a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings."

Did she say I was wrong, as some journalists, to their credit, did? No. She just stuck by her guns and basically found some reason to hate these lacrosse players no matter what the evidence was. And that, I think, was an extreme example of a widespread attitude.

SIMON: Were other members of the faculty reluctant to contradict the 88 that were outspoken about the case because they felt that that would mean that they would be portrayed as people who were defending racism and slavery?

Mr. TAYLOR: Some of them privately admitted this. And, in fact, the first member of the undergraduate faculty who publicly condemned the rush to judgment - a chemistry professor named Steve Baldwin - was called a racist and challenged in a veiled way to a fistfight by two other professors within 24 hours after having made his first public statement in the fall of '06. So that's what happens if you contradict this group.

SIMON: I want to give you also a chance to mention a couple of professors at Duke who individually were quite good to the team members.

Mr. TAYLOR: Yeah, Rhonda Sharpe, Thomas (unintelligible) and some others made a point. Rhonda Sharpe, I think, is black and she was breaking ranks with most of the black professors in the humanities faculty. She made a point in her class of telling the lacrosse players, we're not going to bother you about this in this class. You are students here. We're not going to talk about these accusations, and showed support in other ways. You know, they didn't say I know you're innocent because they didn't.

SIMON: You don't see the atmosphere of the campus at Duke as being markedly different from that of a lot of other American universities.

Mr. TAYLOR: Let me emphasize, too, the majority of the faculty was silent. The rest of the faculty and the Duke administration, it appears are - were afraid to dissent. Nobody, with one exception, a law professor, heroically, for more than six months publicly questioned the rush to judgment by the mob.

Also, the students were much less inclined to rush to judgment. And the faculty, they were the extremists who carried banners that said castrate and banged on pots outside doors and so forth.

But majority of the student body was initially concerned because of lawyer strategy, didn't say anything publicly for a while. And you had all these accusations being hurled.

But once the evidence started to come out, the students got it. The faculty never got it. They still don't get it - these extremists.

SIMON: You think the student newspaper was pretty good?

Mr. TAYLOR: It was very good. And there were a number of student columnists, Christian Butler(ph) comes to mind, - he's a senior now - Steve Miller(ph), who were towers of rationality amidst this mob rush and who showed enormous advantage in intellectual maturity and fairness over their own professors.

SIMON: Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson have written a new book, "Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case."

Stuart Taylor, thanks very much.

Mr. TAYLOR: Thank you. Appreciate it.

SIMON: And you can read an excerpt from their book at npr.org/books.

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