Monday, January 22, 2007
This is awful. Provost Peter Lange evidently draws very different lessons from the Duke "rape" case than I do. To me it's about how three college kids can come within inches of having their lives ruined (and it's not over yet) all on account of wild accusations of rape that should have been (and were) recognized to be incredible from the start. If you are not yet convinced of this, it's your duty as a citizen to read about the evidence in Stuart Taylor & K.C. Johnson's essay; that' just the tip of the iceberg.
How could such a miscarriage of justice occur? Just add a little racial resentment, a lot of hysterical political correctness, and a very large dose of political ambition on the part of Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong, and you've quickly got a very ugly brew. It's frightening. The only consolation I can draw is that a few people with a keyboard really can make a difference. K.C. Johnson's Durham-in-Wonderland blog has been invaluable in getting the word out about this injustice.
Here's what Lange sees:
"When the events of the spring unfolded we witnessed an unimagined intensity of vituperative language and distasteful and deeply hurtful caricatures of Duke students, our campus and its culture, our Durham community and our relationship to our neighbors in the city. The wave of attacks lasted for weeks in the media, on the emails and in the blogs. It was deeply disturbing, in many ways for our students, faculty and whole community. It inflamed and polarized rhetoric on our campus as well. Over the months and with the unfolding of events, these types of attacks have subsided.
"Meanwhile, some of our faculty, primarily African-American but not only so, have been under repeated attacks in personal emails and in blogs. The primarily precipitant--in the sense that the content offended those writing the blogs or sending the emails--was the advertisement signed by 88 of Duke's faculty and printed in the Duke Chronicle. Subsequently, the connection to the advertisement often has become attenuated and the ad has become rhetorically transformed into and manipulated as a symbol of all that was thought to be extreme and bad about Duke faculty, and in some cases, universities more generally. At the same time, the emails and blogs attacking what people wrote or said have sometimes been replaced by personal attacks, some of them directed at the faculty member's scholarship or intellectual credentials, some vicously personal, still others openly threatening or racist.
"These attacks through emails and blogs have prompted appeals that the administration, and I, as Provost come to the "defense" of, our faculty. Yet, until today I have said nothing publicly about this. I want today to explain the sources of my concerns, the reasons for my previous reticence to speak out and why I am now doing so. I am under no illusion that this will quiet the distasteful clamor from beyond Duke. I do hope to contribute to a restoration of engaged, sometimes intense, but also mutually respectful dialogue on our campus
Got that? Duke faculty members are special victims in this story. According to Lange, bloggers like K.C. Johnson aren't heroes. They're the problem:
"As we all are aware blogs and email have "democratized" communication; anyone with access to a computer can get in the game as writer or spectator. In many ways this is a very good thing, for it reduces the elitism of "publication" and the control of opinion by opinion "sellers". Nonetheless, this "democracy" is also permissive of saying almost anything, about almost anyone or anything, using any language, no matter how distasteful, disrespectful or dismissive. We can spread our ideas faster, and without the mediation of others, but we can also control neither their dispersion nor the nature and distribution of reactions to them. In fact, if those reactions distort the account of what we have said, there is likely no way to correct the record for the large number of people who may have secondarily received those distorted interpretations.
"This is a condition of our era. No one can provide relief and these conditions do not change the basic fact that one must take care to say what one intends and be prepared to be accountable for and to defend the substance of one’s ideas, and correct or incorrect interpretations of them. Free speech must continue to be vigorously defended, but speaking freely has become potentially more consequential."
The statement goes on for pages, but you can read it from beginning to end and not find out that this whole obscene incident is about how some folks were attempting to frame a group of Duke students for a felony that they did not commit. Lange makes it sound like the real victims are the notorious Group of 88 Duke faculty members who issued a statement back in April saying "thank you" to the group of protestors who had branded the students rapists and clamored for their castration. There's not a trace of embarrassment over their behavior. Instead, Lange argues that the attention the matter has now been getting is not "productive of the best virtues for free speech." He criticizes the "merciless attention that the emailers and bloggers have been paying" to the Group of 88.
I guess I have to disagree. It seems to me that the best virtues of free speech have indeed been served. These poor kids might be rotting in prison without it.
Read the whole long, tedious and jargon-filled thing.