Me: There is no reference to the behavior of the lacrosse players in the section you quoted.
KC: I am pleased to see that you are no longer denying that Matherly’s post referenced the lacrosse players’ behavior.
There’s the essence of my latest exchange with KC Johnson in the Durham-in-Wonderland comments — as you can see, the man hasn’t lost any of his ponderous, insincere charm. Not much has been going on there for quite a few months, but every now and then Johnson drops in with his rhetorical blunderbuss. The latest this past weekend was about the trial of Crystal Mangum, and near the end I found this:
In a recent post, [Steven Matherly] has taken a break from defending Mangum, and instead has launched into the character attacks on the lacrosse players that were so common from figures like Cathy Davidson and her Group of 88 comrades. Matherly made the mindboggling claim that the role of the lacrosse players in the lacrosse case is comparable to “the racist riots of the 1920s and 30s.”
At the other end of the link, there’s an earnest piece that’s framed as a plea for folks to stop hurling crude racist rhetoric at Mangum — “in your heart of hearts”, Matherly writes, “you know that it is wrong to attack her personally.” In the middle of the post he goes over America’s “long and sordid history of race relations” and concludes that if people had used “the N word” and carried out an actual lynching, the lacrosse case would have been just like “the racist riots of the 1920’s and 30’s” — “[e]verything else is the same.” By “everything” what he really means is everything that’s on his mind at the moment, and that’s really just one thing — the way Mangum has been treated.
There’s plenty to argue with in there — vagueness, narrow perspective, facile history — but there is no claim about “the role of the lacrosse players” and no explicit or veiled attack on their character. And it’s not that Johnson cooked up a questionable interpretation of an obtuse text. What he’s offering is a blatant misreading. It’s just plain wrong, and I couldn’t resist telling him so. I thought it would be fun to see if I’d get the usual discredit-the-messenger reaction even when there was so little at stake, not to mention a much smaller audience. The deeper question is whether, in Johnson’s book, someone like Matherly — an insignificant and wrong-headed but useful Wonderland character — deserves to be read accurately and criticized for claims he’s actually made.