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One pile after another: building a bullshit Wonderland

In the middle of my last post I promised a list of some of the bullshit I’ve come across in Durham-in-Wonderland (DIW). It’s only, what? three weeks later? not quite a month? Anyway, here it is, a collection that lends credence to Harry G. Frankfurt’s comment that the “normal habit of attending to the way things are may become attenuated or lost” because of “excessive indulgence in [bullshitting], which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say.” What it suits KC Johnson to say is whatever feeds his Wonderland narrative—the cast, action, and bitter irony that it keeps it churning along. That’s how it seems to work in his coverage of academic issues and of Duke, anyway, and that’s the focus in all my posts about DIW.

This entry is all about problems with DIW. Look at the previous one for a broader and at least somewhat more balanced look at bullshit and the lacrosse case. A lot of what’s on the list below is covered in earlier posts—you can get more detail by following the links.

The most glaring misrepresentation I’ve found is a quote from Mark Anthony Neal that’s presented as his description of a recurring experience at Duke—it comes from an article he wrote a year before he joined the Duke faculty. A blatantly out-of-context quote from Donna Lisker shows Johnson reading like a drug-sniffing dog, hypersensitive to passages that can be made to sound extremist or intolerant or, in this case, biased against the lacrosse players. Then there are samples of the more sustained reduction to type that’s inflicted on Karla Holloway and Wahneema Lubiano. Johnson’s treatment of two events involving President Brodhead shows him using the limitations of his evidence as an opportunity to make stuff up. His story of an angry backlash against Steven Baldwin shows how little evidence it takes to convince him that the PC crowd at Duke is just as predictable as he thought. And when it looks like a Duke-run website is trying to expunge the memory of the three indicted lacrosse players, he mines the historically-charged metaphor of airbrushing for all it’s worth, and then some. First off, though, is something that’s not the usual typecasting but instead a bullshit insinuation that makes the “Group” look as loathsome as possible.

  1. If you can call them the same name, they’re the same thing: The Pressler “protesters.”

    [Duke lacrosse coach Mike] Pressler and his family were subjected to death threats. Protesters taped signs to his house with such messages as “DO YOUR DUTY. TURN THEM IN.” Several days later, when the Group of 88 issued their “listening” statement, the professors offered a message for such protesters: Thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard. [“Scapegoating,” DIW, August 4, 2006]

    When I highlighted this passage as an egregious example of Johnson capitalizing on ignorance instead of fighting it, he responded that he’d “never claimed that the Group in any way thanked people who attacked Mike Pressler or who demanded his dismissal.” That’s so true. Like any good insinuation, the claim is in the eye of the beholder—it depends on who counts as “such protesters.” The protests that Johnson explicitly ties to the “listening” statement didn’t involve death threats or notes taped furtively to houses while a family was sleeping inside, so the connection isn’t that specific. The spirit of vigilantism behind the harassment of Pressler has clear parallels in the potbanging protest, which included a grotesque call for violence, and also in the “wanted” posters that went up on campus. But Johnson makes no linkage and offers no explanation or analysis, so the passage boils down to open-ended insinuation and literalistic sophistry—the people harassing Pressler are “protesters,” the “listening” statement thanks “protesters,” Q.E.D.

  2. Outrageous stories about outrageous people are probably true and definitely useful: Mark Anthony Neal and the outer limits of credibility.

    The myth that Neal lives by informs his claim that whenever he “rolls into the classroom on the first day of class,” there is always somebody “in the house quietly utter[ing] ‘who’s the nigger?’” That a professor heard students whispering the N-word at politically correct Duke approaches the outer limits of credibility. [“The Group’s Intellectual Origins,” DIW, March 10, 2007]

    This is supposed to be Neal’s bullshit, but it’s actually Richard Bertrand Spencer’s. Neal wasn’t writing about “whenever,” and he wasn’t writing about anything he heard at Duke, either—the basis for Spencer’s story is an article that came out more than a year before Neal started teaching there.

    Spencer’s tall tale, published with no citation, was a test that Johnson’s bullshit detector failed miserably. The DIW commentariat did no better, as far as I can tell. But when Spencer’s article came out, Johnson had already put Neal’s other outrageous utterances to work in an effortless and highly effective character prosecution. What Johnson shows in the end is that, when rhetorical push comes to shove, he has far more of a taste for thuggery than Neal.

  3. If you can put it between quotes, you can pass it off as what they said: Making an example of Donna Lisker.

    The only other Duke author on the [university’s “Duke and Men’s Lacrosse” media coverage homepage] is Donna Lisker, head of the Duke women’s center. Lisker’s column appeared in a publication called “Baldwin Scholars Newsletter.” Unlike the 31 other opinion pieces featured on both the media coverage homepage and the section of archived articles, this publication has no website. Duke evidently considered Lisker’s message of sufficient importance to upload the article onto the University website itself. Among other things, Lisker faulted a Rolling Stone article on campus social life for speaking only to students who “believed staunchly in the innocence of the accused men.” [“The Brodhead Files,”, DIW, August 1, 2006]

    Johnson’s point, looking at the links to lacrosse-case coverage on Duke’s website, is that the official line was that “it’s OK to be one-sided in speaking solely to campus critics of the lacrosse team.” He sniffed out as “evidence” one phrase in Lisker’s article, and it’s most definitely “among other things.” What she faults the Rolling Stone for is “seeking interview subjects who would declare their opinion in absolutes.” Whether she would have faulted the magazine just as much if all four subjects had believed that the players were guilty instead of innocent, I can’t say, and neither can Johnson. But her focus isn’t the Rolling Stone article (“Sex and Scandal at Duke”), it’s the women who were Baldwin Scholars during the Spring 2006 semester. She is just as respectful of the two lacrosse players who “appeared in an NBC piece about the success of the women’s team and the difficulty they had watching their male counterparts go through this ordeal” as she is of the African American who was on Nightline addressing “the racial aspects of the situation” (One of the two lacrosse players, Rachel Stack, wrote a September 2006 Chronicle op-ed that Johnson turned into useful fodder). Lisker’s main point is about what they represented as a group:

    What was remarkable about this diversity of responses is that they all coexisted peacefully. The Baldwin Scholars gave one another the gift of respectful and constructive disagreement. What’s more, they did not let this highly polarizing experience split them by race, by sorority affiliation, or by social class. They recognized that in a situation this complicated, there would be multiple truths, and they tried to see one another’s perspectives. In so doing, they were far ahead of most of the media professionals roaming campus throughout March and April. I spoke often of the Baldwin Scholars to the many reporters who interviewed me this spring; I wanted them to know about these remarkable young women leaders who were asking good questions and refusing to reduce the situation to its lowest common denominator. I thought they might learn something from them.

    It sounds like Johnson could have learned a lot from them, as well, and also from Lisker—her piece is a much more genuine critique of one-sided coverage than his post is. Instead, in a remarkable show of bad faith, he took nine of Lisker’s words and turned them into bullshit, then put them in quotation marks so she’d take the blame.

  4. Everyone knows how feminist extremists think, so there’s no need to puzzle out the convoluted nonsense that they write (part 1): Karla Holloway socks it to the jocks.

    1.) The courts will not reach the desired outcome to advance her on-campus aims, and so their results must be preemptively dismissed. […]
    2.) The culture of male athletics is inherently immoral. […]
    3.) Women athletes are effectively traitors to their gender. […]
    4.) The “victim” in this affair is… Karla Holloway.
    [“The Travails of Karla Holloway,” DIW, September 20, 2006]

    I don’t know of a DIW entry that’s more full of it than this critique of an article Holloway published in an online academic journal in the summer of 2006. Just about every point he makes is fudged in one way or another, including the four section headings quoted above.

    The last three headings say little about Holloway and much more about the one-dimensional stereotype of a shrill race-obsessed feminist that represents her in Wonderland. Johnson seems to think that the real message of the article is whatever a person like that would want to say—what the text provides is hints and incriminating quotes. Her distaste for certain aspects of the culture of men’s sports and her misgivings about the way the women’s lacrosse players expressed their faith in the innocence of the three indicted men are both translated by Johnson into outright condemnation. And though I don’t blame anyone for feeling that Holloway makes too much of the scandal as a personal imposition, she never comes close to setting herself up as the victim. This is a cheap shot that Johnson tends to take whenever it looks like the wrong kind of person is complaining about how the scandal has impacted them—besides Holloway, there’s Robyn Wiegman, Wahneema Lubiano, and Michael Hardt, Cathy Davidson (“and her 87 colleagues”), “the Group” again (and again), and the Durham Police Department, and perhaps others as well.

    As far as dismissing the legal outcome, Johnson never explains why Holloway would have to when her “on-campus aims” have to do with “aspects of [the team’s] conduct that extend into the social realms of character and integrity [and] should not be the parameters of adjudicatory processes.” He ignores the straightforward distinction between what can and what can’t be settled by a criminal court again when he turns to her pithy claim that “White innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt.” In Holloway’s article it’s a thoroughly debatable opinion about her experience of how the allegations had been understood and discussed. It’s Johnson who turns it into absurd bullshit about what the court should decide.

  5. Everyone knows how feminist extremists think, so there’s no need to puzzle out the convoluted nonsense that they write (part 2): Wahneema Lubiano, perfect offender.

    In turn, she has used [her tenured position at Duke] to rally opposition to her own institution’s students, the “perfect offenders” whose conviction she believes will advance her pedagogical and ideological agenda. [“Creating Wahneema’s World,” DIW, December 12, 2006]

    Johnson seems to have left no stone unturned in an effort to portray Lubiano as the epitome of the extremist race/class/gender mindset—the kind of person who has compromised the quality of college faculties in general and turned Duke into an academic Wonderland. One item in the fat dossier Johnson compiled on her is a list of almost a dozen statements, positions and associations that’s supposed to represent her ideological extremism. Some of it is activism meant to have a political or institutional impact, such as “demand[ing] that Duke divest from companies doing business in Israel” and supporting a graduate student union at NYU—fair game as part of a critical look at what she stands for as a person and a professor. Some of it is vague pandering, like the conference with both “Black” and “Queer” in its title. He ends the list on a note of creepy McCarthyism, pointing out that in 2001 she spoke to the Triangle Vegetarian Peace Society—apparently the significance of speaking to such a group is obvious, and it doesn’t matter what she talked about. The list is a pretty good representation of his scattershot criticism of Lubiano, heavy on circumstantial evidence and character prosecution.

    There’s stuff in her dossier that’s directly related to the lacrosse case, of course. Her central role in drafting the “listening” statement is the big thing, and she made other statements that frame the lacrosse incident as a race/class/gender issue. There’s not a shred of direct evidence showing she had any particular stake in lacrosse players being convicted of rape. But it seems that the mass of circumstantial evidence and a relentlessly simplistic model of the black female ideologue adds up to a window into her mind—and it seems to me that Johnson does treat black women as especially agenda-driven and transparent.

    If he’s right about what she believed—I can’t prove he isn’t—then he reads her mind better than he reads her words. He got little out of the article she posted in mid-April 2006 (“Perfect Offenders, Perfect Victim: The Limitations of Spectacularity in the Aftermath of the Lacrosse Team Incident”) other than confirmation that she’s just the kind of extremist he thought she was, and that she hoped to make an example of the “perfect offenders” on the Duke lacrosse team. When I pointed out that she’s analyzing the public debate and not calling anyone anything—something others had already done, including Lubiano herself—he came back with a snide dismissal of her “after-the-fact revisionism” (as opposed to before-the-fact revisionism?):

    Many months after penning these words, Lubiano explained that she was merely analyzing the situation—that she didn’t consider the lacrosse players “perfect offenders,” because, evidently, she couldn’t be considered either a strong defender of the “victim” [sic] or among those who “see the alleged offenders as the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” …

    This is, after all, the same Wahneema Lubiano who…

    The list that follows is supposed to show that she couldn’t have been “merely analyzing the situation” in her article—that she was revealing her opinion of the lacrosse team by slapping a label on them. Like the list covering her ideological extremism, it’s a scattershot collection that mostly reflects the rhetorical logic announced by “the same Wahneema Lubiano,” which is prosecutorial rehashing of the defendant’s transgressions, with a lot of prosecutorial spin. Unless he feels she should be condemned for thought crimes (and it doesn’t seem like he has any objection to doing that) the question of whether or not “perfect offenders” is a hypothetical position doesn’t at all hinge on what she believes—analyzing one’s own position objectively is a matter of basic intellectual competence. She wrote the article as an activist addressing fellow activists, so there’s no doubt what side she’s on. But in her analysis she gives a credible account of two opposing positions and of the dynamic that results. Despite her reputation (on DIW, anyway) as jargony and incomprehensible, she’s summarized her analysis quite clearly:

    I make the argument that supporters of the alleged victim needed to see the players as “perfect offenders” to affirm their support for her and that supporters of the players needed to see a “perfect victim” before they could imagine that a crime had even occurred. I was not arguing for myself, I was trying to describe a dynamic that over-simplified every possible element of the discussion.

    What’s funny about this, especially given that Johnson treats Lubiano as a case study in scholarly quality taking a hit for the sake of “diversity,” is that Lubiano gives a perfectly credible performance as a college professor in “Perfect Offenders,” while Johnson, in response, consistently plays the role of a hack. Lubiano’s analysis can stand or fall on its own merits, independent of her sympathies, and her rhetoric is mild and reasonably neutral. On the other hand, after starting with the logic of a kindergartner and tattling on Lubiano for calling the lacrosse players “perfect offenders,” Johnson offers up a lot of disparaging rhetoric and a puffed-up list of circumstantial evidence, with a little agenda-driven analysis mixed in here and there. And Lubiano is the one who represents academia’s declining standards?

  6. A hint is as good as a smoking gun when you’re dealing with utterly predictable people: The persecution of Steven Baldwin.

    Baldwin’s missive did arouse the wrath of the righteous. Ignoring any pretense of desiring dialogue and debate with those who dared to challenge their agenda, the Group [of 88] and its sympathizers immediately tried to silence Baldwin. [“Remembering the Good,” DIW, August 9, 2007]

    It’s clear that Baldwin’s op-ed angered a lot of people on campus, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the reaction was intolerant and even threatening. Two things put Johnson’s account of the incident in the realm of bullshit and not serious reporting or even informed speculation. One is the discrepancy between the scorn he pours on Robyn Weigman’s comment about “the language of lynching” and the free pass he gives to the heated rhetoric about tarring and feathering that Baldwin directed at some unspecified colleagues. If Baldwin’s goal was to provide fodder for Johnson’s blog and book he hit just the right note, but if he really wanted to improve the atmosphere for the lacrosse team, more carefully chosen words would have served him better.

    The other problem is that the supposed onslaught of political correctness is documented by exactly two communications—a public response from Robyn Weigman and a private email from Kerrie Haynie. I suppose that Weigman’s letter might count as an effort to silence Baldwin, though I don’t see why it would be taken seriously as such. Haynie’s email is all about Baldwin’s damning rhetoric and not at all about the “Group’s” agenda. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise—Haynie didn’t sign the “listening” statement but he did sit on the committee chaired by Jim Coleman that’s widely credited with salvaging the lacrosse team’s reputation.

    Baldwin must have gotten a lot of angry email—anyone at Duke who made a controversial public statement about the case seems to have gotten a lot of angry email. Much of it might support the narrative about the “wrath of the righteous” that’s so attractive not only to Johnson but to advocates of “intellectual diversity” and unfettered free speech like FIRE. Despite his reputation as a tireless researcher, in this case Johnson’s interest in digging up the facts seems to have faded once he had something in hand that made just the right impression. And what’s enough for him is apparently enough for supposedly “non-partisan” academic reformers at FIRE, as well.

  7. It doesn’t matter how good the evidence is, it matters how good it sounds: Brodhead’s “bad enough.”

    Perhaps Brodhead’s single most inexcusable comment during this affair came in an appearance at a Durham Chamber of Commerce meeting on April 20, two days after the indictments of Reade Seligmann and Colin Finnerty. WRAL-TV quoted the president as saying, “If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.” [“Dissembling,” DIW, August 23, 2006]

    Bad enough that what? That at least two of those students deserve to rot in jail? That Duke needs to take a hard look not only at how its students relate to each other and also how they relate to the community? That Duke’s neighbors have been wondering just what standards it holds its athletes to? That Duke and Durham will continue to be scrutinized and caricatured on the evening news? The phrase pattern “it’s bad enough…” isn’t self-sufficient—it calls for some sort of reference or consequence. When it’s left hanging, the rest is probably implied by the context. What’s left out can also be a rhetorical gesture, a way of saying “it’s so bad I can’t put it into words,” or “I might get in trouble if I say it, but you know what a mean” (wink, wink), which seems to be the way Brodhead’s critics hear this one. It’s a conclusion that’s almost entirely in the ear of the beholder. (As I’m posting this, I see that Johnson has recently come up with another alternative: “[the] underage drinking was ‘bad enough’ to merit the national assault on his two students’ character.” Of course! It’s so obvious!)

    There are three short clips of Brodhead speaking in the WRAL story. They have no particular connection to each other except that he’s apparently “venting” about the lacrosse case in all of them (it seems to have been an unscripted panel discussion, though I can’t tell for sure). The clip with “bad enough” is cut before he’s finished speaking the word “enough.” Probably it’s the end of a sentence, but it might not be—there’s no way to tell without unedited video or a transcript, and Johnson confirmed in an email that he didn’t have access to either. Apparently that’s not a bug, it’s a feature, as the geeks like to say—Johnson uses the missing context as an excuse for a few paragraphs of tendentious speculation (aka bullshit). In the end he packages the remark as Brodhead’s “April 20 condemnation of Seligmann and Finnerty.” My impression is that in the scholarly realm, especially in history, such an opportunistic approach to source material would be frowned on, or else laughed at.

    A few weeks ago, attorney Jim Cooney created some buzz by telling a reporter that Brodhead pulled some strings behind the scenes to smooth Reade Seligmann’s way into Brown University. This was hard to swallow for all the folks who were convinced that Brodhead was, at best, utterly indifferent to the indicted lacrosse players. All the more because Cooney used to be one of the guys in white hats. Jason Trumpbour posted his thoughts about all that on the FODU web site. His analysis is cogent and pretty convincing, and on the whole I think he’s come by his cynicism honestly. But this stood out:

    I cannot imagine Brodhead writing anyone on Reade’s behalf without a gun to his head. If he did so, it was either as part of the settlement or for his own self interest.

    That, to me, is mostly a comment about the limitations of Trumpbour’s imagination. I don’t have any trouble imagining Brodhead speaking and acting one way in his public, institutional role and another way in private. More to the point, it left me wondering if the reason Johnson and others are convinced that Brodhead’s “bad enough” was a condemnation of Seligmann and Finnerty is that they just can’t imagine anything else.

    It’s no surprise that both of the lacrosse players’ civil suits against Duke invoke the line. One of them fully embraces the conventional-wisdom bullshit: with the remark, “Brodhead revealed his callous indifference to the truth, suggesting that even if the alleged rape had never occurred, the lacrosse players were getting what they deserved” (Carrington et al v. Duke University et al, p. 142). The other suit is more subtle, calling it “nearly a slogan” (McFadyen et al v. Duke University et al, p. 259), which strikes me as accurate but ironic, since as far as I can see the only people using it like a slogan were the ones attacking Brodhead.

  8. Don’t spoil a picture-perfect impression with fastidious attention to the evidence: The president, the thug, and Duke’s “culture of crassness.”

    [I]t’s worth pondering what it says about Brodhead and his administration that the president denounced Duke’s alleged “culture of crassness” while he spoke supportively alongside a professor who describes himself as “thugniggaintellectual” and says he embodies “this figure that comes into intellectual spaces like a thug, who literally is fearful and menacing. [“Intellectual Thuggery,” DIW, August 11, 2006]

    That was the end of the post, a Wonderland moment being shrinkwrapped with a rhetorical flourish—Johnson had already made the rank hypocrisy of the supposed “conversation” perfectly clear, and there was no need for any further “pondering.” For all I know the heavy irony hits its mark, but if so it’s not because accuracy was the goal. The sole basis for Johnson’s account of the forum (other than his imagination) is a short article in the Duke Chronicle, and it never places Brodhead “supportively alongside” anyone else and gives no indication that he mentioned, much less denounced, the “culture of crassness.”

    According to the Chronicle, that theme belonged to the Dean of Students, Sue Wasiolek, who “cited comments written by students on blogs, including one student’s comment that Duke was leaning towards a ‘culture of crassness,’ which adversely affected the intellectual atmosphere of the University.” But apparently it’s not enough for Johnson that the topic came up and was treated seriously—he wants to be able to pin the juxtaposition of Neal and the “culture of crassness” on Brodhead, and that’s easiest if the theme was planned into the event. So what was worth pondering in August was, in October, “worth remembering”:

    that Neal is the professor—of the nearly 500 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty—with whom Richard Brodhead chose to share the stage at an event to combat the university’s alleged “culture of crassness” following Nifong’s first two arrests.

    In an email to me about a year after that, Johnson said outright that the event was “designed to combat the ‘culture of crassness’ on campus” (emphasis added). That’s hard to square with the public record. There’s nothing about crassness in this announcement for the event, and if there was it would have been quite a surprise to Preeti Aroon, the Duke graduate student who coined the phrase in a column that ran in the Chronicle the day before the “Conversation.” Half a year later, she wrote that she was “intrigued at how quickly a term I created in my little apartment in Durham spread like a virus and made it into a national news magazine (Newsweek) within two weeks.”

  9. For dramatic effect, nothing beats a trip behind the iron curtain: The epic two-day-long struggle of memory against forgetting on

    But, very much like that photograph of Gottwald from the March 1948 rally, Duke has airbrushed from history those whose existence the institution now considers politically inconvenient. The website features printed versions of both the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 rosters, which list the players on the team, their heights and weights, their hometowns, and their year in school. These rosters are, in effect, historical documents. Yet they do not contain the names of three students—Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann—who played for Duke during both seasons. According to the Duke website’s official version of events, Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann were never on the Duke men’s lacrosse team. [“Laughter and Forgetting in Durham,” DIW, October 8, 2006]

    The parallel is to Milan Kundera’s poignant tale of people who were expunged from Czechoslovakia’s historical record—even airbrushed out of pictures—after an anti-Semitic purge. Johnson couldn’t “imagine why anyone associated with Duke would have chosen to erase the [three] names…. But Brodhead’s Durham is not Gottwald’s Prague. In a society where information is free, I am confident that righteous forces will prevail….” The righteous forces made unusually quick work of it, and when Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann appear on the site later that day, Johnson registers it self-importantly as a “small victory in ‘the struggle of memory against forgetting.’”

    A day or so later the Director of Internet Operations for the Duke University Athletics Association explained in an email that it was a technical issue that came up in the process of restoring rosters that had been deleted at the request of the players’ families. Now that could be the bullshit explanation of craven administrators covering their tracks after they were caught red-handed. But there’s no sign that Johnson even considered mundane technical explanations as he tried to fathom the mystery of the three missing players, and even if he doesn’t have a feel for the intricacies of database-driven web sites, he should have enough experience with computers to know how maddeningly routine technical glitches are. He nevertheless frames it as someone “associated with Duke” having “chosen to erase” (my emphasis), which suggests that his bullshit detector was on the fritz again—what could the Duke administration have hoped to achieve by quietly disappearing the three indicted players? And is it really safe to assume all of them are such bunglers that they’d imagine nobody would notice or care?

    I just consulting DIW as I’m getting ready to post, and the “Laughter and Forgetting” entry is gone. So is the incisive comment that someone posted a couple hours after the entry: “The 2003-2004 roster lists one lacrosse player. The 2004-2005 roster lists 24 players. The 2005-2006 roster lists 34 players. Shouldn’t you investigate why all the rosters are grossly incomplete before assuming that there is an attempt to ‘forget’ history?”

    It was all there last time I checked, a week or two ago. And I was all set to point out that at least Johnson was keeping DIW’s historical record intact. Ain’t that somethin’?

    [The post reappeared a few weeks later—sometime after this little incident. There might or might not be a connection]

  10. Keep any debate or criticism firmly focussed on trivialities: Professor Lubiano’s so-called “scholarship.”

    And, a while back, a commenter criticized me for suggesting that the Lubiano Trio’s apologia for the Group of 88 could be considered “scholarship,” since Wahneema Lubiano listed the article not on her CV but only in her “recent publications” section. Well, now the article is on her CV, too. [“July Events in the Case,” DIW, August 2, 2008]

    The nine examples above seemed like enough when I pulled this list out of the middle of my first “bullshit” post. But we all like lists of ten, and it so happened that Johnson had just handed me some great material. The comment he’s referring to, about “the Lubiano Trio’s apologia,” is part of an exchange we had about his critique of the lacrosse-case article in Social Text by Robyn Wiegman, Wahneema Lubiano, and Michael Hardt. As I said in my own post soon afterwards, my main point was that his criticism amounted to little more than nitpicking. Our exchange on DIW was interesting and early on it was even illuminating. But I didn’t criticize him for suggesting that the article could be considered scholarship, not in the way he says I did, anyway.

    The relevant thread of our exchange is hard to pick out of all the comments. Here’s the gist of it:

    Me (4/25/08 4:13 AM): Be as shocked as you like about all the factual errors [in the Social Text article]. Sloppiness of that sort is an indication of something, for sure. The points about 60 Minutes and the NY Times are really nitpicking, though, and the other points you call the authors on are, on the whole, peripheral. I’d expect students writing about the article to do a much better job of distinguishing essentials from incidentals. I don’t see how this context calls for any less, especially when you’re writing about a text that your audience doesn’t have free access to.

    KC Johnson (4/25/08 9:42 AM): I suppose we’ll have to disagree on what constitutes a “trivial” error. It seems to me that when three tenured profs at one of the nation’s leading universities publish an article; and when these same three profs claim that “right-wing” blogs imposed a narrative of the case on their university; and when these same three profs describe FODU as having “embodied” this narrative the “most prominently,” it’s a pretty significant error of fact when these same three profs wholly mischaracterize the stated reason for FODU’s origin….

    Me (4/25/08 2:42 PM): Prof. Johnson, I guess it’s also a trivial error to say that the Social Text article is listed in Lubiano’s CV when it’s not. It’s listed on her faculty web page under “Recent Publications.” Arguing about whether or not that means it’s “scholarship in her field” is a fine way to trivialize the debate, for sure. But the word “trivial” is yours, not mine. The distinction I’ve been pointing to is between central and peripheral.

    KC Johnson (4/26/08 1:28 PM): My apologies, by the way, for saying that Lubiano had listed the article under her CV when instead she had listed it under the “recent publications” section of her website—a section in which she has never previously listed op-eds or non-scholarly articles (such as her N&O op-ed, her blog postings on the case, or the Group if 88 ad, of which she was principal author) and had only listed scholarship.

    Perhaps, however, reharmonizer’s insinuation is correct, and Lubiano is suddenly using that section of her website to list non-scholarly items.

    Me (never): Concerning Johnson’s last point (1:28 PM), my actual insinuation was that he’s inclined to quibble literalistically about distracting technicalities as a way to short-circuit meaningful debate. He’s played his part perfectly…, but I’ve learned to count on that.

    It takes two to tango, and I won’t pretend that I had nothing to do with the combative tone. I was in his face about some points I’d made on my blog that I wanted him to respond to, and I may have been too gleeful about calling him on his “trivial error.” But “a fine way to trivialize the debate” and “the distinction… between central and peripheral” are straightforward points, and it amazes me that he came back with a sarcastic “apology” that repackaged my criticism as a finicky quibble about where Lubiano puts this and that on her website. I thought I’d made it obvious that I didn’t (and don’t) give a fig whether or not the Social Text article counts as scholarship, or whether or not Lubiano lists it as such. Whether or not “scholarship” is a legitimate concern in this case, it’s not a line of criticism that I can take seriously from a professor whose intellectual standards are so completely negotiable.

    Johnson continues to pretend that I was trying to do to him exactly what I complained he was doing to Wiegman, Lubiano, and Hardt. I think my last comment makes my position crystal clear, but I don’t know whether he ever read that one—it never appeared on DIW. It’s possible that it was lost to some software fluke or moderating slip-up. Or it may be that the DIW comments policy (“Comments are moderated, but with the lightest of touches, to exclude only off-topic comments or obviously racist or similar remarks”) is, like so much else over there, bullshit.

The last point is second-order bullshitting that neutralizes criticism by misconstruing and trivializing it. In general, Johnson’s responses to my criticism have been heavy on bluster, misrepresentation, and ad hominem—those seem like pretty natural ways to defend bullshit. A few months ago some darts flew back and forth between us about my false claim that “50 percent of DIW’s posts were about the Duke professoriate.” (not that he actually reads my blog, you understand, but he hears things). It was an even fussier version of the exchange about Lubiano’s scholarship, down to the “apology,” this time offered for “assuming that this Group apologist [i.e., me] referenced the faculty with his (incorrect) claim.” I’m not sure if the self-serving insincere apology is one of Johnson’s rhetorical staples, but dismissive pigeonholing is definitely one of them—what value could the opinion of a “Group apologist” possibly have? He slaps the same label on Robert Perkinson in the post that ends with his carping about my 50 percent figure, apparently because Perkinson was not convinced by the case against Duke faculty and said so in his review of Johnson’s book. Since I’m at Duke, tribalist logic dictates that I’m probably an apologist. Perkinson is at the University of Hawai’i and has no obvious ties to Duke. He’s a leftist, though, and I guess that’s enough. The pigeonholing can be a lot more elaborate—my first appearance on DIW is at the end of a ten-paragraph narration of the so-called “Group of 88 rehab tour.” Johnson wraps it up by introducing me as another one of the washed-out bums on the bus—at that point everyone knows where things stand, and he can proceed to demolish my criticism.

On the other hand, I introduced Johnson on my blog as “irrational,” “anti-academic,” and “insidiously polarizing.” They’re charges that have held up well, too. Of course Johnson objected—who wouldn’t? One way he fought back was to try out those descriptions on a list of people I hadn’t criticized as harshly but who surely deserved it more. Eventually he found his way to former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer. In a passage I cited approvingly from Rojstaczer’s review of Until Proven Innocent, he writes that “[w]ith regard to the ‘Group of 88,’ Taylor and Johnson are engaging in demagoguery. Certainly there are some left-wing crackpots at Duke (and no doubt some right-wing crackpots).” Johnson replied that “[s]ome people might consider calling members of the faculty ‘crackpots’ to be ‘insidiously polarizing,’ ‘irrational,’ and ‘anti-academic’.” The weasel-wording pretty much guarantees that he’s right, and no doubt some people really are that clueless about tone (Johnson may be one of them—it would explain a lot). But Rojstaczer’s casual hyperbole is hard to miss. Add that in and the objection to “crackpots” turns into bullshit, and a fine example of Johnson’s fetish for literalism to boot.

{ 20 } Comments

  1. Dan Weber | August 28, 2008 at 16:31 | Permalink

    Thanks for writing. I’m a regularly reader of DIW, and it’s nice to get another view of his charges that don’t seem to fit quite right (and that I don’t have the ability to critique myself).

    ~   ~   ~

    You’re welcome.

  2. Steve | August 29, 2008 at 00:53 | Permalink

    Truth and Bullshit a little late


    When I first heard about the case I was skeptical. Why because the last three summers my son and I had looked for rentals at my alma mater. I didn’t remember any bathrooms large enough for a gang rape to occur you could hardly turn around in most of them. Any crime requires two elements time to commit the crime and space to commit it in. These are the basic elements of opportunity. Due to conflicting stories I waited until I could download the search warrant of the Buchanan house on March 29, 2006. I made a few phone calls on my way to work March 30th and 31st from the west coast. Three realtors were familiar with the house. Two said only two people could fit in the bathroom. A third said the bathroom was too small for the alleged rape to occur. I didn’t need to focus any time on the timeline since four people don’t fit in the bathroom no crime involving four people happened no matter the timeline. By eight o’clock Pacific Time on March 31, 2006 I could have written a story in any newspaper that the crime alleged in the search warrant didn’t happen. If anyone believed three men raped a woman in that bathroom to quote my favorite accounting malpractice case “there were grounds for the greatest possible skepticism and you didn’t exercise them.”

    “I’m trying not to be troubled by the logic” from a favorite Dan Jenkins character, Billy Clyde Puckett.

    Charles Piot, his article on KC Johnson fails my Incomprehensibility Test. Does it read like ERISA or sound like Billy Madison? (Employees Retirement Income Security Act of 1974)
    Michael Gustafson made an attempt to defend Charles Piot’s article by attacking my conclusions about another article in an earlier issue of Transforming Anthropology.

    Wahneema Lubiano in her article Perfect Offenders wrote “we don’t have a public sphere where discussion easily flows” then “we have to yell in order to be heard” and “The heat, then, is necessarily turned up.” Yelling and turning up the heat help discussion?

    Cathy Davidson’s article “It was as if defending David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann necessitated reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-Americans, especially poor black women.” See above. “Studying this social disaster must be on the lesson plan for our future, no matter what happens next in this miserable incident.” Independence from Duke and Durham are necessary to accurately study the “incident”.

    “No delusion is greater than the notion that method and industry can make up for lack of mother-wit, either in science or practical life.” This is my favorite quote from British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley.

    Some unchallenged delusions.

    Mark Anthony Neal’s comments on what a black woman uniquely processes. And we control the debate on race issues

    Karla Holloway bitter people can end bitterness and comments about how to achieve diversity at Duke.

    Tim Tyson’s assertion that a neighbor of college kids presumably had no axe to grind.

    As for Brian Leiter’s law blog, I’m pretty close to the intended audience I found his analysis unconvincing. Part of the job description of a law professor is to speculate. And I enjoy his blog especially his law school rankings.

    The only reason I doubt Reade was helped is the LAX boards were burning up with speculation about where the players would land in May of 2006.

    I admit I’m playing the civil cases for points. I’m watching Zugzwang (refers to a situation in which a player can make only moves that worsen his position) and Zubulake Duty (to preserve electronic evidence) with great interest.

    ~   ~   ~

    The problem with Piot and Leiter, maybe Gustafson is too many complete sentences. Complete thoughts, sometimes. An Incomprehensibility Test will sort that stuff out (see above). Where did you get it?

    It’s true all the rest of us forgot to call our favorite real estate agents and ask about the bathroom! KC Johnson even. That whole blog, why?

  3. TP Squirrel | August 29, 2008 at 03:20 | Permalink

    Why does nobody want to
    discuss the size of the bathroom
    at 610 North Buchanan?
    Release the actual dimensions?

    There are TWO bathrooms
    in the Lax house! Both plenty
    big enough to accommodate
    [the alleged crime].

    ~   ~   ~

    At some level I think I agree with Steve that more hard-headed realism back when the allegations were fresh would have been a good thing. I got the same message from RRH’s comment about his bullshit detector. At this point I don’t think there’s a lot of mileage in the bathroom size issue, though. I neutralized a few words in the comment—not very happily, because it was just sarcasm, but the effect would likely have been pointlessly provocative.

  4. Michael Gustafson | August 29, 2008 at 08:03 | Permalink

    The conversation “Steve” refers to containing my so-called defense of Piot’s article is available at:

    I’ll just let it speak for itself and folks can, as always, draw their own conclusions.

  5. Ralph DuBose | August 29, 2008 at 09:36 | Permalink

    In actual fact, DIW was gentler with the folks you are trying to defend than they deserved. For example, Johnson did not know at the time he was commenting on Brodheads worst statements - like “Whatever they did…” that Brodhead already had knowledge that the kids were innocent of any serious crime. Imagine what he and the other blog hooligans would have felt free to write if they knew that. And I really don’t get why you play innocent regarding the context of those remarks and actions. It all happened in front of a local jury pool when the kids were looking at 30 years for crimes Brodhead had knowledge of never happened. That fact should be at the top of every page on everything written about Brodhead for the rest of his life.

    You seem to be mainly trying to say that the various defenders and enablers of this hoax never acted in concert, did not belong to any organized group, and had a wide range of attitudes and intentions and so Johnson transgressed in trying to treat them as a “gang” of any sort.
    That argument does not work for me because the actors Johnson targeted did indeed have one big, self-chosen thing in common. And that is that they chose to ignore the mass of impossible-to-deny evidence that no crime had been committed. That, imho, says something decisive about an individuals worldview and makes them members of a club whether or not they know each other or have lots else in common. I mean, if you knew that the names on a list were all serial killers with a penchant for torture, wouldn’t you be inclined to treat them similarly despite whatever else might be different about them?

    ~   ~   ~

    My point is that Johnson wrote what he wanted to write and adjusted the “evidence” to fit. You seem to think that’s irrelevant because he was writing about horrible people. That’s not an argument that works for me.

  6. Ralph DuBose | August 29, 2008 at 11:07 | Permalink

    At the risk of become tedious, let me try to distill my point of view on your complaints re DIW to this: Once the individuals (whom Johnson attacks) began to disregard the actual innocence of the Lax guys, NOTHING they did or said about this case was defensible or even trivial. So, everything they did or said from then on was evil and wrong. So, unless some criticism is based on facts made up out of thin air it cannot be unfair or even nit-picking.
    As individuals they may or may not be completely horrible. I cannot speak to that. I only comment on their public actions in this case.

    ~   ~   ~

    OK, it’s fine to make yourself clear. Johnson piggy-backed a much bigger agenda on the back of the lacrosse team, and it’s the bullshit that serves the bigger agenda that I object to. If your real concern is the “actual innocence of the Lax guys,” it just muddies the waters.

  7. Steve | August 29, 2008 at 14:21 | Permalink

    The Incomprehensibility Test comes from two sources. The ERISA part comes from Mark Stevens 1981 book The Big Eight. To paraphrase, a needed set of reforms but shit have you ever tried to read the thing it’s incomprehensible? No businessman can understand it. It will take an army of accountants and lawyers to interpret it, for fees of course. My freshman year after the NCAA compliance officer droned on for 45 minutes with no signs of slowing down a teammate leaned over and whispered “everyone is dumber for listening to this.” I like the principal in Billy Madison better so I adopted it in 1995. The test is the two extremes of communication. Is it so complex and dense that the point is missed without large amounts of additional analysis? Or that is it a lot of words strung together without making a point?

    Why did everyone forget about the size of bathroom? It is too simple too obvious and any focus on it ends the story. I can only speculate why KC Johnson ignored the crime scene. He wanted to focus on Duke Professors. Focus on the crime scene leads you in another direction. I’m single sourced on this so this is speculation. There are way too many people’s feet in the wrong places, a bunch of emails and telephone traffic that will be very hard to explain away. All leading to the City of Durham.

  8. Evelyn F. | August 30, 2008 at 08:36 | Permalink

    Mr. Zimmerman,

    Mr. Johnson is often mendacious or simply very sloppy with regard to his investigations into the associations of Lubiano and others.

    But for the record, Lubiano never presented a talk before (or at) the Triangle Vegetarian Peace Society. The Society simply keeps (or kept, I haven’t checked lately) on their website an announcement list or schedule of upcoming lectures and events that might be thought to be of interest to its members at its website. The talk that she was presenting on Iraq that was posted at that website was one among many other such events to which the Society’s website drew the attention of its members.

    When Johnson smears the Society by association with Lubiano, he is doing so based on a mistake. I guess the joy of finding Lubiano’s name at their website, and thereby being able to establish the radicalness of Lubiano and the Society made for sloppy reportage on Johnson’s part. Two, two, smears in one.

    Of course, Lubiano’s critics (Johnson chief among them) will no doubt say that such sloppiness of reporting (or lying) doesn’t matter when you’re talking about evil.

    But just in case people are willing to believe that the poor non-meat eaters don’t deserve the guilt by association and the animadversions heaped on them by virtue of their non-existent association with Lubiano, I thought I’d set the record straight.

    On the other hand, maybe this will teach them not to announce lectures/events presented by known radicals.

    On the other hand, maybe they deserve the tarring regardless of the degree of attentuation.

    ~   ~   ~

    And on the other hand… How many other hands do we have to work with here?

    In a way any attention paid to this bit of trivia (the talk announced by the Triangle Vegetarian Society) makes it seem relevant, when it never was. That’s not a complaint—I was the one who put it in the post. And it’s good to be clear on the details—thanks for filling us in.

  9. RedMountain | August 30, 2008 at 11:38 | Permalink
    1. If they are not part of ‘our team’, they are evil and anything they have said or will say is also evil (even if they didn’t say anything).

      Just kidding, Robert, you seem to have it pretty well covered. Great post.

    ~   ~   ~

    I think that gets filed under “tribalism.” Thanks, though.

  10. Ralph DuBose | August 31, 2008 at 03:35 | Permalink

    Ah, yes, it’s back to the theme of tribalism. For any critical analysis of the “tribalist” tendencies of the participants in our little drama to have any traction, it seems to me that there needs to be a legitimate non-tribalist place to stand. In other words, if you are going to criticize people for appearing to join a tribe there needs to be way for a good faith actor in this story to appear to not have joined a “tribe”.

    May I suggest that no such ground has existed on which one could stand ever since the real evidence began to come in from about mid-April 2006. Since then, there has been no good-faith basis for doubting the actual innocence of the Lax guys. And their lives were in danger. Of course, most people in the world had problems of their own during that time and could not care less about a faraway matter. I mean, there are an infinity of tragedies and injustices going on in the world right now that I am not doing much about right now either. So, most people are out of this. But of those who did choose involvement in this matter, what was there about it that allowed neutrality or detachment? I mean, as an honorable place to stand?. Winston Churchill once said that he refused to be neutral in a contest between the fire-brigade and the fire. Of course, not everyone cares or can care about every fire. But it is one thing to hurry past the scene of a burning building because you have your own exigencies, it is quite another to stop and add fuel to it or try to cut the firemans water hose.

    So, if you would, why not try to apply your “tribalism is bad” paradigm to a apartment building fire being attended to by a volunteer fire-department. Describe the kind of people who get involved in the process and stay involved yet who do not chose one side or the other. Like, they only throw gasoline on the fire every now and then while occasionally letting the fire-fighters get by them on the sidewalk. In your mind, are they therefore “more balanced” and less tribal in their approach? In Durham that might make sense but the average person just gets nauseated and then very angry when presented with the true story of this case. The Lawsuits continue. Your whole endowment is in play if this gets to a jury. btw.

    We get it that you want your fellow Academicians to be treated as as special class deserving of a special type of analysis of their words and actions. And that KC Johnson failed to report on all the subtly and nuance that the various misbehaving Academicians felt existed in their positions and postures here.
    I have my moments of sentimentality. For example, I loved the movie “Titanic” especially the part at the end where young Rose gets off the life-boat and its presumed safety to stand with the guy whom she loved and who would not abandon her. Meanwhile, so many others rowed their boats out of the reach of the slowly drowning 3rd class passengers. No doubt, those folks all had subtle and nuanced reasons for doing what they did. To the few survivors from among those who were in the water, it all meant fuck-all.

    ~   ~   ~

    You really lost me with the last sentence.

    I don’t know who “we” is—the royal we? “the average person”?—but you don’t get it. The word “tribalist” really gets your goat, though, doesn’t it? I guess you realize that your reactions are thoroughly tribalistic and so you have to point out (again and again) that in this case it’s not a fault. Someday the guy with the scraggly beard and the sign that says “the end is near” is bound to be right, too. Your percentages are better than his, I’ll definitely grant that.

  11. Ralph DuBose | September 1, 2008 at 02:08 | Permalink

    The last line was about the fact that the abandoned, nearly frozen survivors in the water of the Titanic disaster were (I bet) not much interested in the sublties and nuances of the intellectual reasonings of the folks who chose to row away rather than help them not die.
    Likewise, it a complete waste of time to expect anyone at the receiving end of PC terrorism to care about the complexities behind the motivations of the enablers of their torment. Kill them all and let god sort them out.
    We all have to pick our fights, for our own reasons. So I cannot fault those who simply stayed out of this. There are always other valid issues to care about.
    But those who spoke out on this issue as if the Lax guys might have been guilty after it became clear they were not don’t deserve the slightest break, imho. They did a lot of harm and they knew better. Nor do they deserve to escape being herded (so to speak) into the same high-fenced category of shame. - where their individual excuses are ignored and the stigma is un-ending. They could have changed course. They could have apologized. They could have committed hari-kari. Since they didn’t , by and large, it is impossible to defend them. Criticism of their actions (based on the real facts) cannot be excessively harsh, cannot be unfair, cannot be bullshit. Lots of them belong in Federal Prison.

    ~   ~   ~

    Believe it or not, you’ve made your point. Now all you’re doing is giving the average person a bad name.

  12. RedMountain | September 2, 2008 at 10:00 | Permalink

    The last line was about the fact that the abandoned, nearly frozen survivors in the water of the Titanic disaster were (I bet) not much interested in the subtleties and nuances of the intellectual reasonings of the folks who chose to row away rather than help them not die.

    I see these comparisons as another example of making the Duke Lacrosse case to be more than the reality. The case was, in my opinion, more notable from the standpoint of the punishments the DA received than from the standpoint of the accused being railroaded. It was not the prime example of justice gone bad, in NC alone there are many examples of innocents spending a long time in jail for crimes they did not commit. The accused in this case had the help of many people including a fine defense team and many bloggers and media types. In this case, they were rescued and the system ultimately worked.

    I also have a difficult time placing those that did not jump on the innocent band wagon early as some that are deserving of criticism that can’t be “excessively harsh, cannot be unfair, cannot be bullshit. Lots of them belong in Federal Prison.” In my opinion, those are in reality things that may be just that. Durham had a DA with a good reputation for honesty insisting that he had a case, and that he had the evidence to proceed to trial. I certainly don’t disagree with Brodhead when he said in the early stages that he was getting conflicting information, and he wanted to avoid a rush to judgement, and that he wanted a full investigation. Nor do I have a difficult time understanding how others were also confused about the completely different stories they were getting from the DA and LE as compared to the story coming from the defense team.

    On the other hand, I do find it hard to comprehend some of the extreme examples of making this case more than it really was and portraying people being on one extreme side of opinion or another. I recently read a post from a member of the LS [i.e., LieStoppers] crew that reasoned that Eve Carson may have been thinking about this case in her final moments. Most people have moved on from this case, do not think about it on a daily basis, and certainly don’t give this the importance assigned to it by many others. The various lawsuits are proceeding at a snails pace and most of the Durham residents that I have spoken to consider them to be excessive and frivolous. I also find it hard to believe that all of those named in the various lawsuits conspired to frame these young men.

    ~   ~   ~

    I also found Ralph’s bit about the Titanic lifeboats to be yet another overinflated lacrosse-case metaphor. Another is KC Johnson’s latest attempt to invoke the airbrushing out of history of a former Czech foreign minister (it keeps the metaphor in circulation after he airbrushed the really embarrassing one that he posted a couple of years ago). The connections to Eve Carson’s murder aren’t metaphoric, but they can be at least as hyperbolic, and a good bit more offensive. I haven’t seen the one Mark is referring to, but this one, about the “underlying approval for what was done to Eve Carson” on the part of some high-profile African Americans in Durham, is way over the top. The other commenters treated it as a reasonable observation, with one notable exception (thank goodness for small favors).

  13. Steve | September 2, 2008 at 20:03 | Permalink

    Re Comment #3
    If TM Squirrel is correct then they have information vital to the defense of the City of Durham, the Durham Police Department and the related individual defendants. In my Circuit having a complaining witness, 30 minutes to commit the crime and space to commit the crime would be enough to have probable cause a crime was committed. The best defense available to a malicious prosecution suit is probable cause and the defense attorney’s aren’t using it? They aren’t using it only because they can’t.

    Why is probable cause important to the Duke case? Because the Plaintiffs know Duke will do almost anything settle this case. Their unwillingness to have a Rule 26(f) conference the so called Zubulake Duty to retain electronic information is a clear indication of this. Duke was on notice at the very latest they were to be subject of Civil Suits when Kyle Dowd filled his grade retaliation case in January 2007. Settlements are about leverage. Duke doesn’t much since they have a lot of electronic information they want to keep out of the public domain. One it would be embarrassing and two a bunch of emails are missing.

    Professor you were pissed about the treatment of Duke Professors by KC Johnson and started this part of your blog. Now I don’t litigate civil rights cases and my only non tax case is several years out but this what I would do. I would ask for it, I would demand it and I would insist upon it. I would go to trial if Faulkner Fox and Tim Tyson aren’t fired as part of any settlement. No pot bangers get to stay at Duke.

    ~   ~   ~

    Sounds like you should be sending the nonsense and non sequiturs to the players’ attorneys, then.

  14. Ralph DuBose | September 2, 2008 at 21:56 | Permalink

    I appreciate Red Mountains comments. I can accept them as an entirely honest statement of how he (and I suppose the average Durhamite) sees this case. I think the key phrase comes at the end, “I also find it hard to believe that all those named in the various lawsuits conspired to frame these young men.” Having an optimistic view of peoples nature is a nice trait to have, most of the time.

    A few days ago, there was another 250 pages of the legal back and forth released to the public. Unfortunately for Durham in general and certain Duke officials in particular the worst case scenario is developing. Durham/Duke have already admitted to so many bad facts and are so much pointing the finger of blame at each other that I think it is fair to say that they are without a meaningful defense at this point. […]


    I think this is part of the back story: Small town DAs and rich University Administrators have one thing in common - they are used to dealing with relatively powerless people and they are used to getting away with shortcuts in the realm of ethics because they normally have so much protection from payback. […]

    Once when I was a kid, I swung a wooden log down onto a tractor tire innertube. I was bored, I guess Anyway, the log bounced back with all the force I had swung it with and split my skull open. Brodhead and Nifong should have spent more time around tractors, imho.

    ~   ~   ~

    I pared this comment down—if you need to read the whole thing, here it is. Ralph seems to be much more of an authority on the effects of blunt force trauma than he is on the “Small town DAs and rich University Administrators” that he wishes it on. That’s as much as I care to read or post along those lines.

    This blog is not the place to pontificate about the lawsuits. My guess is that anyone with thoughts to share is welcome to join Debrah and the other sycophants in the groupthink hot tub on DIW.

  15. Wayne Fontes | September 2, 2008 at 22:41 | Permalink

    I also have a difficult time placing those that did not jump on the innocent band wagon early as some that are deserving of criticism that can’t be “excessively harsh, cannot be unfair, cannot be bullshit. Lots of them belong in Federal Prison.” In my opinion, those are in reality things that may be just that. Durham had a DA with a good reputation for honesty insisting that he had a case, and that he had the evidence to proceed to trial. I certainly don’t disagree with Brodhead when he said in the early stages that he was getting conflicting information, and he wanted to avoid a rush to judgement, and that he wanted a full investigation. Nor do I have a difficult time understanding how others were also confused about the completely different stories they were getting from the DA and LE as compared to the story coming from the defense team.

    Mark, Ralph explicitly said that “So I cannot fault those who simply stayed out of this. There are always other valid issues to care about. But those who spoke out on this issue as if the Lax guys might have been guilty after it became clear they were not don’t deserve the slightest break, imho.” in the comment just above yours. Your criticizing him for something he never said.

    Could you point out where the facts at Brodhead’s disposal ever changed?
    The statements by LE and especially Nifong should have aroused suspicion in any non-biased observer. The fact Nifong was losing the election when this case presented itself was commented on contemporaneously. The wall of silence meme was a joke. Once lawyers are involved potential defendents don’t talk, period.

    ~   ~   ~

    I think the points in the last paragraph are all pretty good. But I’m not going to be hosting a free-for-all about what and when Brodhead did, could have, or should have known all the things that are now either common knowledge or partisan dogma.

  16. RedMountain | September 3, 2008 at 08:25 | Permalink

    You make a good point. Ralph seems to be more reasonable on this than some others. The Titanic metaphor does not really fit the actual words he used to support it. Robert does not want us to get into the Brodhead mindset speculation but it is easier to look back on this now and see what the ‘facts’ were. At the point in time that we are disputing, I think it was more a case of conflicting claims from the DA and LE vs the defense team. Perhaps if Ralph dropped the word “might” from the phrase “But those who spoke out on this issue as if the Lax guys might have been guilty after it became clear they were not don’t deserve the slightest break, imho.” He is saying that those that had doubts are worthy of condemnation. When it became “clear that they were not” is certainly subjective, even among ardent supporters of the formerly accused there are different points in time when everything became “clear”. My opinion is that at the time when Brodhead was speaking about not “rushing to judgment”, things were not so clear. The “wall of silence” issue was discussed contemporaneously as well, and it was certainly not a matter of accepted non-fact at the time.

    ~   ~   ~

    That the “wall of silence” story was accepted so uncritically is one of the things that most bothers me about the case—I’ve brought that up a couple of times, most recently here. It seems to me that a lot of the ugliness of the scandal can be traced back to the police and DA spreading the story and then a great many people who should have known better, including some professors, using it as a pretense to castigate and hound the lacrosse team.

    I’m too tired to think about the “Titanic metaphor,” but I think I probably agree with what you’re saying about that.

  17. Ralph DuBose | September 3, 2008 at 19:17 | Permalink

    Red Mountain raised the question about why M. Nifong suffered such severe penalities and Duke University seems set to suffer some of them when there are so many other rotten Law Enforcement/Administrative abuses going on. If we get past the simplistic “they could afford good lawyers” and the moralistic “Did (do) they really cosmically deserve this” responses I think there is one, key, reality based explanation. Nifong and Duke both lost control of the process before either could tidy up their own vulnerabilities. It is standard for most criminal cases to end with some variation of a plea bargain, even when charges are dropped, in a way that rules out much in the way of civil litigation. Likewise, Colleges resolve disputes with students in ways that effectuate a sort of “hold harmless clause”. This should not be the least bit surprising. And these sort of deals are invariably taken because defendants just want to get on with their lives and frequently have a worried sense of their own areas of vulnerability.
    The day that Nifong faced bar charges and had to lose control of His case he was doomed. He must have suspected the case would be resolved in a way that left him helpless before endless, potent civil litigation - because the Lax guys did not need any breaks or favors if honest investigators became involved. That is the nice thing about having proof of innocence. No deals, in other words.
    Essentially the same thing happened vs Duke and for the same reasons.

    I mentioned my mis-adventure with the log and innertube as an example of how things sometimes can come back with startling and unpleasant force when too many lazy assumptions are made. Nifong, Brodhead, and many others had gotten so used to getting their way that they never considered the size of the bet they were making by departing so drastically from normal procedures.

    ~   ~   ~

    This is so mildly worded and reasonable that it hardly leaves me a thing to carp about. Ralph rewrote the comment before I got around to clearing it, and I took the liberty of transferring the part about the log and the inner tube from the first version, since I originally understood something quite different than he meant. Plus it gives me the chance to make one point. However badly Brodhead handled the lacrosse case (and however culpable he’s found to be), it wasn’t his business, isn’t the role of a college president, to run roughshod over the rights of students. There are definitely institutional problems with respect to due process at Duke and many other universities, but nothing I’ve seen suggests they emanate from the president’s office. So it make no sense to imagine that Brodhead was used to “getting his way” in the same way that Nifong was (that’s a comment about the two job descriptions much more than the two men).

    But that’s enough of the Brodhead/lawsuit stuff. It’s really not what this blog is about, and there are other places to kick those things around.

  18. RedMountain | September 4, 2008 at 09:29 | Permalink

    “But that’s enough of the Brodhead/lawsuit stuff. It’s really not what this blog is about, and there are other places to kick those things around.”

    Is Zimmerman a communist?

    Just kidding, and I hope you see the humor in that one. Respectfully; How is that working out for you? I understand your focus and purpose for this blog and I see the posts you have made and what it is you are speaking up about. I don’t agree with your statement that there are other places to kick those things around. LieStoppers? Joan said just today that “Informative polite debate is good for all our minds and souls. I’d like some give and take from a position different than mine.” Would that I could, Joan. TalkLeft? Only a few posters left and Jeralyn has so limited the discussion with the exile of certain posters and the severe limits on what can be discussed, that there is no real debate going on there. The Batcave? Some good debate but most stay away because they perceive the site to be pro-prosecution or for other reasons that I do not fully comprehend. I suppose I could be like that regular commenter on DIW that just asks if certain people are communists. It is rather funny, and may be some sort of protest or it may be that they miss a chance to debate the issues with people with opposing views. JohnInCarolina? Been there, done that, got banned. Some places you can’t give your real opinion without being stopped from giving your real opinion. I have tried to stay on topic here, Robert, at least as much as the others do that comment on your posts. I will continue to do so but I would hope you don’t enforce your wishes for limiting comments too strictly.

    ~   ~   ~

    Hmmm. I’ll have to think about this one. One thing that seems clear is that I don’t do nearly enough banning to run a proper discussion site.

  19. Ralph DuBose | September 5, 2008 at 06:51 | Permalink

    I could not agree more with the idea that keeping an open mind about what happened at that party would have been an excellent plan for all concerned in the Spring of 06. But that would have entailed the main actors standing up and saying, “These kids are presumed innocent until proven guilty” and then sitting down. As far as I can recall, no one did so. A lot of time has already been spent going over the reasons behind that unfortunate fact. Political Correctness is obviously one big factor. But I think that another reason so many decided to attack the Lax guys without waiting for real evidence of guilt (or while ignoring evidence of innocence) is that they figured that they could. They were entitled. It appeared not to have occurred to anyone involved that they should have any reason to fear the consequences of taking actions that were in fact hugely aggressive and destructive of others well being and safety. It is exactly what I was thinking as a kid as I swung a log at an innertube just to take out my frustrations on something I figured could not hit back. The innertube was not a person to me that could feel - which happens to be quite a sane perspective as far as it goes but I still got hit back for the sins of hubris and acting without thinking while holding a weapon. And I instantly appreciated the generosity of the cosmos for teaching me this lesson and I have remembered it ever since. Many involved in this would have benefited, imho, from growing up with similar experiences.

    ~   ~   ~

    I’m skeptical, but it’s a theory

  20. krddurham | September 6, 2008 at 11:38 | Permalink

    Mr. Zimmerman said: “I haven’t seen the one Mark is referring to, but this one, about the “underlying approval for what was done to Eve Carson” on the part of some high-profile African Americans in Durham, is way over the top. The other commenters treated it as a reasonable observation, with one notable exception (thank goodness for small favors).”

    And, unbelievably, that “one notable exception” was banned after responding to Bill’s dimwitted post. This was the message she, emmy954, received when she tried to login later that day…

    “You are banned. Singling out one poster.
    Hasn’t posted anything much other than singling out one poster”

    I thought Emmy, who was a longtime poster at LS, was kidding when she told me this was the reason she was banned. It turns out she wasn’t. The moderators of the new LS board shield their “preferred members” (i.e. Bill Anderson and Joan Foster) from criticism. If you speak out and disagree with a preferred member, more than likely, you will be banned. I would’ve had some strong words for Bill, too, but I was banned from LS a couple of weeks before Emmy. I have no idea why I was banned…they never gave me a reason. On the old LS board I was one of the very first members of the board – Member #4. Never once was I banned or even given a warning on the old board…but everything changed when “Tony Soprano” took control of the new LS discussion board.

    ~   ~   ~

    I guess the revolution always eats its young. Or something like that. It seems, anyway, that the classic phase of the LieStoppers (LS) board was fairly remarkable. Without the urgency of the abusive prosecution and with the heavy overlay of presidential-year partisanship, it’s hard to see how that spirit could survive. Could be a good dissertation project for a sociologist or anthropologist in there, though. Or could have been if so much of the archives hadn’t vanished.