An article in the new American Journalism Review (Rachel Smolkin, “Justice Delayed”, Aug./Sept.) lays out at length the sins of the media in covering the allegations of prosecutor Mike Nifong in the Duke lacrosse case. Leading offenders such as the Durham Herald-Sun, New York Times and TV’s Nancy Grace all come in for their share of reproach, but of note also is this on Wendy Murphy, feminist lawprof and frequent broadcast commentator on the case:
One prominent guest on Grace’s show and others was Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law and a former assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. On April 10, 2006, after defense attorneys announced that DNA results found no links to the athletes, Murphy told Grace, “Look, I think the real key here is that these guys, like so many rapists–and I’m going to say it because, at this point, she’s entitled to the respect that she is a crime victim.”
Emerging questions about the investigation did not prompt Murphy to reassess. Appearing on “CNN Live Today” on May 3, 2006, she posited, “I’d even go so far as to say I bet one or more of the players was, you know, molested or something as a child.” On June 5, 2006, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson asserted, relying on a Duke committee report, that the lacrosse team was generally well-behaved. Rejoined Murphy: “Hitler never beat his wife either. So what?” She later added: “I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth.”
Asked to evaluate her commentary, Murphy said in an interview: “Lots of folks who voiced the prosecution position in the beginning gave up because they faced a lot of criticism, and that’s never my style.” She notes that she’s invited on cable shows to argue for a particular side. “You have to appreciate my role as a pundit is to draw inferences and make arguments on behalf of the side which I’m assigned,” she says. “So of course it’s going to sound like I’m arguing in favor of ‘guilty.’ That’s the opposite of what the defense pundit is doing, which is arguing that they’re innocent.”
The last passage prompts Mark Obbie at LawBeat (Jul. 18) to reflect: “Has there ever been a clearer argument for the utter show-biz meaninglessness of such ‘debate’ shows?”
On a different note, the much-anticipated book on the controversy by Stuart Taylor, Jr. and K.C. Johnson, “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case”, is due out a month from now and is already selling well on Amazon. More: John Steele Gordon, “Racial Role Reversal”, WSJ/OpinionJournal.com, Jun. 20.