Friday, March 31, 2006

Media Double (La)crosses Rights of the Accused

First, if you didn't read my last post, about Amendments four through eight (deconstructed for dummies), I encourage you to do so. It will put the following entry in an accurate light. Recently, the Duke University men's lacrosse team has been under heavy fire because of an alleged rape that took place at a party on March 13 [the Raleigh News & Observer has a special section on its website devoted to the issue with all coverage to date]. Unlike the media and students around the school, I will not discuss whether the allegations are accurate or not: I believe that any ethical human being will agree with the statement that if the allegations are true, if three men gang raped and sodomized an escort in the bathroom of a house during a party, they should each receive the maximum punishment afforded by law, and that any who knew about the rape and did not report it should be beaten with sticks and jailed for aiding & abetting.

The last statement is the most important: any who knew. Evidently, the forty six members of the team who were present at the party have all submitted DNA samples and willingly stopped competition until the allegations are cleared. None claims to have any knowledge of the alleged incident.

The local press is having a field day. I'm sure you can imagine the contents of the stories: 'Elite University covers up crimes!' 'Duke Rapists are "LAX" [the abbreviation for lacrosse] in moral values' and other such crap. Because of the hideous nature of the allegation, and the racial factor - the alleged rapists were three white boys (no true man would ever brutalize a woman) and the victim an African-American woman - the coverage has been nonstop since the allegations came to light. I will note here: although racism is foul and ugly, I feel that rape is a far more disgusting and brutal crime, therefore, I will not discuss that portion of the story.

What is disturbing is the complete disregard for due process and the rights of the accused evinced by the media coverage. It took several days for the defense to be afforded the opportunity to speak out against the way in which the media and the prosecution are handling the case [Story: N & O]. Two days prior, the local rag printed a screaming headline across the front page stating, "15 players had prior charges." What they didn't tell you was that the prior charges are nothing more than charges commonly leveled at college students: public intoxication, urinating in public, and underage possession of alcohol. Columnists lambasted the players, all of whom maintain that nothing happened, to come forth and "tell the truth." To this I ask, "What if they are?" Nobody wants to hear that.

Coverage such as this denies due process and impartiality from the outset. It is a means by which a newspaper can sell copies, a means by which it can stir public outrage. Again, if the allegations are true, then all involved, from the rapists to others who knew, should face the maximum punishment afforded by law. However, if they are innocent, truly not guilty of the crime of which they have been accused, we all know that headlines devoted to their innocence will be relegated to page 3B, for a single day's issue. After public crucifixion, after this inflammatory coverage, these players will never be believed innocent, and none has, as yet, even been charged with wrongdoing. No Grand Jury, no indictment, no charges, just allegations that have yet to yield any evidence other than testimonial.

I'm sorry to say, testimony, if true, cannot convict when there is testimony that contradicts it. I'm only sorry to say this if the testimony is true. The reasons for this are longstanding: there have been far too many false allegations of wrongdoing in the past: for reasons of vengeance, of character assassination, of longing for attention, even of an overzealous imagination. "Rapist" is a label that follows a man throughout his life. It is also one of those labels that, once applied through allegation, is nearly impossible to remove. I know of two men at my undergraduate institution who were accused of rape by former girlfriends who were mentally unbalanced. These men had to literally prove their innocence, completely in conflict with the constitutional rights of American citizens: eventually the stories of the accusers were proven unfounded: one was visiting her parents at the time of the alleged rape; the other was with her current boyfriend at the time.

The student body and local citizens have taken to the streets of Durham, screaming for blood. "What if it were your daughter?" they ask those who believe in the rights of the accused. Well, first of all, I doubt that all five thousand of the protesters were parents of the alleged victim. My daughter hasn't been born yet, but that is a different issue, one entirely dependent upon the nature of the individuals involved. If I believed them true, I'd probably head over with a bat, despite my espoused disgust with vigilantes. In all, I think that a statement made by one of the protesters to the media sums up the case (and the confluence of the new "yellow journalism" with culture and inflammatory rhetoric) perfectly.

The statement? "I'm outraged that legal rights are used to quiet this issue." [story] Legal rights are what separate us from tyranny. Legal rights may save that very speaker from a false claim some day.
currently playing on miPod - Symphony no. 2, 1st movement - by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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