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 AJR  Letters

From AJR,   October/November 2007  issue

Duke Lacrosse Saga   

I want to congratulate Rachel Smolkin on her cover story in the August/ September issue of AJR. I've been reading the magazine for a long time, and in my opinion "Justice Delayed" is the single best article ever published in the magazine. It should be required reading for everyone in the media world.

John L. Kirby
Portales, New Mexico

As a lawyer who also writes an occasional op-ed column for my local newspaper, I was impressed and gratified by Rachel Smolkin's masterful analysis of the media's many failures in the Duke case. It seemed as if every journalist became a mouthpiece for the prosecution, with particularly egregious examples found in papers that normally trumpet the importance of due process. In fact, the New York Times, among others, seemed to want to give greater constitutional protections to Jose Padilla than to three young lacrosse players.

Ultimately, everyone bears responsibility for this grave miscarriage of justice, from Mike Nifong and his prosecutorial juggernaut to a lying accuser to the jaded and opportunistic multicultural mafia on the Duke faculty. But it is the media's dereliction of duty that troubles me most. Prosecutors can be disbarred, perjurers prosecuted and academics fired. But renegade journalists wrap themselves in the First Amendment far too often as an excuse for shoddy performance. And we let them. It would be nice if the same people who crucified the media for giving President Bush a free pass on Iraq would have demanded the same accountability on behalf of three innocent lacrosse players.

Christine Flowers
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Rachel Smolkin did an outstanding job analyzing the good, bad and outrageous coverage of the Duke lacrosse fiasco. My cop reporter instincts told me from the start there was much that was fishy about the story. I followed the coverage intently in print and online as the sordid mess unfolded and was astonished at how many putatively objective journalists were so quick to swallow an agenda-driven party line. The episode should be a case study for J-school students, and Smolkin's article should lead the syllabus.

Bob Fredericks
Local news editor
Journal News/LoHud.com
White Plains, New York

What an excellent, comprehensive review of this sorry tale. Daniel Okrent's comment about the charges fitting into "preconceived notions of too many in the press" sums it up. I don't blame you for avoiding the rat's nest of political ideology in your summary, but it is inescapable that the case illustrates the cultural prejudices brought to journalism on race and gender issues by the sorts of folks who seem to predominate in editorial boardrooms. I don't think the ordinary consumers of journalism believed much of mainstream reporting on these issues even before the Duke case; the "liberal" stereotypes conflicted too greatly with the reality they experienced daily. People in the profession should stop being in denial about this problem.

Mark Richard
Columbus, Ohio

Many thanks for the fine piece about journalistic missteps in coverage of the Duke "rape" case. One of the aspects of the case at which you and others hint but which is never explicitly addressed is that Duke is in the South. And there are those Americans who believe Southerners are almost genetically different stupider, more violent, racist and inbred than citizens of any other quadrant of the country.

Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, regional black officials and decades of racial progress notwithstanding, the American South is still considered by too many people (mostly those ignorant of the area) to be the seat of all the most heinous recent racial crimes in the U.S. And certainly the Duke case was initially played as poor black victim vs. elite white Southern university town. Never mind that the three young men (falsely) charged came from other parts of the country. So much of the rest of the country is ignorant of and oblivious to my region, until some satisfying, stereotypical and sometimes ill-informed story like the Duke case rears its head.

Mary Tillotson
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Overall, your piece on the Duke case was good, and I think that you really did well on keeping the story straight, which is difficult to do with a piece that is as complicated as this one. There is one thing you did leave out, and I think it was important: That was the role of the Internet, and especially the blogs. For example, KC Johnson was able to pursue this one via his own blog which you acknowledged. There were others of us blogging as well, and we reached a number of people. I think that the rise of the blogs here was significant and provides an interesting challenge to the mainstream media.

William L. Anderson
Associate professor of economics
Frostburg State University
Frostburg, Maryland

I was surprised your article didn't make anything of what now seems to have been the rush to judgment by the Duke administration, including its respected president, Richard Brodhead. The vigor with which Brodhead suspended the team and dismissed the coach certainly reinforced the perception among the media that the case had merit. And while I agree entirely with your critique of the media, I think Duke and Brodhead have gotten off very lightly in subsequent coverage.

Joshua Mills
Professor of journalism
Baruch College/CUNY
New York, New York